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. ac

    Lousy article... Tired of the Christian bashing. Obama's released birth cert is an obvious forgery. Do your own research..but then again,, you're just part of the media clowns who work in the same circus parroting the same crap. So truth never matters to you, parroting the script does. Unfortunately public opinion cannot be swayed as easily as it used to be but that is clearly the goal of junk articles like this: to work towards swaying public opinion.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • William Demuth


      Obamas birth certificate? I fail to understand the relevance!

      Talk about beating a dead horse!

      May 17, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
    • Stevie7

      I didn't see the article as Christian bashing. I didn't see any attack on the underpinnings of Christianity. I saw it as an attack on hypocrisy.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      You are a poor deluded apostate and I will pray for your lost blackned soul.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  2. Welcome to Reality

    Yet again, this article got one thing right: "The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero."

    May 17, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  3. Robert Austin

    Billy Graham was and is a classy guy. His son Franklin? Not at all.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  4. personal knowledge of Franklin

    Franklin Graham is a religious hypocrite who uses his own organization (Samaritan's Purse) as a tax shelter to protect his wealth. Franklin Graham has a multi-million dollar compound in Boone, North Carolina, where he employs half of the town in very well paying jobs....jobs and facilities all paid for by unfortunate Christians who believe they are donating to a good charity. Franklin Graham owns a fleet of aircraft and flies around in his own Gulfstream Jets and helicopters...all paid for by the same Christians who believe they donated money to support poverty. Franklin Graham offers tidbits of assistance to impoverished nations all while promoting himself and his organization to further his wealth and to support his tax shelter Samaritans Purse. This is a man who is not much different than Donald Trump, he is a self promoting hypocrite who is selling Christianity to people who are too stupid to see the truth. He has his own Taj Mahal right in Boone, NC. Why doesnt this man have to fly on a Gulf Stream Jet with donated funds? If people only knew the truth, they would never donate to this organization that clearly has political motives, all tied closely to the Republican hard right and FOX news... what a joke! Franklin Graham is "no" Billy Graham....he is a snake oil salesman

    May 17, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Please, Mr Trump may be a parasite, but at least he is entertaining.

      The Grahams on the other hand have not even that redeming quaility.

      The one thing I think they DO have in common is the clear need for closer examination bye the Internal Revenue Service.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  5. Lily

    I had the amazing opportunity of meeting and listening to Rev. Billy Graham at the American Cathederal in Paris when I was very young. He had a presence that was just short of the miraculous. I don't think many, including his son, could ever come close to his strength and devotion to God. So, let Franklin be Franklin and contribute in his own way.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  6. Cynthia

    God is proud of Franklin Graham and I don't doubt Rev. Billy Graham is very proud of him also. Jesus says that if you know me not on earth then my father will know you not in heaven.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Robert Austin

      Sure thing Sylvia. If God rewards people like Franklin Graham then God can kiss my fanny.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Stevie7

      He told you this? You had a conversation with god and he thought that Him being proud of F Graham was SO important, that he would make sure that you knew it? Wow.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  7. Margaret

    In today's churhes, the "leading pastors/preachers persist in passing on their ministries to their offsprings. They seem to neglect the fact that the "calling" is not hereditary. Billy Graham obviously had the calling; you can testify by his words and actions that he was directed by Holy Spirit even though sometimes, he let his emotions take over – which is quite normal, being human. But the question is: Does his son have the calling?

    May 17, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      Billy graham's fleet of Rolls Royce cars, private jet, and huge estate speak of his mission.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  8. dano

    Why are so many self-proclaimed "christians" so unchristian?

    May 17, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  9. J Taipei, Taiwan

    Franklin Graham has a great charity organization, Samaritan's Purse, and it does great work in developing countries and helping those struck by terrible disasters. However, I tend to agree that Mr. Franklin Graham does put his foot in his mouth sometimes and it does tarnish his dad's legacy. To Mr. Franklin Graham: Please stay out of politics and the rhetoric. I think you are better at spreading God's Word than man's word.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • HarvardLaw92

      That great charity organization Samaritan's Purse pays him over $600,000 per year. Spare me the rhetoric. These people are selling religion, and business is good.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      Charity Watch recommends people not give to Samaritan's Purse becasuse of lavish salaries and luxary goods purchase and luxary non mission travel.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  10. HarvardLaw92

    "and he challenged us to devote our lives not to money or power but to God."

    While amassing quite the portfolio of properties and other assets, including several million dollars distributed (i.e. hidden) amongst various family trusts.

