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. blake

    Franklin is not Billy, but he is a good man. Am concerned bythe leftist, PC bent to this article.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  2. Greg s

    Of course a Liberal would have this to say about Frank!!! Frank is doing exactly what his father would be doing if he was a younger man, Stick to your new age Christian beliefs and leave Frank alone.


    May 17, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • Todd

      You do realize that his "new age" beliefs are more historically rooted than "evangelicalism" (a term that hasnt been around for more than 100 years). Sad to see fellow Christians veiling their eyes from the truth when it shows up on their front door.

      May 26, 2011 at 6:36 pm |
    • Joseph

      Franklin Graham can't discern whether Obama is Christian nor if Trump will be President. He operates on Emotional Blackmail, which is Fear, Obligation and Guilt. Franklin is preying, not praying.

      May 30, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  3. KateMae

    The seeds of my atheism were sown when I attended a Billy Graham crusade in Chicago at the age of 13. The evangelism was just nauseating and I imagined the real Jesus being just as angry as I was. However, give me Billy any day over this ridiculous, cotton-brained birther.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  4. Ben

    i am not surprised about this news and what i am surprised is why is it so late. this guy praising Evg Graham upto heaven to make readers feel good and then tarnish his son. i am sure there are more protheros on the way.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  5. amaniko

    Great Great article !!! I was thinking the same idea after those all appearances in Amanpour,fox news,everywhere I feel the same like your article.Thanks for your comment and I agree with this great article its absolutily good idea. Any way his son is not the same like his father SORY Franklin

    May 17, 2011 at 11:26 am |
  6. Nancy

    The Grahams are irrelevant - except in Ted Turner's BELIEF BLOG. Their relgion, like others, will soon disappear. This is a good thing, a very good thing.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Lizard

      Before you go ragging on "Ted Turner's" belief blog, you might want to pick up a newspaper from a decade or more ago to learn the "news" that Mr. Turner sold CNN.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:33 am |
    • Nancy

      Lizard. Why should I dig through ancient newspapers to ferret out your point? Why can't you just make your point? Why do you always surround words in quotes? It seems that you have something more to "say," but just don't. A man - I mean reptile - of mystery.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Lizard

      Nancy: my point is you are clueless so your points of view are therefore meaningless. Ted Turner does not have a belief blog. CNN does. Ted Turner sold CNN a decade or more ago. You focus on my quotation marks to make yourself seem above it all ... I put Ted Turner in quotes because I was quoting from your ill-informed quote. Mr. Turner has NOTHING whatsoever to do with CNN's blog. You wouldn't need to ferret anything if you were even remotely informed of current events and history. My point is: you called an innocent man out on the carpet and you don't care to correct yourself. I'm no ferret, but I do read the news and know (as most informed people do) that he is no longer affiliated with the news network he founded.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
  7. Alan Harris

    I think the writer of this article is an embarrasment.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:25 am |
  8. jim k

    Bob is right. He was asked and he answered. Only when that answer does not agree with the one asking the questions, it becomes an issue. Franklin Graham is a good man. God did not makes us all the same. They say the apple does not fall far from the tree, but it is a different apple each time it falls. Judgeing those who do not agree is one of mans best abilities. What are they saying about you and me? Better yet what is GOD saying?

    May 17, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Ranzabar

      God isn't saying anything. He doesn't exist.

      May 22, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  9. WVLady63

    HOORAY for Franklin Graham! KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK! Any time you go against liberals, thieves, liars, cheats and low-life criminals or speak your piece, YOU are the villan. There is no such thing as Freedom of Speech, unless you're a foreigner, illegal alien, burden on Society or a liberal. Thank goodness Mr. Graham speaks the truth! How wonderful it would be to have him in the White House.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Nancy

      I agree WV Lady63!!

      May 17, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  10. RaKa

    For CNN, to have a "belief" blog means lets continue to insult those who believe. CNN uses this blog to continually harass Christians. They go and find someone they call a Christian, to do their dirty work. But usually once you read the article you realize they are not. I guess this is what happens when Corporate America decides to blog.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Ranzabar

      Because you want a forum where no one questions you, challenges you or posits alternative. You want everyone to think what you think, feel what you feel and pay attention to your point of view. Accordingly, CNN is supposed to give you a forum with a one-way conversation where you get to spew dogma and everyone else is supposed to sit quietly.

      How very, very Christian of you.

