Graham's Double Standard

February 21, 2012

Reverend Franklin Graham, son of the renowned evangelist Billy Graham, went on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" this morning and cast doubts on whether President Barack Obama is really a Christian. I am not sure if Graham was too caffeinated or had not had enough to wake him up and help him think clearly, but he quickly got caught mixing politics and spiritual assessments in a dangerous and hypocritical manner. When asked on the eve of the season of Lent if he thought Obama was a Christian, Graham attempted to weasel out of answering:

Well, I think you'll have to ask President Obama. You can ask me 'Do I believe you're a Christian?' I think the best thing for a person is to ask you directly, so I think people have to ask Barack Obama. He's come out saying that he's a Christian, so I think the question is 'What is a Christian?'
Graham's remark clearly suggests he doubts Obama's frequent declarations of faith. After all, he acknowledges that Obama claims to be a Christian, and yet Graham refuses to say Obama is one. And then Graham says Obama's claims raise the question of 'what is a Christian,' which suggests he thinks Obama does not even know what it means to be a Christian and therefore is not one. Pressed a couple of times to basically say 'yes' or 'no' to the question (isn't there a Bible verse or two about that?), Graham still refused to call Obama a Christian. Later in the interview, Graham even refused to say that Obama was "categorically not a Muslim." Both of these comments--doubting Obama is a Christian and suggesting he might be a Muslim--are symptoms of our age of confessional politics.

Graham's comments about Obama quickly became even worse when he was asked about various Republican presidential candidates. Rather than keep his same standard of urging the interviewers to ask the candidates themselves, Graham instead quickly asserted that both Santorum and Gingrich were Christians. When asked if Santorum was a Christian, Graham simply replied, "I think so." No waffling or attempts to beat around the bush as he done with Obama. Graham was rightly pressed by the MSNBC interviewers about this double standard, but continued to reaffirm Santorum's Christianity and cast doubts on Obama's. He declared about Santorum, who he said was the candidate who most closely matched his moral beliefs:
I think he is, no question, I believe he's a man of faith.
Graham literally poses questions about Obama's faith but accepts Santorum's with "no question." Graham similarly replied, without being asked, that he thought Gingrich was a Christian:
And I think Newt is a Christian. At least he told me he is.
Graham accepts Gingrich at his word but refuses to accept Obama at his word. Why does he treat Obama differently than two Republican presidential hopefuls? His answers suggest Graham is using partisan labels to help decide who is a Christian or not. Using politics to decide who is a truly a Christian is a dangerous and unbiblical standard. It is sad that Graham has cast aside biblical teachings to create a new standard and anoint himself as the judge of people's souls. Sadly, his double standard hurts his ministry work. The politicization of religion is one of the negative consequences of confessional politics.

This is not Graham's first time to make spurious remarks about Obama. Last Easter, he espoused debunked "birther" claims. One would have thought he would have learned from that interview--and the ensuing controversy--to be more careful with his words. Sadly, that was not the case. Hopefully Graham will quickly apologize and quit using a partisan double standard to judge who is a Christian or not. Hopefully Graham will quit putting politics ahead of spiritual priorities. Ironically, Graham's father was criticized by some conservative Christians for showing grace to people on both sides of the political aisle. As I noted in my first book (For God's Sake, Shut Up!) Billy Graham's critics were wrong to put politics ahead of spirituality. Sadly, Franklin Graham is following the poor example of his father's critics (and thus also needs to take the title of my book to heart).

UPDATE [2-22-12]: Graham has backed away somewhat from his remarks, but did not apologize. He claimed on CNN today that he "misspoke. "It is hard to see how he misspoke since the MSNBC interviewers repeatedly pointed out his double standard and gave him opportunities to clarify his claims (but he just "misspoke" over and over!). Perhaps Graham should consider a career in politics because his response today was quite political: he did not apologize, claimed he merely "misspoke," and then quickly changed the subject to attack Obama on abortion.

UPDATE [3-3-12]: Graham has finally offered an apology. He explained:
I regret any comments I have ever made which may have cast any doubt on the personal faith of our president, Mr. Obama. ... I apologize to him and to any I have offended for not better articulating my reason for not supporting him in this election - for his faith has nothing to do with my consideration of him as a candidate.
Glad to see Graham apologize, although it would have been better if he had watched his mouth in the first place. It is troubling, though, that he continued to be political and is clearly endorsing the eventual Republican nominee. Wish he would focus on his ministry instead.