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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. Kate M

    Awesome biblical allusion in the last sentence!

    May 25, 2011 at 3:09 am |
  2. Steve T

    Just another charlatan who calls himself a Christian – not hard to understand why the Romans threw them to the lions. Religion is the generator of evil and hatred and needs to be banned.

    May 25, 2011 at 1:30 am |
  3. dave

    actually Franklin has more fear for the Lord then his dad did. He is not afraid of telling it like it is and everyone must admit there are problems with barak hussein's history like his child hood a muslim school in Indonesia where it is written 'Islam' as Obamas faith, that is recording in his school's file. also, anyone who has read the quaran knows that islam means "submission ' to allah, the end goal is to force everyone into islam, this is why the islamic countries do not tolerate other religions and force harsh rules on its people. this is why there are terrorist groups and they quote the quaran , the very verses that call for jihad and submission. Billy graham on the other hand , near the end of his career, told larry king that all religions are going to heaven. this is in contradiction to john 14:6 where Jesus said " I am the way , the truth, the life. No one comes the the Father except through Me" and in a Acts, "for there is only one name under which men can be saved, The Lord Jesus...and other verses. the author of this article loves compromise , thats why he sides with Billy and not his son franklin. those who read the Bible and fear God know that compromise is the slippery slide into deceit.

    May 24, 2011 at 1:50 am |
  4. Steve

    WHO WE OBEY IS WHO WE WORSHIP !

    And ALL the world wondered after the Beast . ROME A beast is a country or kingdom Chk.. DAN. 7:17, and 23
    Rome is the 4th beast in Daniel. The vatican controls the concience of what the whole world believes.

    False doctrines have flooded the church idolatry, eternal hell, mary worship, veneration of the dead, Sunday sacredness. These are all an abomination to the King of Heaven. Jesus Christ. God has had it with false worship Stop asking your pastor about the Bible, and start asking your Bible about your pastor Cursed be man that trust in man Jer. 17 :6

    May 23, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  5. Steve

    I wonder if Billy Graham will make it to heaven.
    According to the Bible he wont. It is written" Whosoever doesnt do the least of these commandments, and teaches others not to do them will be called least to the Kingdom" ( in other words your not going ) Mt. 5 : 17 Billy G spit on Gods Divine Precepts ( the Sabbath) Graham Exalted the false Sabbath (Sunday) which obeys the Catholic Church in contradicting the Word of God, Sunday worship is the mark of the beast (Rome) . Deceiving the whole world right according to prophecy.

    Worship God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth and give Glory to Him and His Holy Sabbath. Babylon will fall.
    Come out my people. Rev. 14

    May 23, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • RachelM

      Except that there is no evidence that God directed "Sunday" to be exclusively the Sabbath day since the names of the days of the week weren't adopted until the Roman Empire era. The currently accepted Gregorian Calendar wasn't adopted until 1582, by Papal Bull signed by Pope Gregory XIII. It seems the Catholics have it right and whatever secondary Christian sect you belong to is really doing the deeds of the Beast.
      You may think you know your Bible, but you certainly don't know your history.

      May 23, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • Steve

      I'm REPLYINGF to RACHELM

      Rachel, Sunday is the 1st day then sat. is the 7th. You can't have it both ways. The Gregorian calander changed the month and year but not the weekly cycle. Your Catholic Church admits the Bible Sabbath is Saturday. They claim to have the right to change Divine Laws. They claim changing the Sabbath was a mark of their eccliesastic authority, which is blasphemey.
      The book of Dan prophecies this would happen by the anti christ or little horn Dn.7:25

      While I'll suffer the wrath of Rome, you'll suffer the wrath of God. Your a canidate for the mark of the beast.
      I'll be faithful to the God of Heaven. Not your lord god the pope

      It is written " Wide the path of destruction. straight and narrow is the way and -many- FEW find it
      Good luck Rachelm

      May 23, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  6. Frank

    Franklin Graham doesn't worship God, he worships Politics.

    May 22, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
  7. David

    In their heart, everyone knows the truth about where Obama was born. So why is the issue of Obama's birth so important?

    It provides a clear litmus test for who someone worships: God or the Republican Party. Are you willing to lie for the (perceived) benefit of the Republican Party? Or do you honor God by not lying? It really is that simple.

    May 22, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  8. motherlodebeth

    Sad thing is Franklin has done and is doing wonderful work and doesnt insist you be a Christian to be helped. When asked a question he answers it in an honest way, then gets bashed for being honest. And being a walk the talk Christian is more than going to church. Siitting in a church pew makes you a Christian like sitting in a car makes you an automobile.

    May 22, 2011 at 12:36 am |
  9. Edward Joseph Garvril

    If Mr. Graham spent 15 minutes reviewing the free online edition of the "ONE GOD Book," and the "ONE GOD Book Concordance" his bigotry towards monotheistic, non-Christians would decrease.