    Spare me the rhetoric. He's just another profiteering snake-oil salesman.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  11. Ken

    Mr. Prothero;
    You have it backwards. Franklin's father was the politician. He chose to not take sides when Scripture declares a right and wrong. Franklin has stepped up to the plate and delivered. Your views are clearly pluralistic, thus devaluing the Bible to the level of lesser books. Franklin has declared the Gospel openly and I applaud him.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      You are a deluded, mentally sick apostate and I will pray for your misguided, blackned soul.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  12. William Demuth

    The Graham family represents a type of Christianity that should be permitted to pass away with the Elder.

    Much like the Bush equivalent in our political realm, it seems when a son is elevated to a position of power through nepotism all the good will earned by the father is squandered by the son.

    I have no doubt the lesser Graham shall use his father’s corpse as he did his mothers, putting it on display like some carnival huckster, all the while promising to save souls for a nominal donation to his hate soaked ministry.

    Good riddance to them both, and the indoctrinated hatred they espouse.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  13. John

    This is typical Christian bashing crap I expect to find on CNN.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • William Demuth

      If these gentleman represents your Christianity, then your faith deserves the bashing it recieves.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      Charity watch, the oldest investigator of where charities spend their money, advises not to donate to the Samartian's Purse of the Grahams.
      The reasons ~ lavish salaries and huge expense accounts for luxary travel and goods.
      And thery are not an affilate of CNN

      May 17, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  14. Al

    It's 2011 and we're still talking about a book that says that witches and wizards are real? People are so stupid.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • Bryan Jon

      And Al...Some just won't listen to the TRUTH!!!

      May 17, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  15. Artist

    The fall is a great thing....poeple will come to appreciate this.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  16. Tony

    Simply put, Franklin Graham is an idiot who speaks from his ass as if his brains are fried from cocaine use. He is in evangelism for himself, to make a living. Big time hypocrite and may be racist too.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Bryan Jon

      And Tony, you would be the expert here right???

      May 17, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  17. LM

    While I agree that Franklin Graham should keep his political leanings to himself if he wants to be taken seriously as a preacher, I disagree that he is a "hater". One can disagree with the President and not "hate" him. Most people who don't like Obama are not racists; they just don't agree with his policies.

    Also, I don't believe that anything that Franklin Graham does or says has any bearing on the legacy of his father. Billy Graham will always be remembered for what HE did and said, not what his son did after him.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Texas

      Yes it does make u a Racist, because u don't hate (white) Democrats with the same policies/values as Prez Obama.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • ItSOnLyME

      Obama's policies have nothing to do with the fact (and it *is* a fact) that he was born in Hawaii. The two seem to be confabulated these days. People despise the man for whatever reason, so they do everything they can possibly do, no matter how utterly ridiculous, to try to bring him down. It has nothing to do with his policies. They hate the man. Sad to say, but true.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  18. Bias Art

    I find that the writer is an Obama supporter which is perfectly fine this is America. However, I find this story onesided. He has picked a few quotes which he was asked, he did not openly speak about the topics. Does he speak of the thousands of great things that Graham has done throughout the world? To bring TD Jakes into this makes me laugh he is the biggest ego in the ministry there is.... TD Jakes spends his ministry's money for the glory of himself and not for God (i have personally been to this church and seen first hand). Graham flys an old plan and lives humbly to serve. Hummmmm this is a no brainer actions speak louder then words. Has this person even personally spoken to Franklin or is this article put together while watching CNN. Has he been to one of the Grahams ministries? As Annie Lennox said don't mess with a missionary man..... LOL

    May 17, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  19. Ron

    Amen. Jesus was not political. He emphasized individual spirituality and one's own relationship to God. He didn't try to amass influence and power. What he had was a result of the spiritual chord he struck in others rather than political and religious pandering.

    Franklin Graham believes he has a corner on the truth, and so rather than allowing god to work through him he instead feels justified in pontificating about others' spirituality. To say he is a pale reflection of his father would be wrong because religiously he is more the child of Jesse Jackson – someone who uses his associations for the purposes of self-aggrandizement. Sign-o-the-times I suppose.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  20. CNNDebbie

    Franklin Graham is most likely a disappointment vs embarrassing his father. Franklin can never be his father and Franklin will never have the following of his father. Franklin like many in the religion business have moved from serving God to serving man. Fatal flaw.

    May 17, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • Dan

      They are different men with different personalities. If he were a carbon copy of his father I suspect you'd cry that he had no personality and only believed what he believed because he was taught to.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • ItSOnLyME

      "Religion business" – you just hit the nail on the head. It's not about spirituality, it's about money, power, and getting his face on CNN. Not much different from Osama bin Laden if you ask me.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
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