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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. memyselfandi

    Maybe the writer should ask Billy himself if his son is embarrassing him.
    And since when do father and son have to do everything alike?

    May 17, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  2. David

    The only embarrassment is the writer of this article. I personally know Franklin and the work he does through Samaritans purse . To publicly attack a man who has done so much good for this world is sickening.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Another Larry

      I don't know Franklin Graham, but I've seen him speak on TV and he's not half the man is father is. This article is spot on.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  3. xRedfoxx

    I see nothing wrong with his comments. Sounds like an upstanding guy to me!! All the points he made were valid.

    http://www.libertyandhope.blogspot.com/

    May 17, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  4. PP

    Franklin's listed salary as head of Samaritan's Purse is just over $470,000 according to Charity Navigator. With that kind of salary, he is no better than Hinn, Crouch, Swaggart or any other swindler.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • David

      You don't have a clue. Yes, 470k is a lot of money but how many CEOs do you know who make this little? The CEO of Lowes made over $5.5 mil last year and hasn't made any difference in this world unlike Franklin. The average pay for the CEO of Fortune 500 companies is over $11 million. Franklin is CEO of Samaritan's Purse and BGEA makes only a fraction of the other CEOs.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  5. Josh

    The author loves Obama, the article is basically about how Billy Graham is a "good man" because he has never said anything negative about Obama, and Franklin is a "political hack" because he agrees with presidential criticism. The authors not even a Christian, the only vestment he was in this article is political. The article is a joke.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • David

      You are immediately condemned and blackballed for saying anything negative about the elected Messiah.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  6. Shelton

    What a biased article. He didn't even mention the work Franklin Graham does through Samaritians Purse. The money helps people in third world countries have the necessities of life (food, clean water, ect.). He does this out of obediance to Christ' command to help the less fortunate.

    I think the author is the embarrassment. Maybe Mr. Prothero should take some of the funds I am sure he is going to donate to Obama's re-election campaign and give it to Samaritians Purse instead.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  7. doingbusinessas

    Let's show true respect to God by being honest: The Evangelical "Christianity" we witness today in America is largely a fraud. Their core ideas don't come from Jesus at all, but from a Jewish tax collector named Saul, who persecuted Christians until he made a discovery that he was on the wrong side of history. His ravings have no more connection to Christ than do those of Joseph Smith or L. Ron Hubbard– and other psycho narcissists of their ilk (the flavor de jour is Sarah Palin).

    Paul never met Christ. And the Evangelicals don't even meet him half way. They support Big Oil and BIg Military and cast stones at those who follow Jesus' example and live a life of service. Palin's scornful rant about Obama's social activism– and the persecution of Acorn are typical examples. (Of course there were abuses within Acorn. Can you imagine what Sarah Palin would have made of Mary Magdalen when she stuck her knife into Christ's side?)

    The biggest threat to America today is the closing of the American mind. Without rational thought democracy cannot work. Evangelical Christianity sometimes shows its face in a form as ugly as that of Franklin Graham, but he is the tip of a much larger iceberg of brainwashed robotic dead souls who represent an Al Qaeda within.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Larry Moreno

      Well-put. As an evangelical, I can only say that I am heartily disappointed at the prejudices, bile, and billingsgate practised by so-called Christian in the name of God/Jesus. Who have thought Jesus actually wielded an Uzi and exhorted the killing of Islamists, Democrats, left-wingers, gays, the poor, etc.?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  8. Keith Ballew

    Franklin Is sure to cause his Father great dispare. Its probably hard to take a rebel that is obcessed with wealth a make a 'good' christian of them

    May 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  9. bill

    I whole heartedly agree...i heard Franklin Graham on another radio station bashing the President and thought how different that sounded from his father.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  10. jen

    Prothero describes himself as "religiously confused according to a quote from you and wikopeda.. soooooo nuff said. oh.. what does your father think of you?

    May 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  11. robert

    I agree with Andrew,Bill,S.Matthews and Joe, way to go!
    The rest is random rancor and biased rattling.What has happened to logic, reason,honesty and just the facts mam,just
    the facts.(A quote from Joe Friday and Dragnet.Does any body remember?)

    May 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  12. Stephanie Palmer

    I know a lot of people admire Billy Graham, but Franklin is a different story. He has always lived in the lap of luxury and has never actually done anything to deserve the respect he gets merely because he is Billy Graham's son. He's a crock.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  13. Mark

    "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."

