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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. Lance Dale Phillips

    Dear Pastor Graham,
    Thank you for helping so many not only physically and spiritually. But lovingly.
    Your friend in Christ,
    Lance Dale Phillips

    May 17, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • williamjones

      Amen his story is different than his father's but still he has gone thru the fire and and still preaches Jesus Christ I admire him for that! May he preach the Gospel for another 30 years!

      May 28, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
  2. Sal

    God bless the atheists of the world because they don't kill people in the name of religion! 

    May 17, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • Kevin

      Yeah, like Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, harmless atheist fuzzballs.

      June 2, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
  3. Mr. Mike

    I'm constantly amazed that we still have billions of people the world over who are stupid enough to believe in this sky fairy you call "god", and a bible that is completely loaded with things those who wrote it claim are ok that will get you locked up in prison today. FOOLS! the lot of you. Religion is the single most dangerous thing that has ever existed on earth and it is responsible for more death and harm to human beings than any other thing throughout history. 99.9% of those who follow it are complete hypocrites who had better be glad there is no god and no hell (or heaven) because if there was you'd all be in BIG trouble.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • sorry for you

      The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God."

      May 27, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  4. Sal

    I have no respect for any religion. All you have to do is look back thousands of years and see how many were killed in the name of religion which is still going on today. I have no respect for evangelicals either because they are a bunch of hypocrites! We should keep religion out of politics because that will be our ruination! 

    May 17, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  5. Guest

    I agree with this analysis, but it's hard to maintain credibility when:

    1. a fellow CNN contributor is misnamed (Roland Martin, not Richard)
    2. 'peddling' is spelled 'pedaling' (Trump paragraph)

    CNN.com, your articles are getting harder and harder to read.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  6. laura clarke

    JennyRose-Know your enemy.

    James, Al–This is what Mr. Graham said-
    -"Now it's obvious that the president has renounced the prophet Mohammed, and he has renounced Islam, and he has accepted Jesus Christ. That's what he says he has done. I cannot say that he hasn't. So I just have to believe that the president is what he has said

    No judgement there.

    The Bible also says, :By their fruits ye shall know them.' Matthew 7:16
    Time will tell.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • joe

      Obama has some fruits out there... most radical voting record of pro-abortion policy for one... really past that I don't see a need to list the countless evil policies that man is in favor of. Honestly it seems like he flips through the bible making notes one how he can offend it's principles. I think enough time has gone by with enough fruit to make a call on this. Obama shows no evidence of being a Christian what so ever

      May 17, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • gozer

      Joe, re "Obama shows no evidence of being a Christian what so ever", that would be a great thing, if Obama were not Christian. Sadly, we'll have to wait a while longer to advance enough as a society that a presidential candidate doesn't need to pander to religion and pretend to believe in religious fairy tales to get elected.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  7. CEL1

    Worse still, Franklin embarrasess the Lord Jesus Christ, whom he claims to serve. He was quick to step up and claim the birthright of his father's ministry, when he saw the money involved. Jesus lived and died and never once asked anyone for anything, Franklin wants it all and he wants it now.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • auguron

      Much like every pastor out there, and yet you only have a problem with this one because you don't agree with his message.

      June 15, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  8. Garrett

    Why do most pastors want to get into politics...Can't they stick to the business of saving souls?

    May 17, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • Artist

      Garrett

      Why do most pastors want to get into politics...Can't they stick to the business of saving souls?

      ----–

      Power...very simple... the Christian Tlaiban wants more power. The live in a delusion and want to impose that delusion.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • WASP

      ARTIST: Christian Taliban?? Really??? Give me a break...I believe that some pastors become involved in politics because they truly believe that one party (take your pick) is more righteous than another. Do they do it for power? Most of them, no. Some of them yes. But...Christian Taliban? THAT is ridiculous.

      May 22, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • auguron

      @WASP It's a perfect descriptor. They want to control our lives just like the Taliban do. They try to instill fear just like the Taliban do. They attempt to destroy anyone not exactly like them, or anything they don't like for no reason at all, just like the Taliban.

      June 15, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
  9. Corey

    I appreciate Dr. Prothero's comments which seek to show respect to Billy Graham for the good works he has done (with due acknowledgement of his troubling stances during his career in public life). I think it is worthwhile to celebrate those (especially) public figures which one believes exemplify virtues that one holds as important.

    I feel, with respect, that the discussion of Franklin Graham in the blog post above is not comparable to the characterization of Bill Graham. By which I mean, I read Dr. Prothero as contrasting Billy Graham's religious life and works with Franklin Graham's political life and works. I am concerned that the differential weighting of descriptions of the political and religious domains of the two mens' lives is intentional, to the goal of exaggerating the positive and negative qualities of the two and guide the reader to apply value judgements. I consider there to be considerable value in constructing one's argumentation evenly; the winning-over of a reader is more lasting and powerful when, though fair characterization, you enable the reader to come to your opinion organically (as opposed to leading the reader by stick and carrot). I would hope you would consider this in future blog entries of this kind.

    Regards,

    Corey

    May 17, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  10. doingbusinessas

    America is based on freedom of religion– and freedom from religion. We give tax exempt status to faith based groups to do their spiritual work– not to rip people off to support a fanatic cause. Graham is as nutty and greedy as they come. In the end, people who make wild political stands based on their absolutist beliefs are all dangerous. Their path leads to killing.

