Controversial preacher stops in Vermont, meets with protesters

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ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. (WCAX) World-renowned preacher Franklin Graham paid a visit to Vermont on Tuesday for his Decision America Northeast Tour.

Graham, the son of the late Billy Graham, spoke before thousands of people at the Champlain Valley Exposition while preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He focused his sermon on repenting for one’s sins and reconciling with God.

Graham said he chose New England for his tour because he said religion is decreasing in this part of the country.

"We have more problems today than we've ever had. More anger, more fighting, more corruption,” he said.

At the start of his sermon, Graham took a moment to pray for President Donald Trump and all elected leaders in Vermont, including Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and Democratic Rep. Peter Welch.

Supporters were excited to hear Graham speak in person. Yolande Franklin said she feels the nation has lost its faith and she was happy that Graham was in town “to remind the city of Burlington that God is still present.”

But not everyone greeted the famous reverend or his message with open arms. Protesters gathered outside of the event trying to drown out Graham’s rhetoric that they say is homophobic.

They chanted “hate has no home in this state,” while waving rainbow flags and wearing shirts with messages of support for the LGBTQ community. They criticized Graham for recent comments he made about Pete Buttigieg, who is the first openly gay man to run for president.

In April, Graham posted a series of tweets about the Democratic presidential hopeful questioning his Christian faith. He wrote that homosexuality is a “sin, something to be repentant of, not something to be flaunted, praised or politicized.” He went on to say, “The Bible says marriage is between a man and a woman—not two men, not two women.”

Mark Mendes, a minister at the First Congregational Church in Essex Junction, rebuked Graham’s statements and called him a “mongrel of hate.”

Lukas West, a member of the LBGTQ community, said Graham “is not what Vermont stands for.”

Christine Lloyd-Newberry, who was protesting with her husband, told WCAX News that she believes Graham is “irresponsible” and should choose his words more wisely as a public figure.

WCAX asked Graham what he thought about the protesters’ concerns that his language is divisive. He reiterated his stance and invited the protesters to join him at the event.

“God has a standard. I don’t write those standards. God does,” he said. “And I want people to know how they can have a relationship with God. I’m not here against anybody. I’m not here to preach against anyone or anything. I’m here to tell people how they can have a relationship with God.”

Graham’s next rally will be held in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Thursday. He will then make stops in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. He will wrap up his tour in Syracuse, New York, on May 30.