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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 • Islam • Opinion • Politics • United States

soundoff (835 Responses)
  1. Natalie

    I have, at times in my life, taken exception to Billy Graham and what he preaches. I do not agree with his religion or his politics. That said, however, I have always seen him as gracious and giving. I have never felt that he threatened anyone.

    Franklin, however, is a different story.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:15 am |
  2. Ken

    Really? Ok, he doesn't keep his mouth shut as well, but look at the charitable works organizations of Franklin. He is more action than words – embarrassing? Then you don't know Billy.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  3. theoldadam

    I guess one would need to ask Billy G., if Franklin G. is embarrassing him.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:12 am |
  4. Patiat

    Franklin's just trying to find an angle...a few views he thinks will resonate with people now, which he can milk for continued attention, something he can use to keep the surname valuable. More often than not, kids shouldn't follow their dads into business.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:12 am |
  5. Tim

    Franklin is correct when he talks about going to church does not make you a Christian... "Just going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car." — G.K. Chesterton

    May 17, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • Stacy

      Does Franklin know what President Obama does in his private life? How does he know whether or not the President goes home at night and worships and prays? I don't think anyone but the President knows what is truley in his heart. I think Franklin Graham is judging someone without really knowing him. His father loved republicans and democrats, he prayed with Bush and he prayed with Clinton.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  6. davegeorgia

    so anyone questions bo and he's a hack, that's a crock, bo should have provided the bc years ago, prothero should be embarrassed because he wrote such a biased article, perhaps prothero missed HIS calling as a journalist, he should have been a bo apologist, Franklin Graham is right, not the Radical Rev Wright, the only conversion that ever took place in his congregation was to convert moderate thinking people to radicals, and as you can see bo is a leftist radical marxist progressive soros backed dem, and when you look up the word evil you will find the soros name

    May 17, 2011 at 11:12 am |
  7. JLKM

    Embarrassing him? Please, Franklin is just standing up for God and the Christian community. It was a different time back in the days of Billy Graham, political views were not as prevalent as they are today. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Franklin's view on politics. It's good he doesn't sit in a corner somewhere, with no view points to share...wheather it be political or something entirely different. So, the Christian Community says bring it on Franklin.....we need your voice!!

    May 17, 2011 at 11:11 am |
    • tim Ricard

      people like you are why there are so many athiests in America, I am sorry that politics has become an idol to you. Seek first the kingdom of God, then take care of earthly matters. Christianity has more in common with the democratic party than republican, Social judgement, greed, and strife are vices one must abhore.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  8. gus

    Franklin is more of a lunatic and a moron. He is more of a political opportunist than a preacher. Disgusting, really.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:11 am |
  9. Z

    “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." Matthew 7:21 so does that conclude that going to Church does not make you a Christian, a word that truly means a Disciple of Christ / Saint (all in the same meaning)

    May 17, 2011 at 11:09 am |
  10. pgp

    I've heard Franklin Graham preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I have no question regarding where he stands on his faith in Christ. We are in a dangerous place in this country if we can no longer ask questions that need to be asked and hope for answers that are true. The main rub with Christianity is one must confront oneself. In our world system it is easier to spin out a lie and go with it. In Christ honesty is essential, change necessary. Christianity is NOT a religion. All the others make up rules as they go and hope for the best. If you have not accepted Jesus Christ into your heart to cleanse you of your sins and save you for eternity, you are most certainly on the "broad path to destruction". When we die and face God, do you think your political views are going to matter to Him?

    May 17, 2011 at 11:09 am |
  11. Jim

    Franklin is not his father. So should we be surprised that he does not act like his dad? I think it is refreshing that he speaks his mind and answers questions no matter how politically incorrect it might be. Do we have to agree with someone who always speaks their mind? No. At least Franklin Graham is not also stooping down to be liked by people. If you take a hard look at the gospel and try to live it, very few people will take notice of you.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  12. lloyd roberts

    He'll probably be the next family values guy to get caught with his pants down, two this week with Ensign and Schwarznegger. But then he'll just ask for forgiveness, get it from his narrow minded followers, and continue bashing all the rest of us for not practicing, "Traditional Family Values". His father was a real man, the son; a punk

