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. IndianJeff

    Each of are responsible for our actions. Franklin Graham will answer some day for his words: not you, not to I, but to the Judge of judges. We all say or do things that we are embarrassed or ashamed of, what separates us from most people like Franklin is that he is in the public eye. I am sure that if we had all our words available for everyone to read, we would all want to hide in shame. I am not making excuses, I am just saying: let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  2. Toshiro

    Franklin Graham reminds me of the Ku Klux Klan preachers of Americas' past. His words are no different from those hateful bigots.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  3. joseph

    You moron STOP attacking him & your disguise attack on christianity. You HACK

    May 17, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  4. Simon

    Stephen, Tell me....... How about you telling us what a Christian is. And before you do, do not forget even Satan believes in Christ! Does Not make "him" a Christian. Stephen try to be a light, it is what you learned in Boston 🙂

    May 17, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • William Demuth

      That argument is like saying the Incredible Hulk must be real because Batman says so.

      What part of the statement "your God is a lie perpetuated by idiots" don't you understand?

      May 17, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  5. TOdd

    Franklin Graham is a moron ! He is a BIRTHER ! Anyone who took Trump seriously has a mental illness.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  6. Steve (the real one)

    Well Stephen, please tell us when you actually had the conversation with Billy Graham to get this info? You speaking for Billy Graham or for yourself?

    May 17, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  7. truth2power

    Franklin brings to mind this quote.
    "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians, they are so unlike your Christ."

    May 17, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  8. Erik

    The article is right on. Franklin pushes his own political agenda, whereas, by contrast, Billy is classy and genuine even if you don't embrace his brand of religion.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  9. jean2009

    The charity only ranks a 3 star and a .581/4% rating, over $15M per year is used to pay those who administer it.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  10. Reality

    Tis all about making money from myths:

    some examples:

    Glen Beck, $32 million in 2010, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/08/glenn-beck-earned-32-mill_n_529903.html

    and from guidestar.org

    Rev. Franklin Graham $800,000+/yr.

    Rev. Billy Graham, $400,000/yr

    Rabbi Bradley Hirschfield $331,708/yr

    Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, $200,000/yr

    Erica Brown $134,221/yr

    Eboo Patel $120,000/yr.( not to include his $2 million "non-profit" investment portfolio)

    Imam Rauf and his wife Daisy, $400,000/yr/ea estimated

    May 17, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Colin

      These guys rival Walt Disney i nthe $$ they have made from fairytales.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • mgor

      How many times has this identical information been posted in this blog? One guess – too many, once was enough.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  11. U.S. Common Sense

    Heaven forbid that a person can express his own opinions on various topics. For shame. Franklin should know that he can only speak to a preapproved script at all times, even when he's at home. The writer get's an "F" for being out of touch with reality.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Michael

      Franklin's father wisely said tha evangelists have no business aligning themselves with a political party or viewpoint, that the price is damaged credibility. Franklin says, by his hard-line conservatism that he is not a friend of anyone who doesn't share his political viewpoints. This is ridiculous. It would be the same if he were an obvious liberal.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  12. Ken

    Franklin Graham embarrassed Christianity when he tried to turn rock concerts into "preaching the gospel of Christ". The best way to judge Christianity is by what the scriptures have to say. Franklin, Donald, Obama nor T.D. Jakes are accurate expressions of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  13. Brandon Weis

    I don't see where TD Jakes or the author of this "opinion" feel they can adequately jump on Grahams' comments on Obama's faith. All Graham did was verbalize what is evident by the proof that Obama has played more golf on Sundays than attend a church service to worship God. Christians are those who have a walk of faith, who have been born again from within by the grace of God through the Holy Spirit and who have obeyed what Jesus' commanded to "Repent and belive the gospel", not just a spoken belief. So no, Franklin Graham is not bringing a bad name to the Graham family, he is aligning again his family with the biblical truth that all men must repent or they will perish for their sins. And no act or works, baptism, or personal God whom they choose to follow will lead them down the narrow road to eternal life. It's only by repenting of our self-righteous efforts to gain leverage on God and entrusting completely in the righteouseness of Christ alone that one is saved and adopted into God's family (2 Cor. 5:21) Only a few are chosen and it's clear that currently President Obama is not one of them. Examine yourself to make sure you have true saving faith while you still have life (2 Cor. 13:5), that means you too Stephen.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Michael

      Ronald Reagan attended church two times during his eight years in the White House. Did any conservative seize on this and say "Why isn't the president in church on Sundays!"

