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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. EJ in Metro Houston

    so the Rev Graham had very little problem givng an edorsement to Donald Trump, a man that cheated on at least two of his three wives, had a child out of wedlock with the second one, and runs casinos where practically every Christian group I have met says gambling is a sin. This is one of the reasons that I have problems when I debate belief with non-believers. You should practice what you preach no matter what political affiliation it is.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
  2. Eric Hayes

    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.

    Greg, to your response, Franklin Graham is not really speaking the truth but he is displaying political favoritism and his comments make him no different than those Tea party loonies who refused to accept the facts that Obama's citizenship is legitimate. This is purely racist. If Mr. Grahmam was consistent in speaking the truth he would also comment on Newt Gingrich so called redemeption and question his conversion. Althgough people make mistakes, at least Obama have not divorced or committed multiple infidelity against his wife. Not only didi Newt commit these offenses but he has a lane excuse convincing "you so called evangelicals" that his job, dedidation to his job and stress on his job contributed to his moral failures. Now that not redemption because sin from a biblical perspective according to King David is a sin against GOD perforemd by the offender without excuses. How much qualified is thie wicked New Gingrich qualified to be president? Do you think Franklin Graham would make a comment to question Newt's so call confession / subsequent redemption? I seriously doubt it. Thus Franklin Graham is not paying a price for speaking the truth but for being partisan.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  3. Walt

    Absolutely ridicules as the Stephen Prothero reacts to any form of criticism of Barack Obama, Democrats or Muslims. He would even quote T.D.Jakes (even so he does not agree with him usually) Why not ask also Rev Jeremiah Wright about Franklin Graham?
    I guess going to Fox News is another unforgivable act in Stephen Prothero's eyes.
    This is embarrassment for so called "religious scholar" who is basically an atheist and probably does not respect anybody who believes the Bible. Why would he voice his opinion about Francklin Graham?
    I don't know...
    BTW – Franklin Graham is in North Korea helping people who are suffering from food shortage.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      Walt you are really a lost, mindless mouth breather. Your hero is in North Korea reaping pr at the expense of the international community and at no expense to himself except the fuel for his private jet. But hey, you just send him more money.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  4. Flafreethinker

    This whole family is the biggest bunch of hypocrites. Billy Graham was nothing but a farcical fake. His son is after the money and religion itself is nothing more then a joke. When the religious idiots finally get it, that there is no god and the bible is fiction,this world will be a much nicer place. Get rid of religion and let science teach the truth.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • Trinity

      Amen!

      May 19, 2011 at 2:12 am |
  5. boza

    Evangelist are a bunch of liars who know the truth about Jesus the prophet & are hiding it to benefit themselves.
    read the old testament & understand???

    May 17, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  6. Tom

    I've been reading your articles Stephen and if I were your father, you would definitely be an embarrassment to me.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  7. kmom

    Franklin's ok, but his sister, Anne Graham Lotz. should have been the one to "inherit" the Billy Graham Evangelistic Society mantle, as it were. Perhaps she will yet. 🙂

    And it's a camel that's trying to go thru that needle eye – not a fat man, lol. There's even a comparable scripture in the Koran.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • Trinity

      try to remember that these people don't believe a woman's voice should be heard in a place of worshp. the bible tells them that a woman should remain silent.

      May 19, 2011 at 2:13 am |
  8. Brian

    Religion embarrasses everybody. It just wishful thinking – a psychological device.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  9. Steve

    I am quite sure Billy Graham is quite proud and thankful for his son's ministry. Franklin's Samaratin's Purse continues to help millions of people all over the world every year. It is one of the most financially reponsibile ministries going today. I think your article is mean-spirited and ill-informed.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  10. Shield of Faith

    The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans – Intelligent answer!