    May 20, 2011 at 6:09 pm |
  10. proud american

    u need to be very careful what u say about God's prophets..Bible says Do not touch My anointed ones, and do My prophets no harm.” just thought i let u know....

    May 19, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
    • rick boyd

      Dems are proud americans also...Everyone is accountable....God will decide who is a prophet or a false prophet.
      Franklin is losing his most valuable christain tool...His influence ! His Dads legecy can be hurt by his politics. He needs to think and pray about his statements and perhaps do some fact-checking before he speaks.

      May 20, 2011 at 1:10 am |
    • Ranzabar

      Hey, thanks for the warning sport

      May 22, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • Steve

      Franklin doesn't bear the stamp of God, the Signature of Heaven. But that of a false teacher headed for the LAKE

      God protects us if we heed His counsel. It is Written " If they speak not according to the law or the testimony, theres no light in them. IS 8 ;20

      There goes a whole bunch of them.

      May 23, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
  11. Mariann Pepitone

    Franklin Graham is right in his statement about Obama. Obama is not christian knowing the church he went to for 20 years. Franklin Graham is a solid christian along with his father. And no one could preach the bible like Billhy Graham. I listened to his crusades all the time.

    May 19, 2011 at 8:52 am |
    • Xgirl360

      Being Christian is a personal thing in ones heart. You nor anyone else has a right to say that some is or is not Christian. We haven't had a Universal (catholic) Church since 1054 when the Roman and Greek Churches split. With the further fracturing of the Reformation, there is now no one authority to declare who is Christian and who is not. If Obama professes a belief in Christ and considers himself a Christian, there is absolutely no one on Earth who can say otherwise. Not one soul. When Christ returns, he will be the final judge.

      Being Mormon, I take particular offense to anyone telling anyone else who is and who is not Christian. It takes but one thing to be Christian. To believe in Jesus Christ. Membership in a Church is only secondary. I know plenty of Christians who don't have a denomination or church. They may have been baptized as a child and never set foot in a church again. But, they are just as Christian as any Evangelical Minister. Sometimes, I think they are better given the Jimmy Bakers and Ted Haggards of that community. If you stand in "holier than thou" judgment over another person....then you are a sinner. End of story. So, I wouldn't through stones in glass houses if I were you Mariann Pepitone.

      May 20, 2011 at 4:26 am |
    • svatoid

      Remember Billy Graham's lack of action during the Civil Right's era–that's right he supported segregation. remember the fact the billy sat quietly and listened to Nixon's anti-semitic rantings. That's right, Billy is also an anti-Semite.
      Anyway, Billy will burn in hell and so will Franklin

      May 20, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
  12. Reality

    Tis all about making money from myths and/or fortune telling :

    some examples:

    Glen Beck, $32 million in 2010, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/08/glenn-beck-earned-32-mill_n_529903.html

    and from guidestar.org

    Rev. Franklin Graham $800,000+/yr.

    Rev. Billy Graham, $400,000/yr

    Rabbi Bradley Hirschfield $331,708/yr

    Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, $200,000/yr

    Erica Brown $134,221/yr

    Eboo Patel $120,000/yr.( not to include his $2 million "non-profit" investment portfolio)

    Imam Rauf and his wife Daisy, $400,000/yr/ea estimated---------------------------

    May 19, 2011 at 8:31 am |
    • Will Gee

      And don't forget
      – Christopher Hitchens
      – Sam Harris
      – Richard Dawkins
      – Bart Ehrman

      May 20, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • Ranzabar

      We, so what you're saying is it's OK to be a Christian BS artist, but Atheist BS'ers have to be poor?

      May 22, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  13. gblawall

    the mistake in this story is trying to compare the son with the father. i first saw Billy Graham on TV 44years ago. I think i was about 8 years old at the time, my parents attended a southern baptist church. I remember being told that all Catholics were going to hell and no way would a black attend the church. Now some blacks attend and i haven't been shown a bit of truth that all Catholics are going to hell. Billy Graham I truly believe that he his a true man of God. I feel blessed to live in the same generation as him and blessed that I have been able to listen to his teaching. Lets not forget what he has done internationally spreading the word of God. I for one am a full supporter of any non violent religion. i think Franklin Graham has the right to say what he thinks. We all don't have to agree or disagree and make a fuss out of one interview. Also look back to what Franklin Graham has done with his charitable work around the world. I wish I could be half the man the either Billy or Franklin. They carry heavy loads.
    God bless all

    May 19, 2011 at 4:25 am |
  14. Avi Shlomo

    The son is an idiot opportunist. what he said about Muslims will not stand had he talked about Jews and we even do not believe in Jesus christ while Muslims honor him. perhaps he wnats to resurect Storm Thurman past thru hatred and bias.

