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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. bluemax77

    I THINK EMBARRASSMENT IS MUTUAL...!

    May 17, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  2. Masada1

    Billy was a master storyteller in the true sense of this term. He was able to inspire and move millions of people through his oratorical skills and knowldege of God. While a bit under his father's level, Franklin too is spreading the Word, but doing it a bit differently. His many charity foundations help tens of thousands of people worldwide. Both are good Christian men. I have no doubt that Prothero also is a good man, but by being so critical of Franklin, I believe he is showing his true colors. Onward Christian soldiers!

    May 17, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • ConcernedPerson

      soldiers is a perfect description. More people have died in the name of JC than any other human figure. WOW.

      Onward christian killers! Onward christian zealots – maintain that insane need for an adult Santa Claus and kill kill kill until everyone participates in your self-delusion! LOL

      May 17, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  3. Texas

    THAT'S RIGHT, the POTUS has to plead for air-time to speak to the American people, whereas ABC & CNN (seem) to eagerly accommodate Graham and his 'message of intolerance'.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  4. ConcernedPerson

    billyG was a dangerous hateful man. Funny how communism is closer to the teachings of JC than capitalism. And billyG hated anyone nonChristian. But what would you expect from some christian evangelist who believes in the bible? The bible is the most hateful, violent, revengeful story book ever!

    The idea of some god creating everything, then flooding it, then sending a son to save his special little human creations is absolutely pathetic, childish and way too human preferential. Also, there is not one unique idea in the bible. ALL of it is just copycat rehash of older myths – ALL OF IT. Saviors, resurrection, conquering death, water rites like baptism, virgin births, sons of god, first humans like adam and eve – these can ALL be found in the stories of prior cultures. The bible is just a hack job. It is the mythology of the jewish people and evolved into the mythology of christians. PATHETIC!

    May 17, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • Lisainshawnee

      Okay, "ConcernedPerson" Let me get one thing straight: I believe in free speech so your comment is posted, but it is the most ignorant thing I have ever read. The Bible is not a story, it is a history book. And, until you have read it in its entirety, you really aren't equipped to comment on it. So, for now I will abstain from having a battle of wits with a person unarmed such as your self.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • Stevie7

      The bible is a history book? You might want to brush up on your understanding of history. The world only being around for a few thousand years, people turning into pillars of salt, a world-wide flood (not physically possible) ... fables maybe, symbolic allegories perhaps, but certainly not history.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • ConcernedPerson

      I have read the bible, the whole boring story book. LOL I grew up catholic. Did you know that 80% of christians have never read it! I guarantee you I have studied religions as much as anyone here. Just read "Dont Know Much About the Bible" by Ken Davis or "Dont Know Much About Mythology" by the same author. Then you will see how the bible is just a story book – a boring rehash of older stories. Sorry, but if you choose to be ignorant then you are dangerous. billy/frank choose to be ignorant.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  5. Texas

    Franklin Graham is being given a WELCOMING (MEDIA) PLATFORM to spread his intolerant message!!!

    May 17, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
  6. CHuck in Calif

    Dear Writer:
    Franklin was answering questios he was asked and did not dodge them. He did not bring the subjects up. If he were asked about his faith he would surely provide answers to those questions.

    Hey doesn't Chrisitane sit on a board of a liberal organization for Soros. Maybe you should looke into your own industry first before attaching someone else.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
  7. dude

    Frankie is a numb-nut literalist (that's redundant!), just as his father once was, and may still be.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • Agnes

      What exactly does literalistic interpretation have to do with testicular sensitivity?

      May 17, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
  8. John

    Billy Graham was a much ridiculed figure in his own time, and criticized for being too close to the political world. Even evangelical Christians know that. My Take: Stephen Prothero Has Not Done His Homework. Which seems to be typical for CNN "journalists." As for Franklin Graham, anyone who seeks to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ will, at times, have to comment on current events. Every single one of the biblical prophets did, and each one was either ostracized, persecuted, or murdered by the dominant culture of the time. In his editorial, Mr. Prothero only reveals which side he is on.
    .

    May 17, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  9. Texas

    Stephen Prothero wrote:
    (I don’t always agree with Jakes, but I'm with him on this one.)
    .
    If all Jakes does, is quote the Bible, just as Billy Graham quotes it, I wonder why that little disclosure was necessary.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Jakes does not "just quote the Bible."
      All preachers, pastors, priests, etc. add at least some interpretation to the Bible. If nothing else, then simply by choosing one Bible over another.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Sorry, misquoted. should be:
      just "quote the Bible"

      May 17, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  10. ZeeMan

    As a muslim American I respected the elder Graham and listened to his message that largely tanscended any religion. At least for the last few decades he has shown tolerance towards other religions. Franklin is a disgrace to his father and family. He has relegated himself to only the extreme right wing christians, no other will listent to his message.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • William Demuth

      I believe the proper term is "a pot calling the kettle black".