    May 17, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  11. Jon Armes

    Any real Christian would not try to defend Franklin Graham, they would have to say he blew that one and hope he would admit it and try to bring all Christian's together like A real Christian leader and Pastpor would and should. We as Christian's must stop defending those people we like and start defending God's Word. We all know he was wrong. Every real Christian knows, Please We must hold our leader's accountable For the Christian community and the World. We are the salt of the earth and our light must shine. A Faithful Servant of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  12. lance corporal

    uh, his dad was no saint! his dad was just more devious and hid his hate better and had better pr advice and instincts

    May 17, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  13. Rev Mathews George

    . Franklin Graham is the son of a great man who exemplified Christ in all walks of life. Billy Graham balanced faith, family and culture with a rare maturity we don't find in many faith leaders. All throughout Jesus ministry he kept politics of limits and also did not make any comments about other dominant religions of his time. Yet he insisted “I am the way, the truth and life” and encouraged people to come to him to have life. I think all Evangelical leaders should imbibe that motto. If you stick to the gospel as Rev Billy Graham did nothing will go wrong. An influential Christian like Franklin needs stop making comments about political leaders and other world religions at least in public. He is free to express himself behind closed doors, that his world.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • Nancy Bush

      Mr. Mathews, ( sorry I don't refer to any mortal man as reverend ) Real Christianity has no boundaries. Now what if your child would only acknowledge you in some arenas and not others. I get so sick of political correctness. Franklin Graham has every right, and even duty to call it what it is, no matter who or what. Either "you're for me or you're against me." Leave the man alone, I don't think he's embarrassing his earthly Father, nor is he embarrassing his heavenly Father.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  14. lstro

    I absolutely agree. Several weeks ago, the second I heard Franklyn Grahams comments about the President, I knew immediately he was speaking from a Conservative Republican perspective. These folks have no shame. Sadly he too has lost my respect and will have some answering to do come judgement day.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  15. usurper

    Stephen Prothero. Go to hell.

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

      Ah, Christians. Gotta love their take on their own religious principles.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Jim

      Is that you, Frankie??

      May 17, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • Andulamb

      Presenting a well-reasoned argument just isn't your thing, is it?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
  16. Bill

    The author is just a liberal (like all the others on CNN)! His religous stances shoud not be taken serious, either...liberality and moderate statnces are the crumbling ingredients of this nation today. If you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything. Franklin Grahamn see thru the lies and decpetion of Obama and liberality and the author simply does not like his political leanings. True dat!

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

      Jesus was a liberal.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • brad-ash

      You're right. He was the progressive radical of his time.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  17. Joe

    I challenge any one on this earth, including our President, to offer help and hope to as many people as Franklin Graham has through Samaritan's Purse. Amazing organization that he leads. Somehow, and I'm assuming it was through his political prowess, they were able to continuing to help the Indonesians after the tsunami, that, after all "religious" help organizations were told to leave. Samaritan's Purse puts Jesus' words into action, and I fully respect the work Franklin has done. As far as his recent political comments, well, I guess he could have stayed out of the fray. But, it's his right to, and his comments would by no means embarrass his dad, whom I am sure agrees. They just have 2 different callings to ministry, both of which provide evangelical messages.

    This article appears to be written by someone who views Billy Graham as a celebrity, not someone to listen to and take the message seriously. If he had, he would see that Franklin's works follow his faith.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
  18. Andrew

    It's funny this blogger never mentioned Samaritan's Purse which is Franklin Graham's Christian organization which reaches the poor all over the world. I stand with Franklin on Islam as it is an insideous and false religion which was created out of thin air. TD Jakes is a joke as well. If you stand in the middle it means you stand for nothing at all. You have no conviction. Christ didn't mince words at all. He clearly stated that He came to save sinners from their sin and to die and resurrect so that those who place their faith in Him would have everlasting life. Christ himself called a spade a spade. Sin is sin. Just because BHO says he's a Christian doesn't mean he's a Christian. Just because Bush said he was a Christian doesn't mean he was a Christian and just because Bill Clinton came out of a church every once in a while holding a Bible doesn't make him a Christian either. Franklin Graham has convictions a I stand with him on that. Way to go.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Simon

