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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. Ken

    Thank you Franklin Grahman for all the work you do around the globe showing the love of God, serving the love of God and sharing the love of God. Stephen Prothero is off the Mark and off his rocker with his "liberal, can't offend anybody religion".

    May 17, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      thank you franklin for the jets and expensive cars and suits and gold jewlery you have bought ~ you have stimulated the economy

      May 17, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  2. Lejaune

    Yeah, if someone can show me the birth certificate of Jesus that he was born in America, then I will follow him.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      jesus was a jew as were his mother and father ~ he agitated just once too often and the Romans killed him.
      he has no more power than the rain.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
  3. jamesthedog

    The author of this article is a politically correct, morally incorrect idiot. CNN as a group hates God and those who serve him. A bunch of wackos indeed. Woof woof! P.S. I Jamesthedog love my lord Yeshua and his fatherYHVH, He is THE GREATEST!

    May 17, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Whats with the miss spelled God

      I think it was YAHVEH!

      I mean do we use Aplo or Mercry or any other lame spellings?

      May 17, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      When you speak of Apollo and Mercury you are entering my spiritual realm.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  4. Montana

    So “The Donald” finally “Dumped The TRUMP” and “The Huckster” is gone too, who will take over the “GOP BIRTHER” reigns? Poor BIRTHERs they just rattled your cages and you came a running, Ha, Ha, SUCKERS!

    So will Mitch Daniels defunding Planned Parenthood real help our economy or is it a play to help the TeaBParty forget the he was Budget Director for "W" and his ability to worsen jobs, the deficits, and our economy, WOW, good luck with you dullard.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  5. N. Telligence King

    Peddling. Pedaling. Peddling. Pedaling.
    It's peddling.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
  6. Robert

    Stephan, you could not be more wrong in your article! Franklin is twice the man that his dad is! Franklin will tell the truth when his dad will shrink and cower. Maybe you need to take Franklin a little more seriously.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      Robert ~ your p!g lifestyle leaves you no room to comment on the actions of humans who do not follow you in your fondling of animals.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  7. Ed

    More than likely Franklin Graham is a real Christian and Billy Graham is a false one. Jesus said He is the "way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me."

    May 17, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • Ted Crandall

      Amen! While Billy has slipped into Universalism ("You are saved without the Savior."), Franklin still preaches Jesus Christ as the only way to forgiveness of sins and the Father. I can see how this would infuriate liberals, both religious and political, since they wouldn't admit to sin or recognize the Gospel of Jesus Christ if it fell off the cross and landed on them.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
  8. cp125

    Amen....I used to follow Billy Graham and his gospel with great respect....with Franklin at the helm, no more.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  9. bill\

    Mr. Franklyn has made his life mission clear. He is a spiritual muckraker for the republican’s right wing. His views are designed to be sensational and irresponsible – and designed to curry favor with the bottom feeder’s leaders of hate in this country. One should be aware of following to spiritual tonic seller before they land up on that spiritual slippery slope to you know where.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • William Demuth

      So your saying he's a Christian?

      At least he keeps the faiths tradition of ignorance and hatred going!

      May 17, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
  10. hmmmm

    What is the big surprise? Apple fell too far from the tree? No! Evangelicals DO NOT recognize anyone unless they CLAIM Jesus as their savior. No grey areas here. So of course, they are going to be biggots, narrow-minded and judgmental to anyone that doesn't follow their evangelical creed regardless what good deeds you do in this life. It started with Martin Luther and etched in stone modernly.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  11. Omar

    Don't presume to speak for this man's father, Mr. Prothero . . . and be assured the Reverend IS about his father's business, which may sometimes include speaking difficult, politically incorrect truths that others may not enjoy hearing.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      Omar ~ you are an apostate p!g and you will rot in hell with the other damned peoples of your lifestyle.

      jesus is nothing ~ the rain has more power than jesus

      May 17, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
  12. Flint Rock

    Onward Christian soldiers marching of to war with cross of Jesus going on before.
    Never hurts to make a little money along the way.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  13. LInda Davis

    You lost me at "God is not one..." He is the one and only. Nothing you state after that matters. The cool part is that he is available to all and will make himself known to all before Jesus returns. Will you heed him?

    May 17, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • Sharon

      Sorry, Linda, but your post is an instance of Pascal's Wager. May I suggest that you google it -it's a common fallacy.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Heed him? If he shows his Palestinian butt around here I will crucify him again.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
  14. bill\

    Mr. Franklyn has made his life mission clear. He is a spiritual muckraker for the republican’s right wing. His views are designed to be sensational and irresponsible – and designed to curry favor with the bottom feeder’s leaders of hate in this country. One should be aware of following to spiritual tonic seller before they land up on that spiritual slippery slope to you know where.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  15. vel

    Seems like Prothero is buying into the whole True Christian thing. Just how do we tell, Stephen? How about a bunch of altars on the National Mall in DC with each sect praying to God to light theirs to show how they are the only "correct" ones? We can give Billy one and Franklin another. God should have no problem in lighting at least one, unless of course, no one is right or God doesn't exist in the first place.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  16. BZ

    I don't believe that his Dad ever bought a jet.....Franklin just spent more than $20 milllion for one. Praise the Lord and please pass the collection plate!!!

