Franklin Graham and the Pain of Being the Son of a Great Father

Franklin Graham and the Pain of Being the Son of a Great Father February 3, 2016


Franklin Graham can be quite frustrating at times. Over the past few years, however, I’ve been feeling more and more compassion for him.

There’s a great line from the movie Amistad. Two jaded White House staffers are making fun of John Quincy Adams. “What must that be like,” one of them asks, “knowing all your life, whatever your accomplishments, you’ll only be remembered as the son of a great father?”

I think of that line of dialogue every time I read about the latest publicity stunt by the attention starved Franklin Graham. There must be a mountain of pain wrapped up in the relationship between that father and that son; a mountain of pain in being remembered as the son of a great father.

What must it be like to be Billy Graham’s son? Who could be measured against that standard for a lifetime and not be driven mad? That perspective helps me to have compassion for Franklin Graham. As misguided as he seems to be, one can tell that Franklin is trying so hard… maybe a little bit too hard.

From Slate:

“Franklin Graham is in the early days of a tour that he plans to take to every state capitol in the nation this year. At each stop, the evangelist leads Christians in prayer and encourages them to “cast their ballots for candidates who uphold biblical principles,” as he explained last year. With the slogan “Pray. Vote. Engage,” the Decision America tour kicked off Jan. 5 in Des Moines, Iowa, and it heads this month to South Carolina, Georgia, Colorado, and beyond. Though not all the rallies have been scheduled yet, Graham appears to be keeping one step ahead of primary elections across the country. Save for its politics, the Decision America tour is the kind of populist, publicity-savvy, and prayer-centered event that might have been headed a few decades ago by Franklin’s father, Billy Graham…

Franklin Graham is a caricature of his father, not his successor. Last summer Franklin called for a ban on all Muslim immigration to the U.S., beating Donald Trump to the punch by almost five months (and reiterating his position after Trump made his proposal). In June, he fumed about the rainbow illumination of the White House after the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage (“God is the one who gave the rainbow, and it was associated with His judgment … One day God is going to judge sin—all sin.”) He also removed the Billy Graham ministry’s accounts from Wells Fargo because the bank produced an ad featuring a lesbian couple adopting a child. A few months prior, at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, he wrote an open letter to “Blacks, Whites, Latinos, and everybody else” saying most police shootings could be prevented by respect and obedience. In January, he called on donors to Duke University to withhold their support because of plans to begin a Muslim call to prayer from a chapel on campus. That was all in a single year.

Let’s look back a little further. In 2014, Franklin wrote in the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s magazine that Vladimir Putin was better on gay issues than Obama. Why? The Russian leader “has taken a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda.” In discussing that column with a journalist, he referred to gay adoption as recruitment. He has been escalating his anti-Muslim rhetoric since Sept. 11, 2001, when he called Islam “a very evil and wicked religion.” He has toyed with the “just asking questions” strain of birtherism and said that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the U.S. government. He is extremely active on Facebook, often posting multiple diatribes a day.”

The bus tour is a political rally disguised as a prayer event. Franklin is attempting to consolidate his influence among evangelicals into political clout. He seems to want to be a player at the national level in the realm of politics. Franklin has claimed that if his father were a younger man, he’d be doing the same thing. The problem with this claim is that his father has explicitly said just the opposite.

Billy Graham was asked in one of his last major interviews with Christianity Today if he would change anything about his life and ministry. Graham listed two things: First, he would spend less time on the road and more time with his family (I think that could have done a lot for young Franklin’s heart and character). The other regret was getting too involved in politics. This what he said:

“I also would have steered clear of politics. I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.” – Billy Graham, CT, January 21, 2011.

I wish Franklin would stop trying to be a big deal; stop trying to change the world. I wish he would find a small church to pastor, and learn to do a small thing faithfully. Only then will he ever learn how to steward the family name, and his father’s legacy faithfully. I would tell him what may be obvious to everyone but himself… that he is driven by deep forces underneath the surface of his life that are clouding his judgment. If I could, I would remind him of what Rich Mullins used to say. If your ambition is to leave a legacy, then what you’ll leave as a legacy is ambition.

My guess is that Franklin’s reign over the BGEA is going to get much worse before it gets better, if it gets better at all.

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  • scott stone

    What a wonderful post. I too have been frustrated by Franklin, almost embarrassed at times listening to him. The son of a famous preacher is a tough position to be in. I’m also thinking of Frank Schaeffer.

