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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. D. Browning

    The problem is not deciding whether someone who goes to church is a Christian. The problem are these PHARISEES claiming they know what a Christian is (ie: having doubts about President Obama or anyone's 'Christianity'). Any spirtual journey is between an individual and God–whomever that may be to that person. F. Graham is no Christian in my book. He is intolerent and divicisive–exactly what Jesus was not.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • Stacy

      Great point

      May 17, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  2. Staci110

    Just another liberal, non-believer, bashing a conservative Christian. It is ok for this liberal to bash Franklin Graham, but not for Franklin Graham to question Obama and his records or faith. I find it ironic and pathetic that liberals spout freedom of speech and then turn around when they, the liberals, don't like what is being said, decide what the conservatives say is cruel and mean. I always find the liberals are very concerned about people as long as it doens't take from their own pockets. Take all the taxes from the hard-working conservatives to pay for everyone in the country, but whatever you do don't take from my pockets (liberals). Liberals bash and demoralize conservatives and their children and that is ok, but whatever you do don't call into question a liberal and their doctrine. That is not free speech just ask a liberal.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  3. Jim

    I believe Franklin to be an honest, open man with deep convictions. In the end, it isn't what Amanpour or Prothelo think of him that matters. It is what God thinks of him. Do Imams not routinely refer to Christians as infidels? Not worthy before God? Where's the outrage there?

    May 17, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  4. oh, brother!

    yeah, he is an anticemite...but you want to remember him as a "good man". interesting logic....

    May 17, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      anti semite I think you mean.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  5. Jeanette Herron

    When I read of someone bashing a Man of GOD I understand why this earth is in the mess it is in, we would all do well to listen to Franklin Graham and Billy Graham, go along with the message of salvation they are sharing with us and see what Samartian's Purse is doing and will contunue to do with the support of Real Christians. Get on the Band Wagon with the one true God, accept Jesus as your savior and lets all go to heaven when we leave this messed up earth. PS: I love the Graham Family and all they do to encourge Faithful followers of Christ.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      Yes ~ the Grahams could teach us the true meaning of christmas ~ large bonuses all around for 300 "workers" in the Franklin, TN headquarters.
      They could teach us to beware the jews and muslims and cathilics and "different" people.
      They could show us what it is like to have fleets of rools royce cars and jets.
      Have $5000.00 watches and 2k suits.
      We could learn quite a bit from these money wh0res of god.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      The issue is that they are both spreading different messages.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  6. noel

    ok, but is uppose it's fine for the rev. jesse jackson, the rev. al sharpton, and those hatemongers like the presidents close "advisor" rev white to preach politicas from the pulpit? how come NOBODY EVER has the guts to call those mental midgets to the carpet? i know why, they're black and the liberal and conservative media dare not tread that water. i'll say it here, they're all bigots and politicos who are a disgrace to ALL men of the cloth, just as faldwell was. cnn, if race is truly not an issue, play fair and call all these JERKS to answer for themselves as to why they continue to preach hate and politics from the pulpit!!!
    noel 1:1 all those folks who voted for obama to prove they weren't racist, must now vote against him to prove they are not STUPID!!!

    May 17, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      they are all charlatans ~ anyone with a functioning mind knows this. none are close to the President except in your bigoted mind.
      you are right Noel ~ they are all "jerks" ~ just like yourself
      you are doomed ~ I smote you to hell in the name of my 125 GODS

      May 17, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • Stacy

      When do the they preach hate? Because they dont tolerate injustice to anyones (Blacks, gays, jews, mexicans, etc. that means they preach hate?

      May 17, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'those hatemongers like the presidents close "advisor" rev white to preach politicas from the pulpit?'
      Talking of stupid.....since when did pastor of the church become 'close advisor'?

      May 17, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • William Demuth

      I get the sense you celebrate your Christianity by burning crosses on peoples lawns?

      May 17, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  7. Stacy

    I dont think he is embarrassing his father, he is embarassing himself. What many fail to realize is that African Americans as well as Indians have suffered over 500 years of oppression in the United States in the name of Christianity. They used christianity to keep African Americans slaves. The only difference in 2011 is that they are no longer using whips, nooses or wearing sheets. It is subliminal racism and unfortuneatley, we will forever have this in America. His correct response would have been to not respond.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  8. New Jersey

    I am an evangelical and have greatly appreciated the ministry of Billy Graham. I appreciate and agree with the concerns that you and others have raised about Franklin Graham. Part of why Billy Graham could be a pastor to presidents was that he believed his role was to "stand in the middle" between political parties opting neither for the left nor the right. Even at his revivals, people from the left and right of the Christian faith were in attendance. He won numerous awards and honors from representatives of other faiths as well.
    When Franklin Graham says these offensive remarks, the not only neglects his responsibility as an evangelist, he also disrespects his father's legacy. I assure you that not all evangelicals are this insensitive and offensive to others. Thank you for submitting this article. I share in your concerns.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      Legions of doomed evangelicals like yourself are on the fast train to eternal damnation because you lack the inate brain power to even understand the teachings of the bible.
      And believe me~ hell is much worse than New Jersey.

