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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. civiloutside

    Gotta disagree with the article's conclusion that Franklin's choice is between "embarrassing himself... by trying to embarrass Dems," and "being about his father's work." there's no reason he can't work on not embarrassing himself while at the same time being his own man instead of a carbon copy of his dad.

    May 18, 2011 at 11:47 am |
  2. Adelina

    Mr. Franklin Graham is doing what is right. Mr. Prothero seems to want true Christians out of politics so the nation will continue the moral decline.

    May 18, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  3. Mark

    Of course, the fact that Billy Graham is a registered Democrat and Frankin leans right has absolutely nothing to do with your analysis, right? The fact that Frankin answers specific political questions by reporters hardly makes him more political than Billy. The issue is whether Franklin makes politics a part of his public evangelization activities, which he does not. Moreover, one of Franklin's main ministries is Samaritan's Purse, which gives food and help to the poor? Do you give him any credit at all for these "social justice" efforts, which are far beyond anything done by his dad? Of course not–thoughtful analysis is irrelevant when one is consumed by partisanship. Can we drop the politics now and get back to real discussions about our faith?

    May 18, 2011 at 9:41 am |
  4. Mark

    Of course, the fact that Billy Graham is a registered Democrat and Frankin leans right has absolutely nothing to do with your analysis, right? The fact that Frankin answers specific political questions by reporters hardly makes him more political than Billy. The issue is whether Franklin makes politics a part of his public evangelization activities, which he does not. Moreover, one of Franklin's main ministries is Samaritan's Purse, which gives food and help to the poor? Do you give him any credit at all for these "social justice" efforts, which are far beyond anything done by his dad? Of course not–thoughtful analysis is irrelevant when one is consumed by partisanship. Can we drop the politics now and get back to discussions about faith?

    May 18, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  5. William Demuth

    Again our media marches out another charlatan! Tax frauds who rip off little old ladies!

    Someday men like this shall be judged by men of this realm, Rather than by an imaginary Space Ghost!

    I am sure if we looked closely at their finances, these two clowns would end up burning in a MAN MADE hell.

    As for the father, I shall toast his death!

    As for the son, I look forward to his perp walk!

    May 18, 2011 at 8:53 am |
  6. Mary

    Franklin Graham proves he is not a Christian just by judging another human being. It is not what you say,, it is about living the life that Jesus came here to teach us. Obviously he doesn't understand that. But, that is no excuse.

    May 18, 2011 at 12:40 am |
  7. RetiredArmy

    So there is a "Billy Graham Library"? Are you serious? This man was supposed to be a tool of GOD, not a man to be worshiped. I am glad that the Christians give their money for their preacher's libraries in lieu of their true GOD. You Christians are sooo funny sometimes.

    May 18, 2011 at 12:21 am |
  8. Susan

    Just have to echo Janet Mefferd, who talked about this sad article, and say I want to be an embarrassment like Graham if by doing so it means that I'm speaking the truth to non-Christians. Unlike his father, Franklin isn't afraid to speak up about the Christian faith, even if it means he offends someone. He has a heart for God and His word, so there's nothing to be embarrassed about, in my opinion.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
  9. RetiredArmy

    When I was a child, I was taught that only GOD chose who to lead his flock. Yet time after time I see where the son of a rich preacher is running the church after daddy retires. Are you telling me that with billions of Americans, GOD just happens to call the same family member time after time? Do you really think this? These are family businesses, that will NOT get out of the family. The next generation is called by Dadddy, not GOD. You Christians are soooo funny some times.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
  10. JWH

    Billy was a great preacher. But his words are a contradiction to the Bible and his sermons.
    The best thing he can do is shut up.

    May 17, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
  11. RealityChecker

    Stephen Prothero is irrelevant. Just like his opinions.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • mIUSA

      I agree with thee.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:40 pm |
  12. Greg21

    CNN..... U suck for pulling my comments.........I'm heading over to Fox........where it is fair and balanced......and I still stand by my comments that Islam is a false relgion.....

    Thanks for nothing........