    May 17, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  13. Julie

    I'm glad to see this piece, and I agree completely. I feel F. Graham is using his father's reputation to espouse whatever makes him feel the most powerful. Several years ago Jon Meacham interviewed B. Graham for Newsweek. It was a powerful article. Graham said he regretted being used politically in the past, but took responsibility for it. The article can be found here. http://www.newsweek.com/2006/08/13/pilgrim-s-progress.html I wish the mainstream press had picked it up, because it demonstrated a profound change in B Graham's theology, and how he came to it. One that was much more about the love of God and less about dogma.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  14. GOD_PAC

    As long as a religion is a Political Action Committee, it should be taxed

    May 17, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  15. mrgup2

    Great article! I agree! But not in the middle for the middle's sake, but for the sake of those who may hear the gospel.

    We must humble ourselves. Learn when to shut up and learn when to speak...and when speaking, ALWAYS be a loving, uplifting brother who is concerned, not damning.

    What told me the most about Franklin was hs insistance on that THEME PARK of a library for his father. Humble is NOT the word!

    May 17, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  16. Philip Brownell

    I don't think you have to worry about Franklin embarrassing his Father. From what I can see, he is quite busily invested in his Father's business.

    May 17, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  17. Joe from CT, not Lieberman

    Unfortunately Franklin Graham shows just how unchristian some of the self-professed Christian Evangelists can be. I do not believe that Franklin could ever stand in an assembly in someplace like New Delhi and honestly preach to those people about Salvation through Christ without preaching damnation for practicing their own religions.

    May 17, 2011 at 10:58 am |
    • nwatcher

      You are so correct. There is no way to preach the gospel without claiming Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven – Jesus himself made that claim. So – what are you saying? Of course he cannot not preach anywhere without unbelievers being warned of impending doom – that includes those of any faith, it is not just aimed at muslim or hindus or any particular group. The message is for all...

      May 17, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
  18. PraiseTheLard

    His father was a bit more refined, but they're both disgusting ideologues...

    May 17, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  19. Zil Zerimar

    Hey Frank, are you still endorsing and voting for your favorite presidential candidate....DONALD TRUMP?

    May 17, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  20. Bob

    Give me a break. It's you guys who ask him questions about politics and he answers it. I think Franklin is the perfect successor to his Father..

    May 17, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • K

      I'm with you Bob. I do believe the author of this article does not lilke Franklin Graham's exclusive statement that one must come to Christ to be a Christian. No compromise on that issue.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      Charity watch recommends that people do not donate moneey to Samartian's Purse, the charity of the Grahams.
      The reasons: A fleet of jets and helicopters, massive salaries to over 300 people, massive estates on 3 continents. purchase of luxary goods(watches, diamonds, gold) thru the church, excessive non mission luxary travel

      May 17, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • ConcernedPerson

      billyG and Frank are dangerous hateful man. Funny how communism is closer to the teachings of JC than capitalism. And billy/frank hate anyone nonChristian. But what would you expect from some christian evangelists who believe in the bible? The bible is the most hateful, violent, revengeful story book ever!

      The idea of some god creating everything, then flooding it, then sending a son to save his special little human creations is absolutely pathetic, childish and way too human preferential. Also, there is not one unique idea in the bible. ALL of it is just copycat rehash of older myths – ALL OF IT. Saviors, resurrection, conquering death, water rites like baptism, virgin births, sons of god, first humans like adam and eve – these can ALL be found in the stories of prior cultures. The bible is just a hack job. It is the mythology of the jewish people and evolved into the mythology of christians. PATHETIC!

      May 17, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • Tom

      @Concerned Person, The Bible is the most widely distributed and read book EVER. People have been trying to debunk it for 100's of years yet it still remains. Don't you think if it was so easily proven wrong that it would have gone by the wayside 100's of years ago?

      May 17, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • ConcernedPerson

      Oh Tom, please. There are soooo many books debunking the bible, for example "Dont Know Much About the Bible" by Ken Davis. And just objectively read the silly bible – 80% of christians have never read it!

      Talking burning bushes, world wide floods, people mating with giants, floating zoos, people turned to salt pillars, some guy rising from the dead, some guy ascending into the clouds(how funny, why is heaven always UP?)

      The bible is just a rehash of old myths. If you read it objectively, and was told it was some old stories from china, you would laugh at it! christians are just brainwashed into thinking this book is true. JC is just Santa Claus for adults. Grow up please – the world needs thinking people!