    First, Graham's tax exempt status needs to be pulled. Whether or not he ends up in Guantanamo will depend on what his crackpot followers do. He isn't a Bin Laden yet. But he's close.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  11. dave

    TO ALL,
    May 21 2011 will be the beginning of God's judgment. For more information from the bible where this is found go to wecanknow.com
    familyradio.com

    Dave

    May 17, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      time for your meds wack0

      May 17, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
  12. Jane

    While clearly Billy was vastly better than Franklin, before we forget, the old man was not beneath nodding his head in agreement when Richard Nixon made anti-Semitic comments in the oval office.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  13. RF

    I wish Franklin was the one on his death bed.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  14. Bible Clown

    He's exactly the same kind of political hack that his dad was, praying with Nixon while slave soldiers died in VietNam and hoping for extermination camps in the USA with Reagan. You can't call either one of these predators a "Christian."

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

      Well, actually you can call them Christians, insofar as they are actually fairly typical in their exhibiting of the hypocrisy that you describe. Otherwise, you might just be falling into the No True Scotsman fallacy.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  15. BRUCE

    I attended The Stony Brook School with Franklin for a year in high school; I guess it would be nice to say some things never change but.....he was a real jerk then too.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • Dave

      Apparently he has added damn fool, and racist to his bio

      May 17, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  16. Rutherford B. Hayes

    I am probably most discouraged by the state of our country's spelling and grammar ability! 🙁

    1. Faith in the God of the Christian Bible IS the WAY, the Truth, and the Life – or rather, Jesus said that about Himself in it.
    2. The truth faith will Always be maligned by EVERY other – ie. false – faith
    3. Those who follow God will always be criticized and put down simply because they are right. "Be ware when all men speak well of you" – that's scripture...
    Thank God for Brother Billy Graham and his dear family and all their hard work for good in our world...
    Fuss on – unhappy Wrong folks – I pity you...

    May 17, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • CommonSense

      Rutherford, your spelling and grammar are also quite bad. Sorry.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      you are nothing but a filthy apostate.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • William Demuth

      I appreciate your pity.

      Just remember, I do NOT have any pity, so beware what sins are commited in your name by the parasites you have elected to lead your faith, because judgement day is coming.

      I think we are gonna need alot more lions!

      May 17, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  17. Zaphod2000

    @brent – and last year the Obama's only made about $1M. Your point is?
    Your girl quit her job to make money. The President is doing his job, very well I might add, while making less money.
    Thanks for reminding us what his real name is. That idiot trump and others have tried that before also. It's infantile and only double wide people care!

    May 17, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  18. CommonSense

    Frankiln Graham could stand to focus more on the preeching of the gospel and less on politics – I can agree with that. As for his comments on Islam, the truth be told, all religions that don't point to Jesus Christ as God and Savior are "wicked and evil". Even those that seem benign and seem to teach "love", they all, in the end, lead to spiritual death. There's only one path to God and it has nothing to do with being good enough or nice enough or spiritual enough. It's about accepting that you're not going to earn your way there and that Jeus has already paid the ultimate price for your reconciliation with God. Just sayin'.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • nk

      CommonSense is a funny name considering you're trying to say that anyone who doesn't believe in Jesus is somehow evil. Funny, considering that religion is all made up hocus pocus nonsense to teach you obedience. There was a time that it instilled some security. Now it's solely focused on hate.

      Anyone with your perspective is as evil as any terrorist out there.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  19. MarSch7

    I don't see Franklin Graham embarassing anyone! It's not just a matter of what we DO (good or bad), but WHO we BELONG to!. Jesus said "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but thru me." No Jesus, no God. Know Jesus, know God. It's the personal relationship with Jesus that is the Truth and the Way and the Life. He said it, not me. He's not "just another" Mohammed, or Buddha or Confusius. He's not just One of many choices. He is the Way. Only thru Him. That therefore makes all Franklin says correct. He may not be nearly as tactful as his Dad, but his beliefs are exactly the same.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • Simon

      Isn't that a little like saying 'as long as you profess a faith it doesn't matter if you actually follow it or not'?

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

      I fail to see your logic. Belief in Jesus as the only way to God does not automatically make Franklin's every word truth. He is only a man and therefore fallible. As you must know every man has sinned and therefore falls short of the glory of God.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • brad-ash

      I don't think you read the article. He talks about how Franklin is political before spiritual. Your comments dont address this.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • lance corporal

      how convenient..... DO whatever..... just profess your faith while doing it and be able to parrot this trite BS and your "saved"

      May 17, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • Emmanuel

      Absolutely! Franklin was not embarrassing anyone, he only questioned President's belief he didn't judge him, where even a lot of other Christians got offended instead, which is surprising.
      If the President is very serious about that thing it's up to him how he takes that Challenge.
      Bible says to exhort and admonish fellow brethern. So, Franklin was only pointing the President to Jesus.
      There's absolutely nothing wrong in it.

      May 18, 2011 at 2:35 am |
  20. Jenerous

    Who cares?

    May 17, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • Lil Bunny

      you do or you wouldn't have commented...?

      May 17, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Greg Wright

      In John 7:7 the world hated Jesus for telling people their deeds were evil. Franklin Graham is not afraid to pay the price for speaking the truth.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • keeth in cali

      Franklin Graham IS NOT Jesus.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Sherri Livingston

      I just wnat to know who died and made Franklin Graham God. How is it he thinks and presumes to know what is in a man's heart. How self agrandizing and how judgemental and self righteous. I would suggest he repent and go somewhere and pray for his own soul! the scriptures are very clear about what makes one a christian and I would venture to say his actions don't seemto be lining up themselves right now.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Boone

      Franklin has always been an embarrassment. He hasn't changed from being the spoiled little rich kid, coke-head he was in Boone, NC. He only became interested in the ministry when he realized the money and power that was in it. He's got that stupid theme park in Charlotte that he forced his mother to be buried in, against her wishes, so that she will be a tourist draw. In western Carolina there is a lot of respect for Billy Graham, whether we agree with him or not. But everyone here knows what a little snake Franklin has always been.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
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