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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. Greg21

    The reality is this.....Franklin speaks absolute truth! He would make his father proud. The Bible teaches that there is only one God and there is only ONE way to heaven and that is through His son Jesus Christ. I don't say this to be harsh, I actually say it with love and grace. Some will find it offensive, but even Jesus says many will find his message offensive......

    In truth, when it comes to the Muslim faith, it is a violent religion. and my question is, why don't other "peaceful " muslims speak out about the violence? Because they know the truth of what the Koran says.........and that it is indeed a violent faith......

    I know some will bring up the whole crusade thing...but remember, that wasn't about faith, it was about political moves.....and anyone can take something and turn it evil in action........

    God bless Franklin.....keep up the God honoring work!!

    May 17, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Greg

      It's actually easier to get to heaven than you think.

      Google maps says make a right hand at bigotry, travel a lifetime down a road of ignorance, and turn into the driveway.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  2. Beth Boyle

    Oh he is, he was super embarrassed when Franklin opened that museum. Franklin is clueless. He would not know Jesus if He stopped by for lunch.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
  3. Getagrip

    I saw the interview on TV and was pretty much astonished. I agree with Mr. Prothero on this; great editorial!

    May 17, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • Omar

      F. Graham's experience with this topic is pretty extensive and it's never easy to stand against the headwinds of prevailing liberal orthodoxy on national television. It would be wiser to hear him out.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
  4. Kay

    When a country turns her back from the God of heaven, all right minded people in the country become the enemies of those who are deceived by the devil. There is nothing embarrasing in what Franklin said. You better give your own life to Christ and see things the way they truely are before its too late for you.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  5. Witness

    The one VITAL point missed by this commentator is that the fault of his embarrassment lies with the FOUNDATION – who as a Board of Directors appointed by man and not God, passed the baton to Franklin INSTEAD of his sister who has the true calling of God and should be navitgating this ship. Wait for the shipwreck and remember you heard it hear.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  6. Jim C.

    Did you know that Hawaii's newspapers of record recorded Obama's birth in 1941? Did you know that? If not, why not? That the real killer for me, as stupid and hateful as the whole "birther" idiocy is, it's the willful ignorance that I would like explained.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  7. amy

    If you compare Billy's THEOLOGY to Franklin's they are different. Franklin's are bibilical and, I feel, correct.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  8. JudgeNot

    How do I know that Franklin Graham has given his life to Christ? He says he has, but how has he proven it? I mean, he attends church, but what tangible evidence can he give? Does he have a certificate signed by God? When he leads a revival and people "get saved" what proof is there that this act of salvation has actually occured? Apparently saying you're a Christian and attending church aren't enough for Mr. Graham. But, maybe he has a direct line to God that the rest of us don't have and is privy to some inside information on the state of President Obama's soul. That must be a heavy burden.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
  9. Bill C

    Well, the article is flawed from the outset when it states that Evangelicalism has "lost its way." Actually, Evangelical churches are seeing an amazing growth worldwide. It is those churches that have taken on a liberal theology (Presbyterian Church USA, Episcopaleans, etc) that are seeing their ranks shrink. When you believe in anything, you believe in nothing.
    Franklin Graham is a sinner, like all of us, and he has certainly said some things with which I disagree. Gee, there's a shock. But when your entire premise is flawed (as with this article) it is hard to take the rest seriously.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      Bill the deluded apostate ~ for you Bill there will be no saving you from the eternal fires of hell and satan's an@l punishment becauseof your lifestyle.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  10. Qev

    You reap what you sow. Franklin Graham is a product of his dad...

    May 17, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      2 money wh0res for god

      May 17, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  11. Ryan in Michigan

    I'd be willing to bet that Franklin Graham will probably mellow out with age, just like his father Billy did. Remember, Billy Graham was a hardliner evangelical from a previous generation. He had his own share of people who hated, criticized, and belittled him. The key was, he didn't let that stop him, and I hope Franklin follows suit.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  12. Faded

    "You Christianity isn't Christian-y enough Obama." .. Doesn't that sound kinda of "elitist"? Or are we not using that buzzword anymore? On one hand I hear Obama is a card carrying baptist radical (Re: Rev. Wright) and on the other I here he is Muslim or just a non-committed Christian. Here's an idea.. .why not butt out of it? I don't care if he's a Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or talks to God through his old ham radio. He's not my pastor, imam, priest, or whatever so his religion and religious views should not matter. He is our political leader, not spiritual one. This is NOT a Christian nation, it is a nation of acceptance that allows a blending of people from all faiths.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • JudgeNot

      Well said!