    May 17, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  17. laura clarke

    Were questions about President Bush's military service politically motivated? Why, then, are the questions about the birth certificate deemed to be so? It is because the current president is a liberal who has most of the media in his back pocket, and will get a pass for anything short of murder, and I am not even sure about that..
    Franklin Graham is a great man of God who has done more for the suffering people of this world, through Samaritans Purse, than every pundit and talking head put together.. He is simply telling the Truth.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • rock hill sc

      Franklin wouldn't know the Truth if it bit him in the butt. I grew up with the guy. He is a fraud and has a lot of gall to challenge anyone's Christianity. The ultimate snake oil salesman that no one would listen to if his Dad wasn't such a great man. Sad to see. Those of you here who disagree don't know the man.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • JennyRose

      Get over it Laura. What are you doing on a mainstream media news site like CNN anyway?

      May 17, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
    • James, AL

      Laura, the Bible teaches us that if a man confesses the Lord Jesus and believe in his heart he shalll be saved (Romans 10). It is up to all Christians, including Franklin Graham to accept that person's confession without judgment (Matthew 7:1). When Christians start to dabble in politics, it always diminishes our Christian witness. Franklin is definitely straddling the wrong fence according the the word of God.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  18. libfreak48

    I abhor the son as much as I revere his father.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
  19. Jim P.

    "and he challenged us to devote our lives not to money or power but to God."

    While living in a multi-million dollar mansion, flying on a private jet I beleive and certainly flying first class otherwise and in general, living a lifestyle that few of his followers could afford all the while exhorting them to "give back to god" but make the checks out to Mr. Graham's "ministry". Yeah, right.

    As the Brits say: "Pull the other one, it's got bells on it."

    May 17, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  20. rj

    This article hits the nail on the head. Putting aside for a moment the decidedly un-Christian act of bashing other religions, as long as the religious right associates faith with political preference, they will continue to lose their audience.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • Matt

      First, its ridiculous to say that Franklin can taint Billy's legacy. Maybe in your eyes Stephen, but not in the vast majority of others. Billy was, is and will be remembered as a first class person. Is he human and has he made mistakes, yes. Overall though he lived a good life.

      Second, what about Islam being wicked and evil is a shocking or political statement? The religion's most fanatical followers blow themselves up to kill others that they believe are infidels. . . they kill people who convert away from their faith. . . they cover their women head to toe. . .

      There are many many peaceful muslims. Yet one must ask oneself. . . who are the true practicing muslims? The fanatics would say they are and they are growing in numbers. This is nothing new to the faith either. Take a look at the muslim terror timeline to understand the history of this "peaceful religion":

      http://www.prophetofdoom.net/article.aspx?g=41111

      May 17, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • CH

      "Unchristian" act of bashing other religions? The truly Christian, biblical act is to call all other "religions" what they are—false. Read Galatians 1:6-10: "I [Paul] am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ."

      May 17, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • Keith

      What a short memory you have MATT, the Christian church has more blood on its hands than all the other religions in recorded history. Almost every war was started over religion, remember how the catholic church burned people at the stake by the tens of thousands. The threat of ex-communication caused the deaths of many more thousands. The priests who followed the spanish invaders into S, America were responsible for the deaths of untold tens of thousands and for the wholesale destruction many civilizations.
      Who are you to say that Islam is evil, all religion is evil it promotes ignorance, intolerance and blind obedience and backs this up with torture and death.
      I am a devout non-believer and I will put my humanity above the FAITH of any religious zealot.
      People who live in glass houses should not throw stones, in other words check your hypocrisy before opening your mouth.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • Omar

      Re Keith below:

      Your post contains alot of misinformation. Have you actually looked at the most reliable numbers on each of these atrocities – as opposed to the "Ward Churchilllized" versions? I think you'll find that the numbers are much smaller than you think. . . . as for the "bloodiest religion," Islam is reliably considered to be at 270 million and counting – and that's straight jihad to extend the Ummah, not political intrigue with a religious flavor: 80 million in Sind/N. India (one of the bloodiest conquests in human history – with HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS enslaved); 120 million from the African slave trade, Saharan/East coast edition. . . think the Islamisation and genocide that occurred recently in Sudan spread over a millenium (and they castrated the men). The rest were Afghan Buddhists (eradicated from the religion's birth place – think the Taliban blowing up giant Buddhas); Jews and Christian first from the Saudi Arabian Penninsula, and now more recently from the larger middle east; the extermination of the Christian Armenians by the last Caliphate (Turkey); the Bangladeshi genocide of 1971(3 million Hindus and impure, hinduised muslims dead), the Algerian civil war, the mass expulsions of the Kashmiri Pandits, Christians in East Timor, Sudan, Iraq, Somalia, now the Egyptian Copts, etc., etc. etc.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:18 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.