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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. Colazo

    My Take?... yes, he is really embarrassing his father and the Heavenly One, if he wants to achieve even half of what his father did, he needs to stop making stupid statements and comments like that and start earning the respect of Christians and non Christians alike and I know he hasn't earned mine.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • Ranzabar

      What the heck is with this embarrassing God? How insane is that?

      May 22, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
  2. Connecticutian

    Wow, one extended ad hominem attack. I don't agree with everything Franklin Graham says, and I am thankful that Trump won't run for President. But I also don't feel the need to pen a CNN editorial that simply says "I don't like them". What's Prothero's purpose here, what's his point, why does he feel he has to make that point to the general public rather than directly to Graham?

    OK, Franklin isn't Billy, but he never claimed to be, and we have no right to expect it. Get over it, Stephen.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Geoffrey

      Not an ad hominum attack to compare father with son. That's not ad hominum. There is a legitimate comparison to be made between what the two men said and the direction of their ministry. It is different. I am not a Christian but I liked Billy Graham and Franklin makes me want to vomit it is so distasteful and vile.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:48 am |
    • Connecticutian

      Geoffrey, it absolutley is ad hominem, as is yours. Neither Prothero nor you engaged the merits of Graham's words or actions. Simply put "makes me want to vomit" is nothing more than a meaningless personal insult.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
  3. Shelley

    Anyone who has followed Samaritan's Purse and Franklin Graham for any period of time will blow off such a ridiculous post. I challenge people to research the work he has done and continues to do throughout the world in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ before such judgments are cast. The fact that this blog even exists is a greater mind blower than anything written on it.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Geoffrey

      Jimmy Jones raised millions for Charity. Then he lured his people to Guiana and murdered them all. What someone raises is not important if they are theologically corrupt. Franklin Graham preaches ignorance, bigotry and hate. That's not evangelism, it is the opposite of it.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Shelley

      Thankfully, it's not for me to judge. I can only rely on discernment based on what I know in the physcial and am shown in the spiritual.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
  4. gilberto lawrence

    I've always held Billy Graham in high esteem and I'm not religious but I have never liked Frankilin
    There is something about him that doesn't sit right with me maybe it's because he is a mere shadow of his father

    May 17, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  5. pgw

    Sorry Franklin, you need to do better to carry on the legacy of your father, preach the gospel, bring souls to Christ. You were a rebellious child anyway, but it is not too late to go back to the early teachings of your dad, so that his name will not be tarnished by your radical views. There is still much work to be done in the vineyard; let's get on with it.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:38 am |
  6. Frank

    Yes

    May 17, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  7. Faithful

    Religion & Politics is a marriage made in HELL, because you cannot serve 2 masters. As a Christian I am sickened by people like Franklin Graham and the way he tries to hide his bitter, hateful politics behind the Gospel. Just because someone spouts alot of religious hyperbole, doesn't make them holy. Even Satan can quote Scripture. Like the song says, you will know they are Christians by their LOVE - which Franklin Graham seems to be in very short supply. When Billy spoke you felt uplifted. When Franklin speaks, it's just depressing.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:35 am |
  8. Mike

    Billy Graham can't be replaced, not even by his son. Mr. Graham is one-of-a-kind. A good man who believes what he says, and says what he believes, no matter who the audience. He practices what he preached. Regardless of our religious beliefs, we can all stand to emulate his lifestyle. He will be remembered for the good he did, not his shortcomings. He will be missed by many people of many faiths when it comes time for him to pass from this world. His shoes will be near impossible to fill, no matter what slant his son may put on his continuation of his fathers ministry. If we had more Billy Grahams in this sad world, we would all benefit. I hope his son comes to realize that and mends his ways.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:34 am |
  9. ryan

    You seem to be over looking about 97% of what Franklin Graham says and does and focusing on just a few select quotes when he is asking direct questions that are political in nature. By the way, commenting on Islam as Graham has done is not primarily a political comment, but rather a religious one. Christianity teaches that the only means of salvation is through Jesus Christ, who is God. Islam denies the divinity of Jesus and thus teaches something wholly different. It is a false religion, and as an evangelist, Franklin Graham has an obligation to point that out. Feel free to disagree about Islam, but Graham the younger is just teaching what Christianity does.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • Geoffrey

      Franklin Grahams comments on Islam are not based on a legitimate religious view nor are they based on any reasonable concept of Islam. The man is simply a bigot and intellectually corrupt. As someone who delivers a message, if he is so careless, so thoughtless then everything he says must be questioned and that makes him ineffectual as a preacher.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:46 am |
  10. prp

    Mr Graham is an embarrassment to those of us attempting to follow Jesus.

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

      Amen.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • Pat

      Amen again...

      May 17, 2011 at 11:41 am |
    • Ranzabar

      You don't need him to embarrass yourselves. You do a find job on your own.