      May 22, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
  11. mean

    I think whoever wrote "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World" probably isn't in any place to comment on how much Franklin G embarrasses Billy G.

    While religious tolerance as a social value is desired, religious exclusivity runs at the core of Evangelical Christianity (and pretty much any religion that sticks to its fundamental values), and Billy Graham was the star preacher of this particular faith. He might not have said anything in public in the interest of preaching his gospel to the world, that doesn't make him any less theologically radical than his son.

    For all we know, BG probably approves of FG's stance. Just because you don't want to hear what this dude has to say, doesn't mean he has to stop speaking his mind.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  12. Lizard

    So what I gather from this article: 1) you don't like Donald Trump and are using Franklin Graham to write them both off; 2) you can't separate Billy from his son (his son makes it hard for you to remember him well? Really? How unfair but I imagine Mr. Graham Senior could give a rip what you think of him); 3) you're a liberal who can't abide hearing other viewpoints/questions/fears. Good job, journalism school guy!

    May 17, 2011 at 11:24 am |
  13. Z

    "Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of G*d." John 3:5
    Stephen Prothero, if you believe F. Graham is wrong, search the Bible and seek the will of G*d. The Creator of Heaven and Earth, the One who is full of grace and mercy.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Ranzabar

      Why should he read the Bible? Why not the Koran or the Torah?

      May 22, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  14. RaKa

    Why does CNN even have a "belief" blog, all they use it for is to attack Christians. Typically they go find another "Christian" to do their dirty work. I could really care less about what Franklin Graham says...but CNN...your blog is a joke. I guess this is what happens when corporate america starts blogging.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • WSPIN132

      I agree, but if you really want to see the 'worldly' view on Christians, there's no better place to see it than to view the agnostic commentary on a faith-based story. And as 'lost' as this generation is, and as hollow as these 'intelligent scientific thinkers' are, it shows Christians who they need to reach out to the most.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • donna

      You are absolutely right, all this guy wants to do is bash Christianity and today Franklin Graham is the target. Next week it will be someone else. Is there ever an article criticizing any other world religion?

      May 17, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Ranzabar

      Christians all huddled around each other. Us versus them. The big bad world picking on us. Boo Hoo.

      May 22, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
  15. Chris

    If this writer could do 10% of the good that Franklin Graham has done he might have something valid to share. All he is sharing is his liberal viewpoints.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • Lizard

      I don't know about what good Franklin has done; however, I agree with you 100% that this "article" seems to be truly about the author's political leanings, not his perceptions of Billy Graham's legacy or Franklin Graham's failures.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • Texas

      And all you're sharing Chris, is your bigotry!

      May 17, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Masada1

      Leaving politics aside, makes one wonder when one "Christian" is so overtly critical of another. I wonder what axe Prothero has to grind.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Ranzabar

      Conservatives partly like it's 1462

      May 22, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
  16. kpcarlington

    When I heard Franklin hold up Trump as a viable Presidential candidate I thought "this guy is truly out of touch with reality...and he's walking in Billy Graham's footsteps, he is the successor to Billy Graham's ministry???" His endorsement of Trump was one of the most shallow actions any minister could make. Stay out of politics Franklin!

    May 17, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • Mike Dodd

      Franklin never endorsed Trump. All he said was that he brings up interesting discussions and that he was a viable candidate. He never said that Trump was his man. Go look at the interviews.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • Ranzabar

      He was auditioning for the next season of Celebrity Apprentice

      May 22, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
  17. joe

    I find it sad that Prothero failed to mention anything about Samaritans Purse. Balance and full disclosure about a leader is good journalism... this blog fails to give us all the information... very sad and very biased. I don't necessarily agree with Franklin Graham's opinions, but I am challenged to try to love and respect people like Graham... giving him a chance and trying to represent him in a fair way.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  18. Paul

    Stephen – He raised some valid questions. Just because you are a democrat, anybody raising questions about a democrat president should not be irritating you. Chill and relax. Don't be too sensitive.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  19. XWngLady

    Short Answer: No one but Billy Graham knows ... More importantly, is Franklin embarressing his heavenly father?

    May 17, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Faithful

      Yes. Yes he is.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Ranzabar

      God can be embarrassed? For real?

      May 22, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
  20. Mike Gantt

    Stephen, is what you have written here an example of your being about your father's business?

    May 17, 2011 at 11:16 am |
    • RaKa

      Good point! Seems as though he's meddling into politics.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • tmichelle72

      Very good.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:24 am |
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