      As you prove, hypocrite is a hypocrite.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • Rick

      Islam was created out of thin air? As compared to what, Christianity? Be careful where you draw the line about which religions are "true" and which are fantasy. Yours isn't as unassailable as you seem to think.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • brad-ash

      There's a sheep for every shepard regardless of his/her character.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • Sweetenedtea

      Just because Franklin Graham says he's a Christian doesn't mean he's a Christian. He can mouth the words all he wants and enjoy the political and monetary fruits of his 'ministry,' but pious hypocrites have always been with us.

      Frankly, I'll take a person who professes no principles over one who professes hateful ones any day of the week.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • Kevin

      You are half lost my brother/sister. Sin is sin and Politics are politics. Did Jesus do politics or was his business sin? Satan has developed to masterfully because we use religion in so many ways to justify what we perceive to be right. Franklin Graham's attributed comments in this article seems to be a sign of a Christian faltering. Hopefully, he gets up and carries on with his purpose. We have no place to judge anyone. That's the Lord's decision.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • Missouri

      We should all be very careful when questioning another's Christianity........

      May 17, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • LevelHeaded

      You are ignorant to the truth.

      Graham says he wants to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel that Jesus preached was never written down in any book. All you have is the gospel "according" to Mark, Mathew, Luke, and John.

      When Jesus comes back, majority (but not all) of Christians will be rebuked by Jesus: Matthew 7:22-23 : Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Jesus also said: Matthew 15:24 : Then Jesus said to the woman, "I was sent only to help God's lost sheep–the people of Israel."

      Jesus didn't come to save you Andrew. If you disagree with Matthew 15:24 and 7:22-23 then you are calling Jesus a lier and Matthew a lier!

      The Bible speaks of false prophets, watch your local TBN station and you will see the station filled with false prophets that spread false prophecies about when doomsday will arrive, all so called Christians. The latest prediction is that Rapture will begin May 21 2011. If it doesn't then I strongly encourage you to find out what Moses and Jesus really said and are often times ignored or twisted by modern day Christians: Deuteronomy 18:18-21, John 16:7-13.

      If you ignore the truth in the Bible, then the Bible will ignore you on Judgment day.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  19. captnavenger

    Mr. Graham is himself an embarrassment to our species. What matters if his son is embarrassing him? This is a man who has made the pursuit of power, both vicarious and direct – his entire life's calling. A man who languishes in wealth lavished on him by a massive, frothing following of cannibalistic sheep.

    Billy Graham is an evil, evil man, soliciting mental slavery and predicting – and hoping for – misery for millions, and to what end? Continued blind, slavish devotion to an unnecessary god? Or to himself?

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

      I bet you believe in Santa !

      May 17, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • Rajah

      Those words will reverberate through your soul when Christ returns if you don't repent...and you will also remember your response to thi email. whatever's eating you, Christ died to take that on too. Just give it to Him. Try Him, what do you have to lose? If I'm wrong, you've lost nothing.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Henry

      @Rajah

      That isn't actually an email.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  20. AdmC

    Frankie is an anti-Christ and anyone who cares for their own soul should steer clear and far away of this charlatan - he is a hack who takes MILLIONS in income from little old lady shut-ins to line his own pockets

    May 17, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Joe

      U R ignorant regarding his ministry

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

      I really don't see how the son and father are all that different. One was an anti-Semite, the other hates Muslims; just about all of the same anti-Muslim demagoguery today is taken verbatim from the anti-Semetic language of the past (ie their religion tells them lie, the want to control the world, they're inherently evil, they secretly want to kill every Christian, etc etc).Even their political bigotry is similar. One hated Communists with a passion (what are communists not human now?), the other hates liberals. The only real difference seems to be that the younger one has more heated rhetoric.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:28 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.