Many Christians have compared Greg Laurie, who pastors Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, to the late Billy Graham. That includes Graham himself, who said in 1994 that “[t]he media have been writing Greg Laurie up as the man who is going to be the evangelist of the future—and he is.”
The accolades are well-deserved. God has gifted Pastor Greg to do something Sunday after Sunday for decade after decade that almost no other evangelist does: preach a hip yet uncompromising Gospel – one that converts millennial atheists into Christ’s ambassadors to the beaches, In-N-Out Burger joints, and skateboard parks of California and beyond. The trailer for the 2018 SoCal Harvest gives you a flavor of what’s in store if you drop by Angel Stadium in Anaheim next weekend or Pastor Greg’s church in Riverside just about any Sunday morning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVC1rd5GDjo
SoCal Harvests are the local production of the Harvest Crusades that Pastor Greg puts on around the nation each year. He calls them the modern version of Graham’s crusades held during the late 1940’s and 1950’s, and with good reason. Harvest Crusades have drawn over 3 million attendees during the past three decades.
The Irvine Company, an Orange County real estate conglomerate contracted by Harvest, demanded that Harvest remove the book depicted in the billboard because it looked too much like a Bible. Harvest complied, but to no avail. Irvine responded by taking down the billboards entirely, citing “complaints” from the “community” as well as a “serious threat,” though not serious enough to contact authorities – the Newport Beach Police Department received no report from the Irvine Company of any “threat.”
Harvest spokesperson John Collins had this reaction: “We’re certainly not upset with The Irvine Company. Obviously, they're catching heat for allowing us to run these ads.” Collins told the Orange County Register that Harvest “is not upset with the Irvine Co., and may advertise with it in the future.”
Really? Harvest, for some bizarre reason, might want to continue doing business with Irvine, but Collins seems not to have grasped that Irvine doesn’t seem interested in doing business with Harvest.
More troubling, however, is the inevitable consequence from Harvest’s eagerness to let Irvine off the hook. Harvest's reaction reinforces the lesson that, when bigots complain to ad companies posting Christian billboards, or hotels hosting Christian conferences, or restaurants catering Bible studies, accommodating the bigots by refusing service to believers is the easy, painless solution.
Pastor Greg will deliver a message of salvation at Angel Stadium next week. But the message his spokesman delivered this week will accelerate the Gospel’s banishment from the public square.
There are young, lesser-known evangelicals, missionaries, and church planters seeking to save the lost in meth-infested Appalachia and man camps in North Dakota’s oil fields. They can’t afford to rent Angel Stadium or recruit Mercy Me and Jordan Sparks to their services. Harvest’s capitulation to corporate evil will make their tasks all the more difficult.
And “corporate evil” is not too strong of a description. Imagine the Irvine Company removing billboards for the opening of a synagogue in response to “complaints” and a “serious threat” from anti-Semites. Most would rightly excoriate the company.
Corporate facilitation of religious bigotry is as morally reprehensible when Christians are the targets as it is when Jews are. That’s the message the Harvest folks should have sent.
But they didn’t. And so this will spread. Because if you can censor Billy Graham’s successor in a county brimming with Bible-believing Christians, you can censor any Christian anywhere.
A pastor who has done so much good for so many lost souls for so many decades should know better. And do better, by calling out Irvine’s accommodation of religious bigotry and putting the rest of corporate America on notice that there will be a price to be paid, from bad publicity to reduced revenues, by those who collaborate in attempts to silence the Gospel.