      May 17, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  11. TD

    Stephen you are right when you say, "I am not an evangelical", it more than shows in the many other dumb articles you've written.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  12. raf

    On Islam..... I have worked in the Muslim world for 15 years. Overall Muslims are very friendly people. Generally though their faith is built around the denial of the historical fact that Jesus died on the cross. So while they say they affirm all prophets, they deny the crucifiction of Christ which is the cornerstone of Christianity. They also beleive the Old Testament and Nedw Testament have been changed. So they deny the two faiths that came before them. They can't show you in the Koran where it says the Bible has been changed but they believe it because their religious leaders tell them its so. So in some ways the religion IS evil. It seeks to dominate by basically saying Judaism and Christianity are no longer valid. So they cry when the west is intolerant to them but in fact they actively seem to dismantle two ancient faiths that came before them that over a billion people follow.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Not that you're biased or anything, but care to provide evidence of the "historical fact that Jesus died on the cross."

      May 17, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  13. mtrought

    Stephen: You are wrong, racial bigotry must not be seen as diplomacy. It is either you want integration or you do not it is as simple as that. Bill Graham may have covertly supported mild racialism as is proven when he hemmed and hawed about his commitment to civil rights. Bill was more a show man. Yes, he bailed Martin Luther and took him on a preaching tour ONCE and then never did. The son maybe taking the cue from dad it is just that you, maybe for what ever reason, fail to see it

    May 17, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
  14. Mike Dodd

    My guess is that Billy is very proud of his son and agrees with him on just about all counts. These are different times than when Billy was coming up. Billy was not vocal about politics, but cared deeply about America and the direction of the country. Also, his views of Islam are exactly the same as Franklin. Remember after 9/11, people were worried the would say "in Jesus name" at the end of his prayer and they were afraid he would do it and it may offend people. Well, he did it. He always preached the Gospel and that only through a personal relationship with Jesus can we approach the throne of God with confidence. Jesus saves, and that's all.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • William Demuth

      If Jesus saves, you might want to point out all his followers along the Mississippi are neck deep at the moment.

      Always wondered why he seems to despise trailer park people as well?

      May 17, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • jason

      What bible do you guys read???? Jesus Christ preached a gospel of Love!!! love thy neighbor as thy own, the man without sin cast the 1st stone..... I am a born again Christian & it saddens me when I see all the judging & bending of Christ teachings to push ahead their own agenda. Yes 9/11 attack was by people who claimed Islam as their religion, but Oklahoma bombings was done by people who claimed to be Christians. Both religions against killing so its not religion its the people..... Don't use God as a cover to spew hate, you give real Christians & Muslims a bad name.....

      May 17, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
  15. crcroce

    Franklin Graham is correct with regard to what true (not just "radical") Islam teaches. Ever wonder why there are sooo many moderate Muslims? It's because they do not want to follow Islam as it is because they know the truth. I encourage everyone to stop reading opinions and do actual research. Prothero is ignorant. I wonder what color the sky is in his world and if he drives to work or rides his unicorn.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
  16. Jim

    You can run but you can't hide, the truth always comes out sooner or later. This guy is a false prophet hiding behind his father's name who grew thousands, but makes you wonder why his son turned out to be such a low down dirty snake. Pleae tell cross eyed Sarah Palin to stick her head back in the sand box and take her fat harlot daughter Bristol with her. Like mother like daughter Sarah is a quitter and so is fat Briston, quit being a govenor, and a high school dropout/baby momma with lots of drama, both are professional con artist.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  17. Chut Pata

    Billy Graham is on record making anti-semitic remarks to President Nixon "Jews are taking over". Now it is not safe to be anti-semitic so his son is spreading Islamophobia by saying, "Muslims are taking over". Like father like son, all evangelists succed through fearmongering. Jews of yesterday, Moslems of today.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  18. Nonimus

    Couldn't it be argued that Billy Graham began the sham televangelist industry not only with his TV crusades but also because his big break was promoted by William Randolph Hearst, the preeminent publisher of that time. Even though he eventually turned down a deal with Jerry Falwell in the 70's, didn't he never-the-less start the whole bloody thing.
    He didn't come out against Segregation until after Brown v BOE and even then inconsistently.
    He clamored onto the Red Scare bandwagon of the 50's and 60's, which might be the evangelist's ancestor species meme to the current Islamophobia scare.

    I'm not sure who is embarrassing whom at this point.

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

      There is no such thing as "Islamophobia", and to use that term is to substantially misunderstand the word "phobia." A phobia is an irrational fear of something. That's all it is. Now, the foundational texts of Islam (Q'uran and Hadith) instruct followers to kill infidels, apostates, mistreat women, and spread the faith by violence if necessary. Is it irrational to fear such an ideology as this? Shall I insult you by answering my own question? Peace.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Definition of PHOBIA

      : an exaggerated usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation

      Definition of -PHOBIA

      1
      : exaggerated fear of
      2
      : intolerance or aversion for

      (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/phobia)

      May 17, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • nwatcher

      @Toby – thank you and well said. Seems whenever the left doesn't like someone having different opinion they stick "phobia" on the end of the word as a put down of someone elses belief or opinion and make themselves look more "tolerant".