    Franklin has stirred the hornets nest of the far left and this is part of the backlasth. You will get that if you question President Obama on anything or in any sort of context. This article was written by Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar. This is a religous scholar writing a very biased one sided article about Franklin Graham based off a few statements. The whole purpose is to assignate Franklins character. His arrogant take is.. "My Take: Franklin Graham is embarrassing his father." Seem the respect he so eloquently speaks about of Billy Graham is a lie. I know this because Billy Graham has expressed how proud he is of his son numerous times about the man he has become. Unfortunately American evangelism is going in the wrong direction. Lot of corruption and manipulation. None of that thus far has been a problem for Franklin Graham's Samaritan Purse. You may not like his beliefs and his criticism of others but you can not reasonably question his efforts in helping folks around the world. So say hes wrong to criticize the President and his Father would have not is fair. This article was not a fair or intelligent representation of Franklin Graham. Stephen Prothero is embarassing Boston U. 🙂

    May 17, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • wrusshell

      I do not remember Billy Graham making public pronouncements whether any of the presidents he met with were true Christians or not. I suspect that Franklin should consider following his father's example. Last I checked the good book I thought it said only God could make that judgment.. If Franklin was wrong about Obama's birth certificate- and he was, doesn't it call in to question his judgment in other areas as well?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • Mark

      wrusshell,

      I don't think questioning his judgment is out of order about the Presidents birth certificate. I think it was a ridiculous assertion by Franklin Graham. I don't know in what context that discussion all came about but him and the President have bumped heads on a few issues. Still those comments don't take away from the body of work Franklin Grahman has done and how well his ministry has rated in terms of disclosure of how their finances are handle. The article greatly lacks balance and makes the assumption that Billy Graham is embarssed and even cares about his legacy in the eyes of "religous scholars". Franklin Graham is a flawed human being. He like you and I, everyone are liars. We've lied and made a million mistakes. He has some bad dirt on his hands for sure. He also has good dirt on his hands by helping dig people out of their messes pertaining to natural and man made disasters. Lets have some balance CNN, people! Its not all black and white.
      🙂

      May 17, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  14. jen

    and he is embarassing himself??? why???? i don't see anything embarasing except for your opinions..

    May 17, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  15. Jonathan

    The real embarressment is Organized Regligion such as Christianity. Christianity is a man created myth and man created dogma...in other words a cult developed and created by man that has little to do with the truth of God. Thank God it is slowly dying out as we become more educated as a society....but there is still much work to be done to end this virus of the mind. The vast majority of Christians have no idea how their religion was created and formed over time. Education is the key to combat ignorance.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Tim

      Thank God Christianity is dying out? Oh you mean its good that Revelations is fast approaching, and this world is being destroyed just like the Bible says? You mean once we get rid of all Godly people (or some who try to be) then we'll be stuck with a bunch of rude, callouse people robbing and killing each other everywhere, sounds good? I hear another storm is on the way....

      May 17, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Jonathan

      Tim: Again another post demonstrating the sad state of education and maturity in our society. It's people like you we have to protect our children and next generation from.........by the way I'm not an athiest. I believe in a some kind of Universal Intelligence, creator, or " God " if you will.....but I do not believe in man created myths such as Chrisitianity which has very little to do with truth or the " creator ".

      May 17, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      Tim it is time for your kool-aid

      May 17, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • Another Larry

      @Tim: "Oh you mean its good that Revelations is fast approaching"

      Right. So is the empire's Death Star. The real question is which one will get here first.

      "and this world is being destroyed just like the Bible says?"

      Actually, it isn't. However, if it ever is destroyed I'm sure that after claiming its destruction is right around the corner for more than a thousand years Christians will relish the chance to say "We told you so."

      "You mean once we get rid of all Godly people (or some who try to be) then we'll be stuck with a bunch of rude, callouse people robbing and killing each other everywhere, sounds good?"

      This is a myth believers tell themselves to make themselves feel superior to nonbelievers and elevate their sense of self-importance. I have news for you: Christians have done at least their share of being callous, robbing, and killing each other. Virtually everyone fighting on the western front in WII was from a predominantly Christian nation. The Catholic church had a large following in both Germany and Italy.

