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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. robert #1

    what has Stephen Prothero been smoking? No, I don't want any! It must be some cheap nickle bag stuff!! Yee Haw!!!

    May 17, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  2. Derek

    I miss George W. Bush.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  3. robert #1

    Well stated TINA. Thank you

    May 17, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
  4. The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

    Donald Trump is a very good example of a christian man. I can easily believe that franklin and donald saw eye to eye on a lot of things. jets, limos, gold watches, expensive women.
    oh that right ~ franklin is forgiven right after he does it ~ that is how christianity works ~ i keep forgetting that
    one not need change what one does as all is instantly forgiven

    May 17, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  5. beelzebubba

    Thanks for standing up to the cult religion that conveniently sided with wealthy slave-owners by claiming that slavery was condoned by god as a normal part of life and helped start the civil war. Then they were against mixed society. Now they're still playing race-baiting hate politics. What a disgusting cult and what a sleazy cult leader.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • Paul

      thankyou for you errant rendition of history...blah, such a chip on your shoulder....

      May 17, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • beelzebubba

      RE: "Paul- thankyou for you errant rendition of history.."
      Maybe you should research who apologized for their role in slavery before you embarrass yourself in public and make your fellow cult-followers look unrespectable.

      May 18, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
  6. robert

    Demuth-"WE don't need no stinkin blessings" Speak for your self.WE do need "blessings" It is a blessing to use this
    forum for communicaiton,to have food to eat, air to breathe,money, a job, a friend, to be in America instead of Iraq or
    Saudia Arabia.In those countries you can be summarily jailed or killed for expressing your opinion.But, not here in
    the good ole US of A. You can say what you want, even if it is crass, illogical and just plain stupid! Yee Haw for
    freedom of expression!!!

    May 17, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • William Demuth

      You say speak for myself, yet you then use the term we?

      Traditional Christian Bu@@hit.

      You are on the losing team, so keep blessing as much as you like, but I suggest you worry about YOURSELF, because some of us believe in justice in this realm, and not one of your imaginary ones.

      May 18, 2011 at 8:45 am |
  7. steve88

    almost poetic. I disagree with with the theistic component (strongly), but I like that you express your true feelings, yet kept you post clean. =)

    May 17, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Paul

      pseudo morality...

      May 17, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • beelzebubba

      RE: "Paul
      pseudo morality..."

      So, Paul, 'important' cult leaders like the Graham's must NEVER be questioned? The reason cult-followers like you don't question their leaders is simple: they might be exposed, as they were in this article.

      May 18, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  8. beelzebubba

    Thanks for being courageous enough to expose this fraud. He and his father have no authority to claim the status of cult leaders.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • Paul

      With a name like yours, I'm glad you took the author's side.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • PRISM 1234

      @Paul
      LOL! ! !
      I agree!

      May 17, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
    • beelzebubba

      I want to be your invisible friend. You are free to not believe I exist, but if you don't, you'll be tormented for eternity. Oh, and you should send me ten percent of what you earn. Oh, when good things happen, all the glory to me. Bad things only happen to those who 'had it coming'. Who wouldn't want to sign up to such an offer.

      May 18, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  9. Paul

    "In recent years, he has garnered more attention for bashing Islam"

    Ya, think? Maybe because in recent years, Muslims have been terrorizing everyone especially Christians. Franklin is one of the few willing to take his head out of the sand.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  10. Another Larry

    "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"

    Typical pathologically dishonest Obama hater. The author's point is well taken and he never said this is the reason Billy Graham is a good man. You're just attacking it because of *your* political agenda.

    "Franklin is a "political hack" because he agrees with presidential criticism."

    Straw man argument.

    "The authors not even a Christian, the only vestment he was in this article is political."

    Ad hominem argument.

    "The article is a joke."

    Projection.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  11. Renee

    Since when did it become okay to opening, and hatefully attack the President of the United States of America? Obviously we are NOT united any longer, not sure we ever were. You may not like Mr. President, but he IS the President no less. Not one former president was perfect. This nation was being run into the ground long before Mr. Obama took the oath of office, and will continue to do so long after he's gone. Republicans and Democrats alike have long strayed from the true formation of each party's original beliefs. It's just Them vs Us, and neither is totally right or totally wrong. Not one poster out here is all right or all wrong. Hatred is hatred not matter the political affiliation or race. We are all Americans at the end of the day.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • David

      I find it interesting how quickly Obama supports jump on the "we should support him because he is our President" wagon. When President Bush was in office there was an awful lot of "we should impeach Bush" from those some people.....

      May 17, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Henry

      @David

      Also interesting how conservatives have moved from 'we should always support our president' to 'he is not my president' over the same time period. Welcome to hypocrisy by all not just the ones you disagree with.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  12. THOR

    I AM THOR

    May 17, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  13. doingbusinessas

    When things get rough, one of Graham's "Christians" is going to do another Tucson. Let's keep Guantanamo open for ALL religious nuts who threaten America.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • robert #1

      Con-voluted thinking.You put the con back in convoluted,bro!!!!

      May 17, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  14. Paul

    Has the author thought of possibly asking Billy? Character assasination attempt by an ungodly author.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • beelzebubba

      So, god told you this, personally?

      May 18, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
  15. David

    Billy Graham was a gifted preacher and I believe a very passionate Christian, but I would imagine if we had the same level of media scrutiny back in his prime days someone might have captured him saying something slightly offensive to one group or another. He is human after all. So for Franklin Graham to be labled as "Carnival Barker" because someone asked his opinion on something and he did not spout some "politically correct" line is a joke. True Christianity teachs us to love the sinner but hate the sin.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  16. Oldie in TampaBay

    I think that The Rev Billy Graham is one of the best 'teachers' to ever live and am so happy that I have been here in this lifetime with him. Franklin is another story. As far as I am concerned he is clueless. Whichever way the wind blows so goes Franklin.
    I am sure that Billy is mortified. But being the man he is he will let THE Man take care of it in the end.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  17. Paul

    This opinion is a CNN sanctioned attack on Franklin based on his political beliefs. Period. End of story.

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

      You missed the point of the article. Try reading what Billy Graham said about staying above politics. Billy was quite hypocritical about that himself, but hey, baptists are widely known for telling others to follow rules they don't follow themselves. Can I hear an amen?

      May 18, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
  18. Pete

    While you may not agree with Franklin, I think it is wrong to claim to know Billy Graham is embarrassed. The only thing I can be sure of is that Billy loves his son. Your take should be based on how you think not on how you think Billy Graham thinks. Don't we have enough trouble just speaking for ourselves instead of magnifying it by speaking for someone else?

    May 17, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  19. Tina

    Luke 6:26 (The Message)

    26"There's trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them. Popularity contests are not truth contests—look how many scoundrel preachers were approved by your ancestors! Your task is to be true, not popular.

    Matthew 5:11 (The Message)

    11-12"Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don't like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

    Rejoice when men say all manner of evil against you

    May 17, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  20. Kenny

    The only reason that Franklin Graham may still be able to find his birth certificate is because when Billy and Ruth Graham realized they had brought a simpleton into the world, North Carolina law would not allow them to destroy him or his birth certificate. As a child, I grew up listening to The Rev.Billy Graham on radio. We were to poor to have a TV. I found him to be inspirational and still do to this day. To this day I still have the greatest respect for Rev. Billy Graham and yet I am saddened by the fact that this great man has to live and suffer seeing how his own son has turned out. He knows that he and his wife raised him to be a better person than he is.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • beelzebubba

      Funny stuff... too bad shrewdness beats intelligence any day of the week.

      May 18, 2011 at 12:30 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.