      People don't like someone like Graham who has a definite belief on a topic and expresses it – it is different from their own.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  19. Charles

    Father and son both spew racist, exceptionalist hate and fool the ignorant into giving their money to multimillionaire charlatans. Daddy just had better charisma.

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

      Mr. Charles you sound like a hateful little man yourself. Perhaps you missunderstood what Rev Billy Graham spoke about in his 6 decades of preaching the word of God. He spoke about love and forgiveness , getting on your hands and knees and asking for such important traits. Whatever your problem is with him and his son well, I think you should take it up with God, because he is coming, very soon !!

      May 17, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • HarvardLaw92

      He spoke about these things in public while bashing Jews in private and amassing obscene wealth.

      Like Barnum said, there is a sucker born every minute.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
    • Pauli

      Wow...insightful commentary from a liberal Christian-hating socialist bigot. Way to contribute to the discussion...idiot.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • Lisainshawnee

      Wow, Charles. I bet holidays are fun at your house. NOT! LOL Grumpy ole fart.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • Jeff

      Hmmm, let me guess, 21 May 2011? THWACK!!!! i just heard a bible thump.....

      May 17, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • JJ in CT

      @ Dina

      He is coming very soon? Is it May 21st? Can't wait to read the replies on May 22nd.

      The Grahams are selling snake-oil. Keep lining up to buy it.....

      Alos, watch out! The Boogie Man is under your bed!

      May 17, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  20. The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

    Charity watch recommends that people do not donate moneey to Samartian's Purse, the charity of the Grahams.
    The reasons: A fleet of jets and helicopters, massive salaries to over 300 people, massive estates on 3 continents. purchase of luxary goods(watches, diamonds, gold) thru the church, excessive non mission luxary travel.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Mike Dodd

      Massive salaries of 300 people? That's simply not true. Samaritan Purse does a lot of good and there is no denying that. You may not like Franklin, but to say that Samaritan Purse is some sort of scam is just a flat out lie.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • CHuck in Calif

      Please provide proof. You make the statements which is easy, so now provide the proof.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • pilgrimsoul

      What proof do you have of such allegations?

      May 17, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • HarvardLaw92

      Google "Franklin Graham salary". The amount that this "charity" pays him alone is obscene.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • nwatcher

      Spiritual leader of the pagans, trashing non pagans? Wow, where do I sign up to get such relevant, nonbiased information on a regular basis. Isn't spiritual leader of pagans an oxymoron? You have nothing to contribute – just keep still!

      May 17, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      @pilgrimsoul ~ please don't slaughter any more natives
      @chuck from lala land ~ go do some yoga then go check out the compound in Franklin, TN: outside Nice, France and Hull, Quebec ` google earth will give you a nice view
      @Mike Dodd google any of a few dozen charity watch websites here is the best
      http://www.charitywatch.org/
      Now will you three apostates go away. I will pray for your lost blackned souls.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • Becky Redmon

      You should rename this: My take: Trashing the Repuliblicans, they don't have a right to have opinions.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • pilgrimsoul

      I did just google it. Did you bother to read the whole article? He was getting paid a whole bunch for right now to make up for them not giving him retirement funds in the beginning. He wants to be able to retire and continue working for the charities for free. Despite this, he's still giving up some of the retirement funds because people are still giving him flack.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • HarvardLaw92

      LOL, spare me. Samaritan's Purse pays him over $600,000 per year and has for years. Up until a few years ago, Billy Graham Ministries was ALSO paying him over $600,000.

      At $1.2 million per year, coupled with the wealth the family has been amassing for decades, I don't think he's worried about retirement.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • pilgrimsoul

      Seriously? All I did is ask for proof, I in no way attacked you personally. Please try to discuss things in a civil manner. Or not. I'm done anyway.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Jon S

      This article is pure commentary and opinion laced with bitterness and prejudice. The author didn't even attempt to try to hide it in this piece of.....

      May 17, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      In regards to the article I have this to say. The son is really not so far from the father as Stephan Prothreo would like us to believe the difference being a different time. In Bill Grahams day we here in MN chased his charlatan begger train out of our state in the 60's and he took up his preaching in the South. He was always in politics and usually leaning very right but you have to understand that the "right" back then wasn't all in to embrassing religion in those days. Times have changed the right has hung it's GOP/Tea Bagging signs outside every Church they possibly can. They have set up funding for Christian universities and disquised it as schools for "all religions". They have protected these Televangelists from prosecution and exposure as much as they can. I say GOOD on you Franklin show the true colors of your ILK. You are about money and power and tearing down the walls in our society that separate church and state so you can then persecute one "un holy" group at a time using laws you help put in to place. Being a Pagan myself I say America should be very afraid of ALL evangelicals and preachers of ALL faiths. They lie and take your money and then support politicians who support war, pollution, an end to health care for our citizens, an end to a decent retirement and many other values that made America great and all they ask in return is that Gays not get married and Abortion not be performed. Well I call that throwing the baby out with the bathwater and selling your souls for 1 -2 issues......go ahead Graham family show America what you are made of!!

      May 17, 2011 at 12:54 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.