      Your comment is kind of nasty in its tone, typical of many Christians online. It seems to me that if what you believe were real you wouldn't act that way.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  16. Religous Scholar

    I agree and stand with Franklin Graham. Islam is wrong! Islam is wicked and will be the demise of us if we stand against it! Barrack a christian....I dont think so! We live in an era if you dont preach tolerance and acceptence of all then you are truly a christian. We need more people like Franklin to stand up for what is right and not be afraid to say it. And to reference TD Jakes....lol! Come on I would have tried to pick better references. My apologies to Boston U for having to be associated with people such as this author.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Jonathan

      Your post is a prime example of what is wrong with our society, organized religion, and the state of education and maturity in our society.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • Larry Hinson

      It's not so much that Islam is wicked, it's just that the 95% that are evil make the other 5% look bad.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Another Larry

      Islam itself is not evil. How it is practiced in many culturally stunted third-world countries is, just as Christianity was evil as practiced during the Spanish Inquisition. Unfortunately too many Americans are too ignorant and too simply in their thinking to understand that the problems we often associate with Islam are more cultural than religious.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • mgor

      I am glad you don't have the authority to judge other people's hearts and faith. You can only judge where your own heart is. Human beings can't tell where another person's faith decision is in their heart.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • lisaspups

      What is that verse about casting the first stone? i think you missed it in your chaotic tirade.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • Roy

      I agree with you (Religous Scholar), we need to call it what it is, not sugar coat it. I am glad to see some one call it as it is, not simply agree with it. Interesting how our Government was founded on the Bible and yet today so many doesn't want to "upset" people. The truth is the truth, what did Jesus say? He wasn't a popular person, look what the world did to him. They crucified him, and it wasn't because he wasn't nice, it was because he called it "right down the line". We are to be "in the world but not of the world" we are to be different.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Tom

      If "Religious Scholar" really WAS a knowledgeable, and honest person about the topic of religion, he or she would know that Islam, along with Christianity & Judaism are considered "brother religions", as we all come from a common beginning, and worship the same GOD. We are referred to by REAL religious scholars as PEOPLE OF THE BOOK. All three acknowledge Abraham & Moses as the beginning of their faith, and although both Islam & Judaism share in the belief that Jesus was a Great Prophet rather than being the Son of God, that doesn't make either of them EVIL. The fact that the Prophet Mohammed was revealed only to Moslems, and not either Christians or Jews, is part of God's plan, and God certainly doesn't need my permission to do it that way...

      One of the greatest tenets of Christianity is to Love your Brother, and to anyone who truly understands Gods wishes, that love extends to our fellow brothers of the Islamic faith too.

      To put it mildly, to call Islam an evil religion shows an incredible lack of understanding of what God calls Christians to do in this life....

      Franklin Graham is a bigot (as is RS apparently....) and I'm sure Billy Graham is quite ashamed of his wayward Progeny...While Billy traveled the world, and preached a gospel of love for God, and for all his children, Franklin has taken his brand of Christianity down a dark alley of HATRED

      May 17, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      Religious Scholar,
      Thanks for speaking the truth. Those who do are hard to find in the times we live .... Even many of those who are Christians are afraid to speak the truth, because they don't want to "offend".
      But God has a lot to say to those who are fearful ,and He did not mean those who are afraid to sleep in a dark room, but those who are afraid to stand up for His Name,and His righteousness.....
      But man's opinions come dime-a-dozen, and God , and those who love the Truth don't depend on them....

      So, Whom shall we please, man or God? But as HE said, blessed are you when they revile you, persecute you , and speak all manner of evil against you for my name's sake, so it is in this case! Franklin Graham has nothing to be ashamed of, because He is a true man of God!

      May 17, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • Jonathan

      Roy: You perpetuating another myth. Our government was not based on the " Bible ".
      Our founding fathers were NOT religious men....they wanted government NOT based on religion.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  17. Truth

    Mr. Stephen Prothero – why should Franklin Graham's perspective on Christianity influence the rememberence of Billy Graham??? So what if they are father and son and they have two different perspectives on being Christ followers...old school vs. new school.....that doesn't make them the same people or even close to it. Billy Graham's preaching and lifestyle may be different than his son...but so what? Franklin Graham may be a Republican and feels passionate about certain issues...but what does that have to do with his father's legacy
    ? These are two completely different Christians, obviously. That's it! Nothing more! There will never be another Billy Graham..period!!

    May 17, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  18. Lawrence Kong

    He is only known because of his father. His comments only made him more irrelevant in my books.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  19. Ruth Graham RIP

    This man did not honor his mother's burial wishes...He is ruining his father's ministry...Not a good man or Christian.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  20. hank

    You are all idiots. You can't believe in any man who takes money, whether he gives some to the less fortunate, or not. He is making money from some one else's weakness, or non-beliefs. You can pray for anyone you wise to, but you can't save that person, it comes from a higher power.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:22 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.