    May 18, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • cassandra lynnae

      WHERE IS THE LOVE OF GOD IN CHRIST AT!!!!!!! LETS JUST PRAY FOR PEOPLE AND FORGIVE THEM

      May 19, 2011 at 3:14 am |
    • Ranzabar

      Not an idiot, just a con arstist

      May 22, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  15. memphispiano

    I think your article is grossly unfair. Although Franklin Graham has made some ill advised comments, all of the references you made were in response to media questions. There is a big difference between going around bashing Islam and responding honestly to a question that is presented to you. It would seem more a case of the media trying to corner him than him really looking to promote these secondary issues.

    May 18, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  16. Mark

    Mr. Prothero–did you ask Billy or Franklin Graham for comments before you published this article? Did they confirm or deny your allegation that Billy is embarrassed by Franklin? It seems to me you would want to at least check with them before making such an outrageous factual allegation, assuming you actually care about the truthfulness of your article. It would be one thing if you said that, in your opinion, Billy should be embarrassed by Franklin, but that obviously would not have garnered as much attention, since it would just reveal your article to be a political attack by a political hack. I think I will contact Billy and/or Franklin to see if they have any comments on your allegation and whether you asked them to comment before your published this smear.

    May 18, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • David

      Well said Mark. Those are exactly the thoughts I had. Stephen Prothero comes across as ridiculous, in my opinion, in this article.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Johnnyleen

      I think he means in the sense of "perceived as an embarrassment". Such as, "How embarrassing that that woman's slip is showing while her husband is standing there." Maybe neither the woman nor the husband is aware of it, but it's still embarrassing.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • Mark

      Johnyleen–I think your theory is inconsistent with the convention definition of "embarassing" (causing subjective feelings of embarassment in someone) and even more casual uses of "embarassing" (engaging in conduct the observer thinks should cause the actor embarassment, as in "embarassing yourself). Is the author saying that Franklin is engaging in conduct that should cause Billy to be embarassed? Why? Because the author says so? Even if that is what the author meant, what is the point of this article? To let us all know that one CNN contributor thinks that Franklin Graham is doing things that should cause Billy Graham to be embarassed? That is certainly not how I interpreted the author's inflammatory headline before I wasted my time clicking on the link. Why couldn't the author just say that he thinks Franklin should be more like his father because the author does not like Franklin's politics? Of course, the answer is obvious: Because that would have just been a transparent partisan attack by a political hack and would not have gotten the attention of as many frustrated readers like me–my main point.

      May 19, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  17. j

    Billy Graham isn't embarrassing enough, for christianity, humanity and America?

    May 18, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  18. EliteAmericans

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMBpy24rr_k&w=640&h=390]

    May 18, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • Tim

      The Bible says in the last days people will want to kill Christians. I think I get your point sir....

      May 19, 2011 at 7:47 am |
    • Tim

      He said he believes in the mark of the beast in the annanpour interview. He's being real! No other pastors these days go public with the Truth like that. Made me interested in Franklin after that interview.

      May 19, 2011 at 8:31 am |
  19. Phil

    I personally agree with what Franklin says. It's ok to have opinions other than your parents. Last i checked we still live in a country where freedom of speech still exists. He is a very smart man and i'm sure his father is very proud of him whatever his opinions may me. The media really needs to keep their opinions out of this all together!

    May 18, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • Steve

      IN RESPONCE to TIM

      Yes Tim, the Bible says Christians will be killed again. Like the dark ages ( when the papacy killed 100 million)

      But not to worry. cause only commandment keeping Christians such as myself will be killed. Yes and there are TEN, not 9 or 7. The Bible Sabbath is the 7th day. Thats going to be the whole issue. Satan changed it to Sunday, how clever.

      There not the ten suggestions. but Commandments, yea. You will all see the danger in rejecting Bible Truth

      May 23, 2011 at 6:19 pm |
  20. cjsmith

    Embarrassing? What is he talking about? When you have a man like Billy Graham that touched as many lives and accomplished as many things as he did...It's tough living in that shadow as a son. How many of us are following in our father's footsteps when it comes to the same profession? Probably not many? Because we are all different. And especially if your Father trancended the culture in his time. So sure, he may be trying his hardest to please his father and it looks nothing like the work that his father started but who cares, and why do we judge as if we wanted him to be a replica. His father isn't embarrassed, ..He could be the complete opposite of his father's beliefs and that may cause some displeasure, but ....just saying

    May 18, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • Reality

      Tis all about making money from myths and/or fortune telling :

      some examples:

      Glen Beck, $32 million in 2010, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/08/glenn-beck-earned-32-mill_n_529903.html

      and from guidestar.org

      Rev. Franklin Graham $800,000+/yr.

      Rev. Billy Graham, $400,000/yr

      Rabbi Bradley Hirschfield $331,708/yr

      Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, $200,000/yr

      Erica Brown $134,221/yr

      Eboo Patel $120,000/yr.( not to include his $2 million "non-profit" investment portfolio)

      Imam Rauf and his wife Daisy, $400,000/yr/ea estimated
      ======================================================================================

      May 19, 2011 at 8:31 am |
    • Ranzabar

      Christian sociopaths cannot be embarrased

      May 22, 2011 at 7:12 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.