      May 17, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • Masada1

      Concerned Person –

      Quite a diatribe. I guess in my youthful days I too sputtered some of this thinking. But it took a combination of Faith, Science, and the world around me to come to the Truth of Christ. I recommend you open up a train of thought that might allow you to investigate the Bible narrative a bit closer. You can star with Dr. Gerals Shroeder's book – The Science of God. Good fortune to you.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • NotConcerned

      @ConcernedPerson wrote "...bible is just a rehash of old myths. If you read it objectively, and was told it was some old stories from china, you would laugh at it!..."

      Actually, old stories from China are revealing a pre-era of worshiping the Jewish God. Some of the first Chinese Emperor's used the Dragon as their symbol in rebellion of God. Currently, all ancient artifacts and historical accounts that have been found have supported the bible as truth. These are ancient text written by same-period non-religious historians.

      The only books and literature today that try to disprove the bible are written on half-truths and the writter's personal beliefs. The ones written before today's era were already disproven and that is why you won't find them for sale anywhere. Yet, you will still find the Bible for sale around the world.

      The Bible is proven, so far, as so historically accurate, that it is still used to help unravel ancient history.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • ConcernedPerson

      I have read Schroeder's book. Some christian neighbor recommended it. It was such simpleton thinking, definitely written for simpleton minds that arent very educated in science or thinking.

      NOTCONCERNED – are u kidding me? Historically accurate? So let me get this straight – humans mated with giants after a world wide flood(which is impossible) and a floating zoo(of such crazy proportions). All this after being created in some garden. Please show me any evidence of any of this?! So Moses wandered in a desert for 40yrs and talked to burning bushes and god. Please prove this! And show me where the "turned to salt" figures are! Wow. And some guy died, resurrected, and rose up into clouds. Please prove this!

      Please prove to me that the universe was created in 6 days! Please prove to me that incest amongst the first family did not lead to catastrophic birth defects!

      Myths are always based on certain historical events, ALWAYS exaggerated.
      Wow, you christians are truly nuts. I grew up catholic, and it always amazes me how gullible, and determined to be ignorant, the christian groups are. How sad!

      May 17, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • Masada1

      ConcernedPerson –

      Interesting that you find Dr. Shroeder's work simple-minded. Being a phycisist, Dr. Shroeder is able to clarly articulate scientific principles that serve to clarify/validate many of the Bib;e's teachings. But that's OK. Read Moses Naimonide's work – The Guide for the Perplexed. And after doing so, if you come back with another "somple-minded" statement, then I'll know something more that impartiality drives you.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • ConcernedPerson

      Masada – please stop. I have a PHD in physics. The universe does not need there to be a christian god to explain its workings. Shroeder does not prove there is a god. All he does is state that if one WANTS to believe in a god, then science does not prevent that belief. But he does NOT prove there is a god. There is certainly no need for a christian god. THERE IS ZERO EVIDENCE FOR A GOD, much less the even sillier christian god.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Masada1

      ConcernedPerson – Yes, the typical PHD/scholarly game of trying to intellectualize the spiritual. The downfall of many. May you ultimately find Christ.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • ConcernedPerson

      Why would I want to find JC. I am not an archeologist, just a physicist. A bunch of old bones buried somewhere is not my area of specialty. Plus, it would be hard to prove that these bones belonged to JC.

      Ah yes, proof! We have no proof JC was born. Thus we have no proof he died. If I find JC in my life time, it would be imagined on my part. I would be delusional. Wait – yikes – I would be a christian! No thanks.

      I prefer to find the unknown using my mind, and building on the knowledge of prior thinking humans. The unknown is really the definition of god. god has always been, and will always be, that which explains the unknown. Thus, I pursue god more thoroughly than any christian by learning about the unknown. I value the bible as just a book – a great mythology book. If there is a god, it is more pleased with me than any christian, because I truly pursue the unknown, with the only tools we really have – OUR MIND!
      Hey christians – stop fearing the unknown – learn! Stop demanding god to be a childlike saving Santa Claus! Join the human race!