      May 22, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  11. Speak True

    I agree evangelist should be neutral for the most part. I do find the editorial hypicritical however. This is the second commentrary I have seen on CNN about Franklin telling him he needs to be neutral but the issue seems to be more with his position than the political aspect. If he had defended Pres Obama in all aspects would you, or anyone on CNN, have written this article?......absolutely not. If you are going to call him out at least own it that your motivated by the position. Otherwise you would have to call out all pastors who have spoken out loudly in favor of Pres Obama.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  12. Rob

    Amazing how we are so quick to jump on someone when they do not completely agree with our point of view or how we hold others to a standard much higher than we hold ourselves. While Franklin may not be perfect maybe we should also look at his positive qualities. Maybe we should ask the hundreds of thousands of recipients of charity that he has helped provide through his organisation – Samaritan's Purse. I am sure that they would have a much more positive opinion of him.
    Kee up the good work Franklin.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Geoffrey

      Some statements are so far from what many people find acceptable, I think bigotry should be pointed out wherever it exists. Franklin Graham could apologize or clarify but he has not. I don't think CNN is quick to criticize. They should have done it sooner. I've followed the sad bigotry of this son of a great man for a long time. He doesn't merit his pulpit until he amends his ways.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  13. Dr. Paul C.

    You have just revealed your lack of understanding and too much idle time. I have known Dr. Graham for over 58 years and both men stand much higher than you. Franklin is different and will be rewarded for his great service just like his father will be rewarded for his great preaching.

    Please find someone else to pound on!

    May 17, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • Geoffrey

      The comments that Franklin Graham has made put him very low indeed ... deep in the pits actually. Franklin Graham has repeatedly made ill considered, ignorant, intellectually corrupt statements his father never made. I think it is legitimate to compare the two and to note that Billy has never endorsed Franklins wrong headed statements.

      Franklin Graham is doing the opposite of Evangelism. "High" ? Personally, I think he will burn in hell if he doesn't reconsider his ignorance and bigotry and his spreading of it in opposition to the teachings of Jesus.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  14. RaKa

    Funny how CNN finds Religion Scholars or Seminary Theologians to give the Christian Account on how things should be. These professors are usually not even Christians. My theology professor was Hindu. He taught theology and classical greek.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • brs

      Raka – Nazi historians don't tend to be Nazi's themselves...do you discount their teachings?

      May 17, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  15. sharmanl

    I agree with the writer. I've financially supported BGE ministry for over 20 years. I love Billy Graham, and thought I respected Franklin Graham. However, when I heard his ridiculous comments about our President, and his support of The "Idiot" Thump, I said why am I supporting him and this ministry? The Bible says to pray for our leaders. It doesn't say pray and then talk about them like evil dogs. The reality, our President isn't evil. I do not agree with everything he does, but I didn't agree with everything George W. did either (and I voted for him twice). A Godly and Christian example would be to pray for our leader's guidance, direction, and their salvation. No one knows President Obama's relationship with Jesus Christ. It is a personal thing.

    It appears as if Franklin Graham, unfortunately, would rather support a racist idiot (Thump) instead of our President. I hope it's not simply because our Presiden is Black. That would certainly be a sin and a shame, and would not be practicing "loving your neighbor has yourself."

    May 17, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • RaKa

      Ahh, so your politics got in the way of your religious beliefs. Well, I guess now you know who you truly serve. Viva la Obama!

      May 17, 2011 at 11:34 am |
    • Geoffrey

      NO Raka – Franklin Grahams politics got in the way of HIS religious beliefs. Franklin Graham preaches hate and bigotry. The original poster did not speak of politics but of principles of decency which you obviously don't believe in .. that's your problem.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  16. ART

    Yeah I couldn't believe when this moron said that crap, he really is an idiot and an embarrasment to his father. If you ask me he has already ruined his fathers legacy he just needs to shut the hell up

    May 17, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  17. BL

    This person is the opposite of spiritual. He's nothing more than a hack politician who uses religion as a weapon to prop up his own ego and hurt others.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:30 am |
  18. r.r.

    I really don't like this report. You can't compare two different points of view. It sound like you don't have any respect for a man of God.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Faithful

      Franklin Graham is no man of God. He's all for himself. He may know how to talk the talk, but he sure don't walk the walk.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Geoffrey

      The point is simple. Franklin Graham has been far more narrow minded than his father. Billy Graham is a great preacher who reached out to all with important messages and he did didn't waste his breath pointlessly casting aspersions on a legally elected President.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • filter

      We should respect men of god, but we are also to hold them to higher standards. When you have a very public voice and people are listening, you need to be careful what you say.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  19. stevie68a

    You can be a good person without the fictional teachings of christianity. Religion covers itself in a cloak of "love", but is really
    about hate. Billy turned out to be anti-semitic, Franklin, at least, is more honest with his put down of the muslim religion. But
    hate is hate, and it will be the "religious" who will destroy the world, for the reward of a non-existent "heaven".
    Freud called religion "a mental illness", he also said it was "patently infantile".

    May 17, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • kells

      @stevie68a you sound mentally ill yourself and its a shame how narrowly minded you are. you are just blinded by hate of chritianity, religion and God. get a life

      May 17, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  20. Disapointed

    I grew up in India listening to the preachings of Billy Graham. While I am not religious, his words seemed to ring true. Now, I am not too sure if he meant any of it, or was just a good orator, reeling in peoples money because he has successfully raised a racist and a bigot as a son!

    May 17, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • MarylandBill

      One thing every parent has to come to terms with is that even if they do everything right, their children can grow up to turn out wrong. Unless given evidence to the contrary, I will never blame a man for the way his son turned out.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • Ben

      who are you talking about? sai baba or sree sree or that tamil swamy caught in ........... oh i forgot his name....

      May 17, 2011 at 11:40 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.