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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. Him

    Stephen Prothero attended "Boston University a religion scholar" and he writes a piece like this? Not exactly sure what he learned? Clearly Christianity and the bible are 2 subjects he failed. My suggestion is to read a little more about the life of Jesus and please read your bible a little more.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • RightturnClyde

      Well Prothero has to stir up controversy to keep the Belief BLOG "hot" and so he to pose things a issues to generate a response. It's not really news if fathers and sons do not get along. It's pretty much a human thing that generations see things differently and do things differently. Prothero can generate some active comment by making observations about the differences. There ARE differences and we all see them. Most of these latter day scholars have studied "comparative" religions and that is one reason they do not have one. Also most Americans today (unfortunately) had a babysitter named "TV" and it was not a good influence. Many of them are more familiar with Snagglepuss or Yogi Bear than with Jesus or the Bible. So that is their faith.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • Him

      Great perspective RightturnClyde and I agree with you in all accounts.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  2. sonny chapman

    I accept Christ as my personal Savior, therefore I'm going to heaven. Jesus said and & lived a whole lot more than that. You need to go back & read the Four Gospels and whole lot more carefully; and pay attention. Especially to "Love each other as I have loved you". John 13,34.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Sorry Sonny, but they have a new bouncer in heaven

      His name is Allah, so I wouldn't count on an eternity in paradise just yet.

      Luckily, if you are a virgin, he just may give you to one of the Jihad's who like boy toys

      May 17, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  3. Mike

    I have no love lost for evangelical Christianity but is this "religious scholar" at a former Methodist University (now THERE"S a failing religion for you!) serious about trying to defend Islam??? What part of Islam is good? Or better put, what part of Islam is good BECAUSE IT'S ISLAMIC? They like family? So do atheists. How is Islam working out as a religion that controls numerous countries? How's that working out for them? There is nothing like a medieval fanciful tale to get the juices flowing (and your women put in their place). But when I read tripe like this, and coming from someone who OUGHT to know better....when he goes home at night, and thinks the thoughts that he dare not utter...is he even honest enough with himself to admit that Islam is nothing more than organized slavery? Or does he–even in his quiet moments–try and keep up the charade that "99% of all Moslems are peaceful! Islam is one of many paths!" etc., etc. Islam is what Christianity was 600 years ago: a barbaric dance between magic and irrationality that enslaves people...the trouble is, in today's world it is even more out of place than the bizarre Christianity of centuries ago....

    May 17, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  4. raf

    How about if just try to be the people God wants us to be instead of the son of so and so??? Franklin Graham is not his father. He can be an evangelist w/o being just like his father. Your view of Billy Graham is a little too rosy I'm afraid. Billy himself thought he was a failure as a father. That would make a great headline "Spiritual father to millions a failure at home" oh the irony. Franklin Graham started Samaritians Purse, a humanitarian org that reaches millions with food and aid. His father never helped the world in this way. You always seem to have an axe to grind. Trying to find the failure and deficient in this and that. As you judge so you will be judged. Why not turn your well financed pen from cutting down and being the kind of writer who builds up and encourages. I know they don't teach you that in journalism school. I would hate to see you die and all you had to your credit was a bunch of pieces that criticize people trying to live a life . What's more your aim seems to be to make a name for yourself at the expense of others reputation. That seems like the oppositie of what Jesus did.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  5. Jayleigh

    I am agnostic and don't pass judgment on religion, but crooks that get rich off preaching the good word do rile me up. Like many he is keeping up the family "business" to keep him rich and in the news. At Least B graham was known for preaching even if I can criticize his wealth, F graham is only known for being B Graham's son and caretaker of the family name.

    Why is he even discussed in a national forum?

    May 17, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  6. Walter

    Franklin Graham is an embarrsment to his dad. His sister is much more representative of thier dad. He seems very angry and judgemental. He dosn't believe the Presiident is a Christian, even when he has publicly confessed to be one...

    May 17, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  7. Artist

    Bill Gates made his money legit. Billy and Frank are overpaid motivational speakers which means...bu ll $ hit artist.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  8. Dennis

    I feel like I just read a piece with the intellectual depth of a handful of cotton candy.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  9. Jenny

    Franklin Graham is bigot, he's definately no Joel Osteen. Joel took over his father's ministry and is doing an excellent job. God Bless Joel Osteen, Franklin Graham is a modern day biggoted racist claiming he's a man of God, he's hell bound.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  10. Alex

    I'm sure the son learned from the dad how to be a bigot.
    Secret phone calls between Nixon and Graham the father , The latter was complaining about the Jews and how he disliked them
    Like son like father,Graham the son hates Islam and Muslim period.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
  11. Lenny Pincus

    "The god-less left is so evil..." I dunno. With this sort of balderdash now part of the dialogue, how can anyone expect an intelligent conversation? Personally, I love God, but his ground crew gives me the creeps.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:10 pm |
    • Diana

      Now that is an awesome comment!!!!