      May 17, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
    • mgor

      You must feel very superior from your lofty position to be able to stand in judment of where any other individual is in their walk with God or any other belief. It is impossible for you to know what is in anyone's heart besides your own! Stop judging.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  14. Colin

    It is a sad commentary on the state of education in this country that the President's religion is important. I would prefer a President who did not believe in the basic supernatural doctrines on Christianity, such as a sky-god reading minds (or "hearing prayers" to the extent you see a difference) life after death, people rising from the dead, eternal damnation, and the other Dark Ages nonsense that goes along with it.

    It is about time the USA caught up with Western Europe and Australia and consigned its sky-fairies to the dustbin of history.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  15. JC28

    With all due respect to the author of this article (Prothero), Franklin Graham is absolutely correct in what he says...“the definition of a Christian is whether we have given our life to Christ.” This has nothing to do with politics. When you preach Christianity, it divides, which sometimes means it casts a negative light on other religions (like Islam). Why is it that radical Muslims never attack Buddhists or Hindus? They only attack Christians – because it's the one true religion. Jesus is the only way to God, and He said that, not me...

    May 17, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • paracelsian

      Of course that is conveniently ignoring those numerous occasions when Radical Islamicists do actually attack both Hindus and Buddhists – and far more frequently than either of those (and much more frequently than Christians), that vast group of non-radical muslims who comprise by far the vast majority of the followers of that faith. Never forget that the victims of most "Islamic" terror, are Muslims.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • Michael

      Franklin's definition of what it takes to be Christian is not the point. Franklin calls Obama's creds into question, but he does he call into question the creds of any conservatives? It makes him look - look heck, he's definitely doing it - as if he's using Christian litmus tests to discredit people not on his side of the political spectrum. Billy never did anything like that. Billy was someone people who'd never set foot in a church would listen to, and we can bet that a lot of people got saved through his ministry who never would have come to Christ otherwise. Franklin, so long as he identifies with partisan politics, will never accomplish what his father did. Politics is just too divisive. No eveangelist who's serious about soul-winning will touch the dangerous third rail of politics.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • William Demuth

      I hope Budda meets you at the gate, and sends you to the West Bank so you can continue the good fight of spreading your infection!

      May 17, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  16. ADES

    It is a must for any christian to have an opinion in politics. Religion and politics are not excluyent. Religion and Faith are not a hobby. I may disagree with Graham, I do not like Trump, and do not like going around demonizing other religions but I respect that he has something to say.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  17. CRC

    Franklin Graham is way ahead of his father on this one. His father shied away from politics and giving concrete answers about which the Bible is very clear. I am proud of Franklin and his father is as well and YES Franklin is about the Fathers business but this is not clear to the lost of this world.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • Michael

      CRC, the difference between Franklin and his father is that his father knows not to drive people away from him and his message. Franklin identifies strongly with one side of the political spectrum, something his father says specifically that an evangelist cannot do, because it automatically drives people away. Franklin strongly appears to be more concerned with worldly affairs than eternal ones.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
  18. CW

    I have to say that I don't agree with all the author's comments in this story but we as christians ARE to preach to all. Now I will agree with F. Graham that "going to church" doesn't make you a christian. I further believe that Obama's actions i.e.(not to fight the marriage act law) all show that his christian belief's SHOULD be called into question.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • Colin

      CW, I agree with you. I suspect he is an atheist, or, at worst, an agonostic. He has to feign belief in the supernatural to appeal to many voters, but I expect he is too smart to take it seriously.

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

      My wife is a strong believer, she comes from a family that are all strong believers.She goes to church every sunday and wednesday, she sings in the choir, helps out with special events. She thinks the whole defence of marriage act is a stupid waste of time, i guess that means you also call her faith into question right?

      May 17, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  19. noel

    i'd express serious doubts as well after listening to our president... hear for yourselves!