    • John William

      Dear TIm
      A Christian leader leads the world because he is a child of the Son of Righteousness. In today’s America, no Christian leader wants to talk about LGBT. Franklin is doing it.
      This article gives away your frustrations at a man who is raises his voice at many of evils of this world. It also gives away your preferences towards these evil. Be careful as God holds the Plummet Stone of Righteousness.

      • The Happy Atheist

        Do you even hear yourself? The “Plummet Stone of “Righteousness”? It’s not 1611 anymore. You cannot possibly expect anyone to take you seriously when you write things like this.

      • Where do you live? The preachers in Texas never seem to shut up about lbgt and push ballot initiatives on a regular basis.

      • Snooterpoot

        In today’s America, no Christian leader wants to talk about LGBT.

        That is an absolute falsehood. There are plenty of Christian leaders who talk about people who are LGBT, but they talk about us lovingly, accepting the fact that we are God’s beloved children, just like everyone else, and they perform the rite of marriage for us.

        These Christian leaders undoubtedly don’t say what you want them to say about us. Too bad.

  • Lookingup73

    Hilarious that Billy said that about being less involved in politics in 2011 and then proceeded to get involved in anti gay rights causes the following year. Maybe it is like an addiction or something. His son might be less likable- Billy had a nice demeanor and talks better- but his views are no different. (Kind of like ratzinger and Francis, same beliefs but different messaging).

  • silicon28

    Oh, all the “pain” little Franklin has to endure… While he trades his daddy’s name for more wealth than many people can even imagine; and does so quite conscious of what he’s doing and how he’s doing it. (Like not adhering to his mother’s wishes about her burial place but instead had her buried as an “attraction” to the sideshow called the B.G. Library.) No, I can’t – and won’t – muster the least little bit of sympathy for him. Jesus would / will call him the “whitewashed tomb” he is…

  • John

    Why the need to be heavily involved in politics, directly or indirectly? Is there an erroneous theology that still places the nations as any kind of centerpiece in God’s Kingdom or His redemptive plans? Under the new covenant all the national religious systems gave way to Jesus and the Kingdom, which transcends all nationalities. They still view a nation through the OT lens, meaning God’s blessing or curses for nations are still operable based on their obedience to his moral laws. Problem is, that covenant and all its stipulations was between God and Israel, and cannot be extended to the USA and God. That covenant didn’t work at bringing about righteousness nor God’s Kingdom, thus the need and intended plan for Jesus. Israel couldn’t sustain it anyway, so what makes us think we can? That was not the point anyway, but many still hold to that programmatic approach to how God deals with nations. The only way it becomes necessary to fight for Christian morality in politics is if you believe that God is holding nations accountable to a covenant or set of rules. I don’t see that in the NT. Franklin’s tour would better serve the Kingdom purpose by calling Christians to a life of holiness and service and by calling sinners to salvation like his father did. Nations don’t get saved and live righteously, people do. And that is what changes a culture and nation. Don’t misplace the cart before the horse.

  • candide

    i have never understood why Billy Graham was so praised and respected. For me he was just another evangelical idiot blowhard preaching falsehood about the bible and Jesus and all that stuff.

    • Nimblewill

      You ever met the man? I hope you don’t live in a glass house.

    • The Happy Atheist

      You know, I have to say that Billy Graham is one of the only evangelical pastors for whom I have deep and abiding respect. He overstepped quite a lot in his younger years, especially during the Eisenhower era, but he mellowed tremendously in the years that followed. I think he was a genuinely loving man who really cared about the people to whom he ministered.

    • Lookingup73

      I don’t understand why people keep saying Franklin is any different from billy. Billy is just as anti gay for instance. If billy didn’t approve of franklin’s message he wouldn’t have him speaking for his organization. People are silly.

  • Lori Nyi

    What seems to completely escape this man is that the candidate with the attributes, views and policies that are most “Christian” is a Jew!

    • scott stone

      Have you ever read ‘Man and Woman’ by Bernie? May change your mind about his Christian attributes. The conflation of religion and politics in The US is a serious problem. People are letting their ideology take precedence over their theology.

  • My understanding, not that I’ve put any effort into researching this, is that he somewhat bowed to public opinion and perhaps parental pressure in accepting the role he now has with the BGEA. He has been involved with Samaritan’s purse since 1974, and president of the that organization since 1979. Early in the 2000’s it didn’t look like he was interested in being his father’s successor. I could be wrong, but I think president and CEO of the BGEA is something he acquiesced to, not fought for.