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

      I agree with you New Jersey 100%. I am not a Christian, but I have the greastest respect for Billy Graham. However, his son Franklin, is nothing but a village idiot claiming to be a Christian leader.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • William Demuth

      An evangelical from Jersey?

      Perhaps the Virgin Snookie?

      May 17, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  9. jean2009

    They are both pretty much an embarrassment...it's always been about being supported luxuriously by their Foundation...money given to help the unfortunate used for a ostentatious life style. Please...that is the religion they really profess.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  10. becky thomason

    “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.”
    I just wish that Franklin could learn from his fathers wisdom and stay neutral in issues related to politics. Politics has no place in Sharing the Gospel.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  11. joesmith

    America,"is this a beautiful country or what"

    May 17, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  12. Anthony Sandlin

    And when did he embarras his father?What a waste of my time.Get a real job Prothero.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
  13. Texas

    BTW, if one is a Christian (having Christ inside them, right), they wouldn't be stupid, because Christ is not stupid.

    They'd also be WISE because Christ is wise, so it sounds like to me, ain't none of you people Christians!

    May 17, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
  14. Sharon

    This article is a complete waste of time. CNN.com should reconsider the decision to allow this guy to write for them.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • Texas

      Sharon, someone calling-out bigotry, is wasting your time huh? That figures.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  15. el_incr

    Stephen Prothero doesn't know the true Gospel when it is preached. Franklin Graham is preaching the true Gospel which is offensive to an unbelieving world. His father, Billy, has long abandoned the true preaching of the Gospel to accommodate the world. Billy Graham, in my mind, has apostatized from the Faith that saves. It's sad. Take over, Franklin Graham.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
  16. delano j sheffield

    HOLDTOTRUTH.COM

    Its touchy because to call into question Grahams actions will certainly lead you to use the same actions that he is accused of. Which in many cases bringing character issues of others to light needs to be done, but it shows the humility in the approach to scrutinizing others lives. How difficult it is to do so. I suppose you would find concerns in the elder Grahams earlier days softened by the internal work of God. Perhaps we should grant Him as much time to learn the Father as Our Father is giving us and pray that those close to Him will be used by God to be a vessels of graceful correction and encouragement.

    That is of course if we really know what we believe. And what takes precedence.
    http://www.holdtotruth.com

    May 17, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  17. Texas

    Why do I have this unrelenting thought that the Red Sea is about to open up again and DROWN a bunch of outdated & bigoted IDEALS???

    May 17, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • Somebody

      Have I missed something? When did Bill Graham say he was embarrassed???

      May 17, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  18. John

    "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.”"

    Frank is right on the money on this. Just because he says he is a Christian doesn't make him a Christian. The same goes for Trump when he claimed that he goes to church whenever he can, always on Easter and Christmas.

    However, Frank could have left off the birth certificate comment.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
    • Texas

      By your man-made standards, that's exactly what determines if one is a Christian, whether or not they STATE that they are one!

      May 17, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • Lisa

      John, you seem to misunderstand the point. There are lots of people who claim to be Christians who may not truly be. However, that is between God and them. If you are a Christian, you know you are specifically instructed not to judge others and you certainly have no business judging another man's relationship with the Lord. As Billy Graham's son, Franklin Graham should be well aware of this and be focusing on his own relationship with God, rather than disparaging another's.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Karl

      Your statement applies to everyone that claims to be a Christian even the grahams. Just because they say it doesn't make it so.

      Quite frankly it's a stupid and small minded argument.

      May 17, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
    • Texas

      John, if one is a Christian (having Christ inside them, right), they wouldn't be stupid, because Christ is not stupid.

      They'd also be WISE because Christ is wise, so it sounds like to me, Ain't none of you people Christians!

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

      I don't care if Obama is a Christian or a Buddhist he was elected to be President not a believer.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  19. Somebody

    It amazes me how so many people can allow the meidia to upset them. This story was a waste of time reading it.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
  20. Paula

    Do you agree with all of your fathers views. I dont think he is intentionly out to embarass his father. If he wasn't trying to carry on his fathers work we would all have something negative to say about too. He could just forget about sharing Jesus with everyone and let all of you figure it out for yourselves.

    May 17, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Robin Bray

      He's making money off his fathers name isn't he?

      May 17, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • Aaron

      Robin...oh, yeah...he's making buckets of money off of his father's good name. He apparenlty realized that stirring the money and saying what some of the masses want to hear loosens their wallets up. I doubt the son is living in a trailer or driving a Chevette.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • FragmentFour

      The anti-Semitic noise Billy Graham made some time ago truly put me off since it directly collided with my understanding of Christianity, and he has mellowed a little over time. Evangelists as a whole make me leery – some are more sincere than others and it's a lead pipe cinch some are more honest.

      Franklin has a hard row to hoe, being Billy's son. But if he is trying to follow his father, he's trailing the wrong one.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • leanderjim

      When you follow in your father's footsteps, and take over the family business that the father built on his integrety, sweat and toil, then you are damn right you agree with your father.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:16 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.