    May 17, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
    • noel

      can you say freudian slip? what a bozo!!!

      May 17, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • Chut Pata

      Speaking of Freud: Clearly Obama meant to say "my allegedly Moslem faith". However all the powerful hypnotic suggestion by Republicans telling him, "You are a Moslem, You are a Moslem" made him feel like Moslem for a split second maybe. If there are millions of bozos like you saying "Obama you are a Moslem, Obama you are a Moslem", maybe he will convert to Islam out of this hypnotic suggestions.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • Martin Moberg

      This letter was sent to Family Radio.
      Please write about our website.

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      Your prophecy that the Judgment Day is upon us has gained a lot of attention in the press all over the world.
      However a lot of people are still in doubt. This is your chance to give them proof in a way they understand. The value of money.
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      Best Regards,
      Martin Moberg

      May 17, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Huckabubble

      Well that's just gotcha journalism. I guess he's lost the 2012 election already to all those promising republican candidates. SERIOUSLY – maybe we should all go to church with him so that he can prove his religion. You go first this Sunday. I could care less and will find better things to do with my Sunday.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • Matt

      Yeah he was talking about how McCain/Palin wanted to brand him as a Muslim. For all the crying about "Gotcha" politics, you sure do egg that on.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  20. Philip

    Interviewer asked him and he answered but he didnt come out by himself and made statements to identify himself to any particular political party and questioned Obama birth certificate. He is right, everyone that goes to church can not be true Christian, one can identify himself by walking according to the Bible and accepting Jesus Christ as his personal savior. All before commenting know what is Christianity and talk about it. He is not bringing bad name to his father. People like you are trying do that by writing stories like this with half knowledge.

    May 17, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
    • John Sharp

      The sad thing is that his choice of religion is even relevant. This is such a non-issue.

      I don't really care if he believes in witchcraft, church of Scientology, Christianity or Buddhism.

      The reason they attack this issue is because they believe Christianity to be superior and don't like Obama. So under the guise of deceit they continue to pursue this even though there is absolutely nothing to this. You can't find anyone at Harvard that says he was a practicing Muslim.

      They are silly belief systems for the weak. Eventually these people will grow up and realize that there isn't a Santa Claus and none of the story books were true. Anyone could deduct this themselves by simply reading them.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
    • Beverly Tatum

      I watched Frankllin Graham make his politically ignorant, politically inappropriate for a minister, racist birther, and disrespectful judgmental statements on President Obama on TV.

      Growing up in Charlotte NC, knowing Billy Graham through my grandfather who was a dairy farmer firiend of Billy's father, I was horrified by Franklin's disgusting comments. Franklin has always been a disappointment to the Graham family. He was a wild and intentional embarrassment to his father as a young man. He had NO faith, was into drugs, motorcycles, wild living, and yet Billy and Ruth still reached out to him. He had NO job and no ambition to do anything.

      I have always found Franklin to be a fraud. He saw money to be made in "religion" and suddenly became a "Christian" even though his supposed faith and deeds are hollow. He has used his father's name to his monetary advantage but he is nothing but a charlatan and a preacher of the gospel of "how I make money on my family name and fake Christianity".

      Franklin is definitely an embarrassment to his father, a sorry example of his father's great faith, non-political stances, and support of all leaders regardless of Party as they work to lead our nation, and respected worldwide as a true man of God.

      As a teenager I used to sing the in Billy Graham choir when he did his crusades in Charlotte. It was a wonderful experience and when with Billy Graham you knew with no doubt you were in the presence of a true man of God, It radiated from his face, his words, his deeds, and his life outside the public eye.

      Franklin is the worst kind of "preacher". He takes the Bible and twists it to fit his own beliefs and social agenda. That is NOT Christianity. It is Republican hypocrisy at its worst -using people's relligion to fool them into following extremist ideas of the Republican Party.

      Franklin Graham is a hack, no real Chrisitan, and his ministry is about making money not about the good works and wonderful legacy of his great and beloved father. Very few people who know Franklin throughout his life have ever trusted his motives. My grandfather was friends with the Graham family and he never thought much of Franklin.

      Franklin is a disgrace to his family, to Christian values, and should be treated like all the other evangelical quacks.

      May 17, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
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