FAIRMONT — While the upcoming “Mountain State Celebration with Will Graham” has created excitement in Fairmont, not everyone is happy about the event.

During this week’s Fairmont City Council meeting, two concerned residents spoke to council about the perception they believe exists that the city was officially recognizing it. The event is scheduled for April 24-26 at Fairmont State University’s Feaster Center.

The first to speak, city resident Jim Norton, said he was raised in two Christian denominations, the Assemblies of God and what is now the United Methodist Church. He said that as a pre-teen newspaper carrier, he contributed his earnings to the Billy Graham Association.

“So, there were definite influences in my background toward Pentecostalism and Biblical literalism,” he said. “As the years progressed, however, my journey led me more and more toward Methodism. And with that came the privilege of attending and graduating from a fine theological school at Duke University, and from there to become an ordained minister for United Methodist Church. Now, I find myself torn between loyalties of the past and my present Christian understandings.”

“I would like to be among those who welcome the upcoming celebration with Will Graham, but some of their revivals, especially those conducted by his father, Franklin, have intensified divisions now so much a part of our country,” he said. “Franklin has violated the Separation of Church and State principle by stating unabashedly that God’s approval rests on Donald Trump.

“He has professed harsh judgments on those who are differently gendered and in other ways used religion to sanction present right wing political discourse. Such pronouncements by the Graham Association create an unwelcoming atmosphere for those of us who hold differing opinions.”

Norton said he was concern about friends disrespected by far right leanings, “and how uncomfortable they must feel when the city is represented as sponsoring such narrow views as those of the Graham Association.”

Specifically, he was concerned about a plaque and key that was presented to Will Graham.

According to City Clerk Janet Keller, Mayor Brad Merrifield presented a key to the city to Will Graham a couple months ago when he was in town.

She said the City of Fairmont did not purchase the key to the city, however. Rather, it was purchased by someone else and the mayor “just happened to be the one to present it to him,” she said.

Norton said, “Yes, I realize that the action by a few in presenting the Graham organization a plaque emblazoned with a key and an inscription underneath saying ‘the City of Fairmont’ was not meant to be official city recognition, but still it has the same effect as if it had been presented by this body.”

He suggested that “city council issue a statement clearly stating that the Mountain State Celebration featuring Will Graham is not supported or endorsed by the City of Fairmont.”

There was applause from members of the audience in attendance.

Samantha Chadwell, who also addressed council, was concerned about “the appearance that Fairmont has given Mr. Graham a go-to come here, that he is welcomed here…”

Chadwell said “It is really hurtful to a lot of people that that organization has hurt,” saying the welcoming of Graham should have been done on a personal basis and “not from the city.”

Chadwell said better judgment should have been used.

When asked to respond to the concerns expressed during the meeting, Erik Ogren, with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, issued the following statement.

It reads, “The Mountain State Celebration will be a fun, family-friendly and free event that is open to everybody, and all are welcome. In addition to great music from well-known bands – such as Grammy-nominated and Billboard Award-winning rock group Skillet – each program will include a message of hope from evangelist Will Graham. Area Christians representing more than 100 churches are participating in the effort, working towards an event that we pray will be a blessing for Fairmont and the surrounding area.”

Eric Hrin can be reached at 304-367-2549, or ehrin@timeswv.com.

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