    May 17, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  13. Adelina

    Time has changed in America since the prime days of Billy Graham. USA is no longer normal as a whole. Every Christian must take on politics to save the nation. The anti-christian immorality of unbelieving Americans is embarrassing USA.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
    • mIUSA

      YES.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
  14. IndianJeff

    Each of are responsible for our own words & actions. Franklin Graham will answer some day for his, But not you, nor to I, he will face the same Judge (Jesus) who we will all have to answer to. I think we all say or do things that we are embarrassed or ashamed of. What separates us from most people like Franklin is that he is in the public eye, because I am sure that if we had all our words available for everyone to read, our actions all on camera, we would all want to hide in shame at some points in our lives. As a leader he does have a certain responsibility to his flock & maybe he should be more careful in the future and in no way I am not making excuses for him, I am just saying this : let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  15. Anonymous

    Thank you for pointing out how deviant the evangelical Christian movement has become in the US. These zealots are driving more people away from Christianity with their narrow minded, self serving interpretations of "God's" word. They are blasphemers.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Anonymous

      Amen, brother. I've been preaching it for months!

      Cheers to you insight!

      May 17, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
  16. Mr. Mike

    The best response I can come up with for you "Graham lovers" is, Baaaa baaaa baaaa baaaa, bleet, bleet, bleet. Do you sheep understand what I'm saying? Oh well, dumb is as dumb does, I guess.

    Jesus should have said when he was on the cross "forgive them father for they are just too damn dumb to know what they do".

    May 17, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • IndianJeff

      For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. - 1 Corinthians 1:18
      I wear my "sheep wool" with pride as Jesus is my shepherd.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
  17. Masada1

    ConcernedPerson –

    Good conversing with you. In closing, I can't but observe how emotional (and sometimes ruthless) you can get with a person that believes in and follows Christ. Disagreement about theology is one thing, but I take it that from your perspective, material truth is all that you can understand (for the time being, at least), and the notion of anyone claiming to believe (or better yet experience) other truths is abhorrent to you. That seems to make you a very shallow person. One thing I do know: You will never get at the truth if your only tool is your limited mind. If what you want is proof, you will need to go beyond where you're at today.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  18. Bob

    Franklin Graham licks his finger, puts it to the wind, and knows that the winds of religiou$ fortune blow through the tunnel of political partisanism. Billy Graham, like Jesse Jackson, set off to do good, and wound up doing pretty well for himself along the way. Franklin, by aligning himnself with the Foxlodites, is merely solidifying his bona fides with the new conservative religious order. Billy's preaching from 30 or 40 years ago wouldn't bring home the bacon today. I respect Billy Graham along with Pastor Rick Warren as men of principle before politics. Franklin isn't waitng for his dad's passing to sell out.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  19. robert #1

    What is this about" bashing"? Why can't we stand honest, objective, unbiased critcism. If the facts are the facts then
    why not speak to the issue? To say that the Muslims beat their wives, cut peoples body parts off for simply disagreeing
    with them and that they will kill you if cease to be a Musilm is not bashing, biased or untruthful; It is in the news every day,
    without exageration. No one would suggest that the main news media sources would lie about those things, would they?
    There business is to report the truth fairly and objectively, with out spin, isn't it?!! Yee Haw!!!

    May 17, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • Jeff

      Franklin Graham is an idiot. Last night he was in North Korea trying to help their economy by asking all of us to donate tractors so they don't have to plow fields with horses. My first thought was... "What? Then I thought ok, so he wants to help the economy of a country that already takes billions from us and uses it to fund a weapons program and support their army. On top of that, why do all of these celebrities go and help other countries when they could be helping Americans right here? If you want to adopt a child you don't need to go to Asia to do it, you can find a very bright and energetic child right here at home. I don't mind helping others, but lets try to at least help our own people too instead of telethons to help Haiti... how about telethons to help all of those affected by the south-eastern tornado's or the flooding of all the states along the Mississippi? Where are these celebrities now? Ridiculous...

      May 17, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  20. Bob V

    Prothero, its you who have embarrassed yourself.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • MetsFanSInce73

      Great retort, Bob V. The depths of your counterpoints were awe-inspiring.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • Adelina

      I think the liberals simply want true Christians out of politics. But it's impossible in present America; Christians being silent on politics will bring moral chaos upon the land.

      May 18, 2011 at 2:26 am |
    • Pastor W

      Genuine Christians apparently being rude, prideful, ego-maniacs. Franklin Graham is a political hack. A pastor who has let go of Christ to latch onto the sideshow of the Republican party.

      May 18, 2011 at 11:39 am |
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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.