The first part of this interview is not shown in the video. The panel asks Graham if President Obama is a Christian. Graham expresses his doubt, which prompts the exchange. I think that Graham’s perspective represents the classic evangelical approach to questioning the authenticity people’s faith.
For a traditional evangelical, a person is only a Christian if they undergo a “born again” conversion experience. If they do not undergo such an experience, then they are probably not “saved” from their sins, hence they are not a Christian. Some evangelicals will go so far as to question the validity of the born again experience itself: Was the person sincere? Did they really mean it? Were they believing the right theological beliefs? And did they really believe these things with their whole heart? As you can imagine, analyzing a conversion experience can get fairly convoluted. Still, it can get even more complicated, as you can see from the above video.
Graham not only questions whether President Obama had a legitimate born again experience, he questions whether President Obama’s current beliefs and actions are reflective of someone who has been born again. This is where it begins to look very suspicious, because while President Obama’s beliefs and morals are such that while Graham would question the Democratic President’s faith, the current field of GOP candidates’ values qualify them as Christians! =) All the GOP candidates qualify except Mitt Romney, who is Mormon. Romney cannot be a Christian, say most traditional evangelicals, because his Mormon theology is all wrong; hence Romney cannot possibly have undergone a legitimate saving, born again experience of the love of God.
This is a summary of a traditional evangelical’s evaluation of the veracity of the faith of others. However, having gone through this complex evaluation, they will often say, as Graham says in this video, no one can say for sure who is a Christian and who is not.
The most interesting thing to me came at the very end of the video when Graham says that he (Graham) himself is a Christian because he is a sinner and God has forgiven him. What I want to ask Graham, and evangelicals everywhere, is why not just stop right there? For me, if there is an essence of Christianity, it is humility in the face of our shortcomings and the reassuring and transformative power of knowing that we are forgiven and accepted by grace just as we are. It seems to me that when we develop litmus tests for people to judge the veracity of their sincerity, then we put ourselves in the place of God, becoming the judges of who is sincere enough to come under the forgiveness and love of God. I think that God alone is the one who loves and forgives, and any attempt to exclude people from God’s forgiveness might run the unfortunate risk of blasphemy, because it puts one in the place of God. Still, even if Graham’s comments are blasphemous, I personally do not believe that he is less loved by God, less forgiven or less accepted by God, because God’s grace is truly unconditional.
As I understand Christianity, God’s love extends most especially to those who are judged to be sinners, non Christians, morally unclean, and theologically inappropriate. That is, at the very moment we or others exclude ourselves from God’s grace, it is for that very moment that grace exists. Put theologically, we say that Christ’s body was broken for those who are broken, for the sinner and the saint, even extending itself out to Republicans and Democrats!
Here is a written article from the Huff Post summarizing the above video:
Evangelist Franklin Graham called President Barack Obama’s religious views into question on Tuesday, stating that he does not know for sure if Obama is a Christian.
Graham, who is the son of Billy Graham and the CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that Obama “has said he’s a Christian, so I just have to assume that he is.”
“All I know is I’m a sinner, and God has forgiven me of my sins… you have to ask every person,” he said about whether he could say for sure that Obama is indeed of the Christian faith.
However, when asked about GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s religion, Graham gave a much more concrete answer.
“I think so,” Graham said when asked if he believes Santorum is a Christian. “His values are so clear on moral issues. No question about it… I think he’s a man of faith.”
MSNBC’s panelists questioned the reverend’s double standard, but Graham continued to draw distinctions between the candidates on the issue of faith. On Mitt Romney, Graham was again evasive, stating that “most Christians would not recognize Mormonism as part of the Christian faith.”
But Graham was more willing to label Newt Gingrich’s faith. “Newt’s been married several times… but he could make a good candidate,” Graham said. “I think Newt is a Christian. At least he told me he is.”
Later in the segment, Graham also said he could not be sure that Obama was not a Muslim.
“All I know is under Obama, President Obama, the Muslims of the world, he seems to be more concerned about them than the Christians that are being murdered in the Muslim countries,” he said.
He continued, “Islam sees him as a son of Islam… I can’t say categorically that [Obama is not Muslim] because Islam has gotten a free pass under Obama.”
Graham drew the criticism of the White House last spring when he suggested in an interview with ABC that Obama had not been born in the United States.
During that same interview, Graham also questioned whether Obama’s actions and values matched up with his identification as a Christian.
“Now he has told me that he is a Christian. But the debate comes, what is a Christian?” Graham said of Obama. “For him, going to church means he’s a Christian. For me, the definition of a Christian is whether we have given our life to Christ and are following him in faith and we have trusted him as our lord and savior.”