      May 17, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  12. Michael, Chapel Hill

    You sound like a Wolf in sheeps clothing!

    May 17, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  13. Michael, Chapel Hill

    You sounds like a Wolf in sheeps clothing!

    May 17, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  14. Texas

    BTW, why doesn't Billy Graham call out his son Franklin, is he to ill, I hope that is the only reason!

    May 17, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  15. Jenny

    Franklin Graham is a racist. I'm sure his father is more than embarrassed that his son is a false prophet. Anyway what the hell is evangelical, is it some man made cult for evil and old racist white people?

    May 17, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
    • HarvardLaw92

      Why would his father be embarrassed? The father was quite the anti-Semite. Didn't anybody listen to his tirade on the Watergate tapes?

      These people are selling religion for a profit. There is a special blue burning seat waiting for them.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  16. bobster26

    Thats because all religion is cult following! evolution is what lfe is all about, we're still evolving and learning. some anatomical parts reach their destinations or limits as to what its achived in and around its enviornments.as for cults, they will never understand independent thought, brain washed hatred. think for yourselfs people and don't give your money and possesions to these cult barkers.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  17. Mildred Patterson

    I totally agree and can say Amen that one person should not question someone saying that he or she is a Christian. Only the person saying so believes or not believes it. whether it is so or not is not in anyone else's hands but God Almighty, not the person that is doing the doubting or questioning. The doubters should worry and be concerned whether they are or not, and read Job and what God said to Job in the end and his troubles. Where were they when God created the Earth? Were they there? Did they help lay the plans or make the sky and the moon and stars."? IThey weren't there and if they had been, they probably would have been standing around giving their opinions after someone else had laid the foundation and had done the work? I

    May 17, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  18. RightturnClyde

    I have come to respect Stephen Prothero's opinions more and I can see the contrasts between the two Grahams, but these are different times and the god-less left is so evil. They have control of the world. They have control of the media. They can spin things (and do) to destroy people, rights, cultures and have caused a lot of destruction. They followed Lenin and Comintern's propaganda methods and honed their craft on the Vietnam war, social strife of the 60's, Watergate and dominated the last quarter of the 21st century. They are intoxicated with the power of the media to impose policy. They do not like Christians or Christianity and they do try to advance the radical left (including Obama as their pet icon). Theft has not been good for American freedoms, but they are powerful and they are in control at present. They oppose Christianity (which is too bad) and Christians need to be very strong to survive this storm. Graham is trying (not like his father) to become a strength for Christians. His challenge is not easy and he has no supporters in the god-less left.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • HarvardLaw92

      The only contrast between them is that the father was better at knowing when to put on the man of God act and when to act like the profiteering devil that he is. Franklin and his father are two of a kind – one's just better at public relations.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Dude

      The poor persecuted Christians thing got tired back in the Roman days!

      I understand that it sucks to have the hatred you and yours sowed for centuries come back at ya, but I am sure if you check your good book you can find SEVERAL references to the idea that what comes around goes around.

      Now where did I leave that damn lion?

      May 17, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • ProfLloyd

      Very funny Clyde. Hehehe!

      May 17, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • RightturnClyde

      [HarvardLaw92 - The only contrast between them is that the father was better at knowing when to put on the man of God act and when to act like the profiteering devil that he is.] Perhaps that is your perception and yet you resent the power when it is exerted by Christian leadership. The elder Graham built churches and community and gave "family values" and Christian hope to millions. Faith, hope and charity are consequences of Graham's life but not from the radical left. Your ideology brings tyranny, oppression, decay and degeneration. [William Demuth ...Dude The poor persecuted Christians thing got tired back in the Roman days!} Oh no, the Christians were persecuted beginning with Nero after the burning of Rome. AT rthe same time Masada was destroyed .. Rome was destroying the Judeo-Christian faith and it went on for two centuries [William Demuth ... I understand that it sucks to have the hatred you and yours sowed for centuries come back at ya] The Christian faith has not sown hatred for centuries. At various times over the past 200 years kings and dictators have aligned with influential religions groups to seize land, subjugate people or extract wealth. This has included the Ottoman Empire, the USSR, Cuba, Catholic Crusades and Catholic inquisitions, Mao Tse Tung, Ho Chi Minh, Tamerlane, Genghis Kahn... and a number of Roman Emperors (in both Rome and Byzantium). Christianity has been abused by politics, but not exclusively or even the worst .. the worst have the Communists and National Socialism. (but you can do the reading). [ProfLloyd Very funny Clyde. Hehehe!] I am glad it is funny .. for you at least .. you are probably much younger and will live with the consequences a lot longer. It's all there ti be seen but you do need to open you eyes. Many of you will not and that is a personal choice.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • William Demuth

      RightturnClyde

      Silly!

