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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

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  8. dennis

    Muslims and Christians pray to the same God. Islam believes in Jesus Christ as well as Mohammed.

    June 16, 2011 at 7:47 am |
  9. kaybtt

    Isn't this article about Franklin Graham's intolerance of others?? If so, what the heck are all these comments about regarding President Obama?? I suppose Franklin Graham thinks he's channeling God directly. His hugh ego is his embarassment and will be his downfall. It's a shame because although I'm not religious, I did listen to his dad all the time because he was charismatic versus dogmatic. I didn't have to believe what he said, but I could listen and know that he believed what he said and was truly passionate. And...sometimes his true stories resonated with me. To spout willful lies is a double shame.

    June 15, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  10. tommy

    As far as Obama's faith is concerned, the proof is in the pudding....and the pudding tastes rotten to me.

    June 15, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
  11. tommy

    This story is so unfortunate and one-sided, I fear I haven't the time in my day to pick it apart like it deserves.

    June 15, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
    • Barfy Spewsalot

      Yet you found the time to read it & post your ignorant views. I pitty you & hope you find God before God finds you.

      July 11, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  12. Nahms

    Franklin was asked a question and answered it honestly,had he not done so he would have been labeled something else.If you don't want the truth stop asking questions and besides while his dad was a great preacher in his time,Franklin is his own person and cannot answer according to daddy but according to how his convictions roll, why must he be carbon copy and not original???

    June 15, 2011 at 2:20 am |
  13. mark

    faith is in everybody. Even agnostics have faith because it is instinctual and we all believe what we are going to do later on and we all believe that we will go on vacation next week. Our experiences and are knowing and hope and desires plus our seeing and viewing our past shows how we are sure of tommorow and with either a little unsurity , no doubt, or more doubt. W hy do you think they use placebos.

    June 14, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  14. thruthoffends

    The IDIOTIC author of this STUPID article has no idea what he is talking about! and he gets paid for writing CRAP like this?? CNN you are such a dung hole.

    June 5, 2011 at 6:37 am |
  15. Capt Crunch

    The only thing Franklin has done is inherited an empire which allows him to have power. He is a high school drop out and has never had to work for anything. All he has had to do was wait out his parents old age and death, then step into their shoes.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:52 am |
  16. Jarno

    Since it's been more than a week now that my comment has been "awaiting moderation", I've come to the conclusion that there's no actual person moderating these – if your commment goes to moderation, you might as well consider it gone for good.

    As I suspect that my comment went into moderation because of it's length, I'm instead going to re-post it in two parts as a reply to this post. Shame on you whoever is running the CNN religion blong moderation, should such a person exist.

    June 4, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • Jarno

      No, didn't work. Apparently the first half of my post contains some word, or part of a word that the system picks up and sets my comment up for moderation. I guess I have no other option but to wait for the rather improbable occasion of someone actually bothering to moderate around here.

      June 4, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  17. George

    It seems that I am not the only one awaiting moderation, huh? Wow! I thought my comments were the only one's that were not seeker friendly. I bet they moderate this too!

    June 2, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • Jarno

      I'm really amazed at how the moderators seem to have gone AWOL. I sent a notice of this through the feedback form for CNN.com a few days ago, but I'm begining to think they don't read their feedback either.

      June 2, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  18. Lindsaygirl

    Dude, you continue to write stuff that is just a provacotive headline, but nothing to it. Really? Do you really think that these things are so bad? They are his opinions when he's been asked his opinions. That's it. Geez....you'll do whatever you can to get a negative headline in CNN against Christians, won't you?

    June 1, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  19. Joseph

    Franklin Graham turned on Jesus himself when he questioned whether Obama is Christian, in public no less, and many times. I wish Franklin would actually read the Bible, then he'd know it's "feed the sheep", not "fleece".

    May 30, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  20. Jarno

    I have a comment here that's been waiting for moderation for more than 24 hours. Hello? Anybody there? There's nothing offensive or against the rules in my comment, but it is strongly critical, and I would like to think, well argued point against Biblical religions. Is it that you don't like what I'm saying and would rather that it not be published, but can't find any good excuse to delete it, so you let it hang in limbo? I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and choose to think that it's probably just that you are very busy and understaffed.

    May 26, 2011 at 6:24 am |
    • Jarno

      Still "awaiting moderation". Someone sleeping at the job?

      May 27, 2011 at 4:54 am |
    • Jarno

      Still waiting... this is getting ridiculous.

      May 28, 2011 at 4:06 am |
    • Jarno

      Whoever's supposed to moderate these comments has obviously given up on his work.

      May 30, 2011 at 7:14 am |
    • Jarno

      Still no change. I'm beginning to think my comment is ever going to be moderated. This has certainly lowered my opinion of the level of professionalism at CNN, for sure. I have reported this as feedback through the "contact us" form, but I'm not holding my breath.

      June 1, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
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About this blog

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.