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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. Zaphod2000

    Little franklin will never be half the man his father is. He talks about muslims and then tells women what to do with their bodies. He actually was stupid enough to think that both trump and that witch from AK could be president.
    All organized religion sucks.
    @sophia – he critizes anyone who doesn't blindly believe in what he thinks. He is nobody to tell anyone what to believe. You want to talk socialim and nazism, look at franklin and listen to what he says. He is NOT a man of god because I really and truly believe jesus woukd agree with the hate and lies.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  2. Something

    OneofTheseDays:
    "Case in point, my comment up for moderation!! I can't have my free speech..."

    Don't get your paranoid panties in a twist. There is an idiotic automatic word filter here. Maybe someone has the details - I lost my list. Words with t.it, c.um, r.ape and some other combinations are kicked out for "moderation", but actually will never be posted.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  3. aboveitall2

    Franklin Graham is quite smart to bash ISLAM. In fact every American needs to be bashing it as well. That is if you want to stay alive in this country. Within 20 years, there will be an ISLAMIC president of this country. That will be near its complete demise! What is left of it, by the half-baked ISLAMIC president that we now have will be left in tatters by then and terrorism will be rampant in the US.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
  4. Guest

    That's what happens when you run a man made religious corporation and not a Godly religion where Jesus teachings are used as a model in a 100%.

    Have you ever seen a mogul respecting others?

    May 17, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  5. have to admit

    When I hear"Evangelical" or "Born Again", based on my personal experience with those that identify themselves as such, I can't help but to equate those terms with "ignorant, intolerant bigot".

    Maybe I just haven't met enough. I've people that identify themselves as Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and Muslims, and rarely could I say the same about them. Maybe they are just less vocal about it?

    May 17, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  6. Phred

    This article is right on. Franklin is one of the all too common Evangelical nut cases preaching drivel in the name of God. "Obama has Muslim seed". Does he really believe that there is some code in the human genome that predicts a religion? Give me a break.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  7. GZeigler

    I don't understand the problem with the following quote:

    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.”

    The applies to virtually any worthwhile endeavor that actions, character, and lifestyle must match words. A life filled and consumed with Christianity is not validated by merely attending a few Sunday morning sessions at a local church. Franklin's response is perfectly adequate in this regard.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
    • JUST SAYING

      How does he know whether Obama has given his life to Christ or not? How do you know that Franklin has? He doesn't sound very Christian to me.

      Since he claims he is such a Christian, he should know that bible says "judge not that you be not judged".

      May 17, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • squealy

      Well, one problem is judging – remember that whole "judge not" stuff? Plus, if he is defining a true Christian as someone who is so deep into it that they have time for nothing else but to live, eat and breathe Christianity, then I am afraid not very many, except those perhaps who actually wear the cloth, can be considered Christian. And again, no one has answered the questions at least as far as I can see, as to which of Obama;s actions are un-Christian? And yeah, if your job is President of the US, probably Sunday morning is about the only time you'd get to go to church. And if he went more often, you'd all be saying he is neglecting his duties. Obama has been in a no-win situation on just about everything since he took office.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
  8. Shield of Faith

    Stephen Prothero – Yes, yes, I'm sure you would love it if Christians never said anything to offend you but I'm so glad its not that way and that we don't always live up to your view of things. If everything we said and did met with your approval I'd begin to think we were doing something wrong. Phew!

    May 17, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      gosh ~ I am so glad that your shield keeps all the sh!t that you are from spilling over on the rest of us

      May 17, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • Shield of Faith

      The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans – God can open even your blind eyes. I hope He does.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  9. William Demuth

    The Graham family represents a type of Christianity that should be permitted to pass away with the Elder.

    Much like the Bush equivalent in our political realm, it seems when a son is elevated to a position of power through nepotism all the good will earned by the father is squandered by the son.

    I have no doubt the lesser Graham shall use his father’s corpse as he did his mothers, putting it on display like some carnival huckster, all the while promising to save souls for a nominal donation to his hate soaked ministry.

    Good riddance to them both, and the indoctrinated hatred they espouse.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  10. dugee

    Does Franklin get to determine who is a true Christian just like Hitler got to choose who was a true Aryan?