      So now, the Nazi's were not Christian. I suppose the guys who exterminated the American Indians were Buddhists? I suppose the Irishmen that have been blowing each other up for decades are atheists?

      Sorry old man, but your God has blood on his hands, and it doesn’t have a darn thing to do with any stigmata!

      May 17, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • RightturnClyde

      Oh no. If you blow someone up does that make me the perp? Your logic doesn't work. The Indians were killed as much in your name as in mine (if you are an American citizen). The Nazi were godless. They worshiped a Fuhrer and bomb Christians in Poland and England and France and Greece. You have a problems with terms and logical fallacies. That's understandable because you favor generalities and imprecision .. it's convenient to just lump things in one pile or another (isn't it?)

      May 17, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • William Demuth

      Clyde

      Reality is that which is left when faith is recognized as irrelevant.

      Christians are blood soaked polytheists. They preach intolerance, and exploit the weak, foolish and vulnerable in every society they get a foothold in.

      Your claim the Nazi’s were not Christian is denial; I can in fact show you a picture where Reinhardt Heidrich has a Christmas tree in his office.

      The pious ALWAYS believe their God is a just God, yet they also deem salvation is not from ones deeds, but from subjugation to their imaginary deity.

      Christ is falling from grace with the masses, and shall soon face the same fate as his predecessors, ultimately being relegated to comic book character status like Thor. If he is lucky, he might get a car named after him like Saturn!

      May 17, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  19. Frogist

    I know little about Billy and Franklin Graham except what I learned from this article and what I read on Wiki. I've heard of some of the achievments of the father and found them impressive. They don't seem to be partisan or necessarily political. Unlike what I've seen in the son who has made himself out to seem very unpalatable and politically partisan. As for the Islam thing... Sadly, I've come to expect this kind of angry hatred of other religions from religious leaders. The ones who refuse to engage in direct antagonism and look instead for co-operation and acceptance seem few and far between. Besides which I can't take anyone seriously who thought Trump was a worhtwile candidate.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  20. Prothero's Wrong

    So, Prothero would rather that Franklin Graham deliberately espouse that Islam is a pious and saintly religion that aims to preserve All Life no matter what rather than expose the Truth of what it is? It's amazing how he could ever think that way. The people have a right to know, after all, The Truth Shall Make You Free! Prothero could sure learn from that!

    May 17, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • deathwombat

      He didn't say to promote Islam, he said not to insult it. When you bad mouth Islam, you're insulting over a billion people. If you want to convert people, build your religion up instead of tearing other religions down. The latter just makes people angry, and they stop listening to your message.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Robin

      Did you even read this article? The author said that Franklin Graham should stick to the gospel that he purportedly believes, instead of using his father's reputation to smear our President.
      Furthermore, Islam has nothing to do with what Franklin is doing. Islam is NOT a violent religion, in fact, it is an offshoot of Christianity. It is the fundamentalists in Islam that are promoting wholesale murder, just like it was the fundamentalists in Catholicism that promoted the Inquisition. Get your facts straight next time, so you don't look so much like a fool.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • RightturnClyde

      This is the main counter position to Stephen Prothero .. he is right in that the two grahams are not the same and that the younger is not like his dad. The elder could be political by remaining apolitical. But we were a different people. It is a simple observation (by the common man) that Is_lom is a mer_der_us religion. (REDRUM, REDRUM) and we have been giving them Camp David "summits" as a reward for mayhem for 50 years. The extreme left (godless socialism) toppled Nixon, turned Vietnam into a rout (hte "fall of Saigon"), burned our national symbols, and emasculated the Bill of Rights. They have challenged the Christian faith and been successful. They are very powerful and they know that. They have been shaping US history for four decades and Obama is THEIR creation. They made him. You've seen them shred any opposition to Obama (Palin, Trump, now Huckabee, McCain .. the Tea Parties) The left destroys its opponents. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The left is not the patron the "little people" but they have advanced that notion. They are not for freedom but they project that notion. They are dictatorial, oppressive, dehumanizing (you only have to look at places they've had power: USSR, E. Germany, China, Cuba, Nicaragua, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia (Bosnia). Graham is attempting to be a beacon of light like his father but in a very different time. The climate is hostile to Christianity.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • Pope Scott

      Why not profess that all religions are wrong. Only then will the truth be heard and all can be free. I love you even if you subscribe to religion. I don't need fear of God to be good. Sadly, many Christians need the fear to behave like humans should. Others take it a step further and Bible thump or hate in accordance with many directives or examples they find in the Bible. Some, however are good. Who knows, perhaps they would be terrible people if they weren't scared into being good. So, for them I say, "keep your faith." I'll keep mine.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:24 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.