      May 17, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Masada1

      ConcernedPerson – I think I got it. Pursuing the mysteries of the unknown leaves no room for a mysterious God. Applying the mind to critical thinking is indeed the way to go. The only thing that separates your learning from Christians is that the latter are provided greater insights into the unknown than the former. Don't know why anyone would not want to discover the unknowns of this world with greater armor – other than perhaps man's vanity to believe that mere humans are superior to a God-source. Acquiescing to one's mortal powers seems to take precedence over the discovery of true Knowledge – both material and spiritual.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • ConcernedPerson

      wow, read yourself, .....greater armor..... ....mortal power...... This is so sad.
      You are so into violence, and fear, and fear of a violent, cruel god.
      christians are armored with such fearful insight. That is why Galileo was persecuted, and Darwin is such an enemy of christianity. christian insights are pathetically fearful and always limited to some mythological way of thinking – always stuck in some old, outdated, meaningless book!

      Dont you get it? The mysterious unknown EQUALS the mysterious god. god EQUALS the unknown. You are one sick puppy – you just cannot admit that you fear the unknown, and you need this idea of a god that will guarantee a "happy" life in exchange for blind adoration. Such a primitive, stuck mind you have.

      I am so much more spiritual than any christian – I truly wonder at the unknown, and embrace it, and marvel at it, and adore each little bit of knowledge that we glean. Our universe is marvelous, and mysterious, and so unknown. Why are u so stuck in this primitive idea of needing some savior to guarantee that everything will turn out fine for the human species? NEWS FLASH – MAYBE IT WONT! YIKES................

      May 17, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Masada1

      ConcernedPerson –

      This is where you're totally mistaken. Your entire argument against Christianity (or any other religious belief) is that a dovotee comes to it by way of fear, and thus the basis for your thinking that it is borne out of fear in general, or fear of the unknown in particular. Have you considered that the reverse of what you say is what brings many to Christianity? When you ask – and it is given – the doors of God's Love are opened, and one can never go back – nor would anyone want to. A violent and cruel God that turns a violent and cruel world upside down in an instant. Love, and justice, you see, supersede fear, ignorance, and hate. And as an added bonus, the equation factor – God equals the unknown/the unknown equals God – dissolves as the true Source of all that is mysterious maked Humself know.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • ConcernedPerson

      masada – you have some real problems. christians are all about fear. You hypocritically speak of love etc. But ask all the dead people, (when you get to heaven of course, lol), who have died because of JC zealots, if christianity is about love. Ask Galileo, or Darwin, or any non-believer, if christianity is about love. LOL

      Dont be silly – christians are stuck in this crazy "god's son(not daughter) will save me if I believe that he will, otherwise, I will suffer for eternity." LOL Now please, there is nothing loving about your silly JC or god. Any god that needs to be adored OR ELSE, is one sick god.

      AND PLEASE, my ENTIRE ARGUMENT against god belief is that there is NO PROOF WHATSOEVER! NONE, ZIPPO! And when one looks at the universe, and the creatures, and evolution, and the human brain, and social animal behavior, THERE IS NO NEED TO BELIEVE IN A GOD! NONE, ZIPPO.

      god believers have a mental delusional problem. Sometimes the delusion is violent, like with christians. Usually, it just gets in the way of a truly spiritual life! Your need to be saved is so childish and blinding!

      OH well, just dont kill anyone in JC's name, or discriminate against anyone, or withhold condoms from anyone(like those christian african zealots). good luck, u need it, you are missing a hell of a universe out there! LOL

      May 17, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • Masada1

      ConcernedPerson –

      Good conversing with you. In closing, I can't but observe how emotional (and sometimes ruthless) you can get with a person that believes in and follows Christ. Disagreement about theology is one thing, but I take it that from your perspective, material truth is all that you can understand (for the time being, at least), and the notion of anyone claiming to believe (or better yet experience) other truths is abhorrent to you. That seems to make you a very shallow person. One thing I do know: You will never get at the truth if your only tool is your limited mind. If what you want is proof, you will need to go beyond where you're at today.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • NotConcerned

      @ConcernedPerson – you want an explanation for a burning bush? I want an explanation for how the big bang could occur out of nothing. Scientifically, the Big Bang is not possible. How can a "gas cloud" just "always" exist. It had to be originally "created" from something else that already existed.
      I don't recall "giants" and "humans" mating in the bible. Would you give a reference?

      May 18, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
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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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.