    May 17, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      Yes ~ although he reminds me more of Reinhardt Heidrich.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  11. Where are teh real Believers at

    Where does the bible or Jesus for that matter teach religious tolerance and where does the bible say that being a Christian means you are to be poor? Jesus was not poor he had a treasurer (Judas) for a reason. King solomon, Abraham, David and many others where all wealthy. It kills me how the first comment out of peoples mouths is to bash these ministers wealthy lifestyles and half of you don't know or read a bible.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      you are truly a knuckle dragging, mouth breathing, mistake on the phylo-genetic scale. i am sure god wants us all to be millionaires with private jets and rolls royce cars.

      but who will take out the garbage for us?

      you will knuckle dragger.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  12. mrkusn

    What the author of this article fails to realize is the totality of the Franklin's work over the years. I agree that Evangelicalism must issue a certificate of divorce from the GOP – the Bride of Christ has been abused and used enough by the GOP for over three decades. The message of the Gospel has been covered up, twisted, and defamed by the "social agenda" of the Right Wing in exchange for votes on other matters (de-regulation of business enterprises at the expense of the environment, de-fudning social programs for the working poor and those in poverty, etc). Although Evangelicals like myself do agree on some policy issues of the GOP it is time for the upcoming generation to right the ship as it were and strive for a vibrant, engaged, and vocal, independence from political hacks and talking points. Abortion can end when the Church comes to the aid of those mothers-to-be are in trouble and families are scared to bring a child into the world – not working against them. And in an increasing scale this is happening. But more needs to be done. A PoliticalGospel is no Gospel at all.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • atroym

      Great comments on what is actually going on with the GOP and their so-called "Christian" agenda. They are deceiving and twisting the truth to what the Bride of Christ is all about. Happy to know someone else sees the deception being done on both sides of the political parties.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  13. Benny

    If you don't believe you religion has all the answers why believe it?

    May 17, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  14. tcp

    'I know he gave voice to anti-Semitic prejudice in the White House with President Richard Nixon."

    This single line in the article completely negates the remainder of it. These are the "sins" of young men...I could see Prothero writing this exact same article about Billy Graham back in '73 had the tapes been public...pretty weak!

    May 17, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      you stup!d apostate ~ these were not young men ~ these were men at the top of their professions ~ these were men in their 50s ~ these were men who were and are lifelong bigots

      May 17, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
  15. Sophia

    It's sad that just because Franklin criticized your messiah (Obama), you feel he need to write such trash. Yours is not the work of a decent person.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • God&manneedeachother

      I do not necassarily like Obama but I agree with the author. His dad was a much bigger man.

      Mixing politics and religeon is like mixing icecream and manure. In the end both are ruined.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • JUST SAYING

      Pot/Kettle, Sophia. Neither is yours.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  16. Suzie

    I completely agree that Franklin crossed the evalgelical line mixing politics with his family's effective crusades. I've been blessed by Billy Graham's voice of God since a crusade in the 1950s. He's consistently provided the most humble, non-political, effective witness of God's word. It warms my heart his talent to spread God's word continues across at least 3 generations: Billy, Franklin/Anne, Will and more. Franklin disappoints by mixing God's universal Word with a limited one-sided view of politics.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
  17. JeffM

    Why should Franklin Graham have to be about anyone's business other than following his own convictions? He isn't embarrassing anyone but those who disagree with his political views (like Prothero) and want to try and keep in in their own predefined little boxes.

    Lighten up dude!

    May 17, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  18. Joe

    There is no "correct" god, only God. Islam is a wicked and evil religion. All religion is wicked and evil. Organization of faith typically yields no good.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
  19. santosh

    I will agree with you on this matter. Most christians on the pulpit has been caught either in adultery or other scandal and
    still they dont accept the fact that they are not living like christ but want to instruct others how to live. Franklin has to
    take a deep breaj and look at what his father has done in this whole life befor he continue as BGEA leadership.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
  20. Jaxson

    I'm amused by all of the "Franklin Bashing".
    What's wrong with his defination of being a Christian? It's 100% biblically correct. One must accept Christ as savior.
    What's wrong with his comments on Islam? It is populated by a large militant group who are bent on killing Jews, Americans and even their own. (See Syria, Egypt..etc etc...)

    May 17, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Simon

      I was under the assumption that our ideals encouraged us to judge others based on their individual actions and not their faith. I have problems with Franklin because he groups all people who are Muslim with the actions of a relatively small number of individuals who were Muslim and terrorists.

      Maybe my assumptions are wrong. Perhaps it was a different country that had as a key founding principle that individuals should not be criminalized based on their faith.

      Does anybody know which country I was thinking of?

      May 17, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      you, Jaxson, are a poster child for more affordable abortions for women

      May 17, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
    • Bryon Morrigan

      Jaxson, your views (and those of Franklin...) regarding the idea that one's religion means that one is better/worse than another, is far more akin to the "Sharia Law" and Islamism that you both claim to despise. You can't fight Right-Wing Islamic Extremism with Right-Wing Christian Extremism...as they are far too much alike. It's like trying to fight the Nazis...by rounding up all Germans and sending them to the gas chamber. You're both sick, evil people.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • JUST SAYING

      His definition of a Christian is in line with what the President said. So why is he insinuating that the President is not a Christian? Never mind, I know why. Franklin Graham is an idiot.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • Kallen

      Thats becaus what Franklin is saying is the truth and Americans have forgotten what that sounds like. I don't think he is embarassing his family at all. He is preaching the truth and the word of God. All this political correctness has blinded people from the truth.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:38 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.