      May 17, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  13. SnappinTurtle

    I used to live in the NC town that Samaritan's Purse is located out of and I worked for a business that offered with a specific utility. The men who came in on behalf of the organization were arrogant, condescending, and they always had to have the latest and greatest. IE the most expensive product we offered. We had alternatives that functioned equally as well, but without the "bells and whistles." Send your charity money somewhere else. Also, F Graham was in China a few years ago when they had the huge earthquake, they really took advantage of the media, one guy kept repeating "Franklin was right there!" "He was right there." He was not right there, he was in the country, but not in the danger zone. Not that anyone bothered to qualify.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      Go to the Samaritian's Purse and look at their financial report. Just the tip they legally have to issue is amazing.
      48 million in securities held, 15 million held in bonds ~ while giving out less than 15 million to "charity" mostly for jet fuel
      Fleets of expensive cars ~ Rolls Royce, Morgans, Mercedes Benz
      Salaries of 7.5 million for 2010
      4.5 million in retirement contributions paid

      May 17, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • Witness

      Amen!

      May 17, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  14. Colin

    The USA will have taken a huge step when it elects its first openly atheist President. I would much prefer the guy with his "finger on the button" NOT to believe in the supernatural nonsense of Christianity.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      "With GOD on our side we will win the next war."

      If we prayed more and longer and harder we could kill all the Afgans and Iraqies.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • Peter

      Why do they have to be a non-believer. How about an agnostic? Another stupid atheist comment.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  15. maeve

    S. Matthews-Who are you to judge whether or not someone is really a Christian? As far as Franklin Graham is concerned he is an ignorant buffoon. His Father was a respected evangelist and after a misspent youth, Franklin decided it was an easy way to make a buck, so he joined the family business so he could live and travel in style. Wackos like him are why religion is suspect, why it is full of evil and why the crazy wing of the Christian faith feels they have a right to control our government. Sorry "S" you should go back and rethink this one.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  16. Dan

    "In recent years, he has garnered more attention for bashing Islam (as “a very evil and wicked religion") than for preaching Christianity."

    That's because the media feeds off statements like that. He could preach 10,000 sermons on the bible, and make one statement on Islam, and he'll get more attention for that one statement.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
    • Connie

      Exactly!!!! Only Fox has shown what Samaritan's purse has done around the world.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
  17. John

    Franklin Graham has spoken what many of us feel!!! I don't think he has embarrassed his family nor his dad at all. The writer of this story has no idea what he is talking about. I am proud of Franklin Graham and what he stands for.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      So then you are admitting that you are also an igornant bigot?

      May 17, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  18. Forward... march.

    The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero... and they show his P.C. ignorance!

    May 17, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • Peter

      PC is a big factor in the problems of today's society. Honesty is out the door...must not offend anyone. PC needs to go!

      May 17, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • Omar

      RE: Peter, below:

      Watch how often the left falls back on rank insult . . . I sometimes wonder if it doesn't give them some sort of right-thinking, PC induced high.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  19. BigDaddyGlock

    Your take is jaded by a severe lean to the left.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  20. Brenda Davis

    I have read this article twice and have yet come up with a statement from Franklin Graham that would embarrass his father. This article is really lame, it must be a slow day for news to come up with some crap like this. But Mr. Prothero is just like most of the media. spinning quotes to sensationalize, truth or not. Beware what you read lately, very little of it is fact.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • Forward... march.

      I totally agree... Well said.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      You are an apostate and are a doomed harlot.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • Jim C.

      Did you know that Hawaii's newspapers of record recorded Obama's birth in 1941? Did you know that? If not, why not? That the real killer for me, as stupid and hateful as the whole "birther" idiocy is, it's the willful ignorance that I would like explained.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • Not digging it

      I think you missed the top where it said this is a blog, not news. And somehow I doubt you read it twice – you probably had your comments in mind when you finished the first paragraph. Next.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • Right On!

      I agree.........

      May 17, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • Omar

      Well said.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:59 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.