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My Take: Franklin Graham is embarrassing his father
Franklin Graham talks to his father Billy Graham at the Billy Graham Library dedication service in Charlotte, North Carolina, in May 2007.
May 17th, 2011
10:37 AM ET

My Take: Franklin Graham is embarrassing his father

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

If you want to see how American evangelicalism has lost its way, you need look no farther than Billy Graham and his son Franklin. Billy Graham was a powerful preacher of the gospel. Franklin Graham is a political hack.

Billy Graham, now 92, was released from a hospitalization for pneumonia earlier this week, but I will always remember him as a vibrant young revivalist who mesmerized me, and hundreds of millions of others, through his televised crusades.

He was somehow square and hip at the same time–he more than held his own in a conversation with Woody Allen in 1969 television special—and he challenged us to devote our lives not to money or power but to God.

Billy Graham was by no means uninterested in politics. Dubbed the pastor to presidents, he prayed with Democratic and Republican chief executives alike—every one of them since Harry Truman. His rabid anti-communism mellowed with age, and he never forgot that preaching was his real calling.

Franklin Graham is a very different man.

In recent years, he has garnered more attention for bashing Islam (as “a very evil and wicked religion") than for preaching Christianity. And in recent months he has taken the art of embarrassing himself (and his family) to new lows.

In April, when asked by ABC’s Christiane Amanpour about a possible presidential run by Donald Trump, he said, "The more you listen to him, the more you say to yourself, you know, maybe the guy's right.”

When asked in this same interview about President Obama’s Christianity, he called the president's profession of faith into question, saying that for Obama “going to church means he’s a Christian” while for him “the definition of a Christian is whether we have given our life to Christ.”

Graham then punched his carnival barker card by parroting the same sort of "birther" nonsense Trump was pedaling at the time, saying that Obama had “some issues to deal with” in terms of proving he was born in Hawaii.

"I was born in a hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, and I know that my records are there. You can probably even go and find out what room my mother was in when I was born. I don't know why he can't produce that," Graham said.

All this is to say that the more I listen to him, the more I feel sorry for his dad.

I am not an evangelical but I respect Billy Graham. I think he is a good man. I know he gave voice to anti-Semitic prejudice in the White House with President Richard Nixon. But I want him to be remembered well.

His son is making that difficult.

A few days after the White House objected to the comments he made to Amanpour, Franklin Graham appeared on Fox News. “I'm an evangelist,” he said. “I want to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that who so ever believe in him shouldn't perish, but have everlasting life.”

What I am suggesting is that he listen to his own words. And to those of his father, who when asked to join Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority said no.

He said no because, in his words, “Evangelists cannot be closely identified with any particular party or person. We have to stand I the middle in order to preach to all people, right and left.”

Just a few days ago, the Dallas-based megachurch pastor T. D. Jakes told CNN's Richard Martin much the same thing. When asked about Franklin Graham’s refusal to take Obama’s profession of Christian faith at face value, Jakes said he was “disappointed” by Graham’s "insulting" comments.

"I wish he had the diplomacy of his father, who brought the gospel to people without being nuanced by politics, because when you do those things you offend people that you are actually called to save and to serve,” Jakes added.

I don’t always agree with Jakes, but I'm with him on this one.

Franklin Graham has a choice to make. He can continue to embarrass himself and his father by continuing to try to embarrass the Democrats. Or he can be about his father’s business.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Barack Obama • Christianity • Church and state • Evangelical • Islam • Opinion • Politics • United States

soundoff (835 Responses)
  1. adeleeeee

    To Stephen Prothero: do you ask his father about his very own opinion? You should not use his father's expanse to verify your standing which is disgusting. If you want to write something to scorn Rev. Franklin Graham then just put your very own opinion or anyone else like Al Sharpton, don't drag Rev. Billy Graham into the water. Alas, you simply can't find someone respectful enough to site your opinion?
    BTW Rev. Franklin Graham is always busy on charity and changing people's life. How about you? Well one thing I sure is you are always busy to be a journalist and feed ppl with trash.

    February 24, 2012 at 2:44 am |
  2. Michelle Sharon

    Franklin Graham 's statement is ridiculous. He talks like a racist. Where slaveowners Christians, and the slaves not? I am a christian and well aware of people who profess Christ, At one time the Klan profess to be good Christians. Newt is a Christian, but Mr. Obama who appears to love his wife,and his policies reflect an attempt to help the poor is not? Senseless

    February 22, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  3. DG

    Franklin Graham says Gingrich, Santorum are Christians because they said so. He says he is nor sure about Obama because he joined a chruch while he was working in South Chicago. What a bigot Franklin is. Not a real Christian himself.

    February 21, 2012 at 8:56 am |
    • David

      Appalled at these guys so-called Christians on how they treat our President Obama. Franklin is a spokesman of the extreme right, who want to take our country backwards not forward. Ashamed that this pastor Franklin or whatever he is called is engaging into policy and political issues and concerned at the same time that no matter what our President does, these extremists like “Franklin,” “Rick,” and others who cover themselves on the bible and on Jesus Christ, will try to diminish him. For them Obama is bad and they are good. Franklin, you are so far from your father who tried to spread goodness, while you spread hate and ignorance. Franklin you are UN-American and reacist.

      February 21, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
  4. Edwina Scantlebury

    Franklin Graham is not a christian,he is only in this for the money,and to piggy back of his father's name.I have lost all respect for him he is nothing but a racist.

    February 21, 2012 at 8:49 am |
  5. sheri inman

    I think that you have a right to your opinion Stephen, and so does Franklin Graham. I don't think that Billy Graham is embarrassed by his son, He probably is very proud. And in my opinion, I can see why Franklin would feel like he does about Islam. After 9-11, I am sure that it changed the way we look at Islam. I like and respect Franklin Graham. We all can't agree on everything.

    December 19, 2011 at 4:00 am |
    • George Fischer

      Billy Graham did it right. He preached the Gospel, and counseled people to go back to their own churches and make a difference ... he didn't seek to make them all Baptists.He was a friend and counselor to every President from Truman on, including Bill Clinton in his darkest hour. He did NOT preach politics from the pulpit as so many misguided preachers are doing now, including his son Franklin. If Franklin would do they same, and speak to President Obama DIRECTLY it would be good. Instead, he is clearly embracing the "get Obama out at any cost" extreme right wing world, and I truly believe his father is not pleased by this. He is not worthy to attempt to carry on Billy's crusades proclaiming the unconditionalk love of God!

      February 21, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
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    July 17, 2011 at 4:53 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.