Franklin Graham CLAIMS to be a Christian. (See what I did there?)

Did Billy Graham’s son question the possibility of Christian conversion?

Franklin Graham is an American evangelist who heads the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, as well as the relief organization Samaritan’s Purse. His father, Billy Graham, is probably America’s best-known evangelist, who in his mid-20th-century heyday filled stadiums [PDF] all over the world with people eager to hear him preach the Christian gospel.

Billy Graham’s life has been devoted to the very basic idea that non-Christians of any background can be converted to authentic Christian faith by a very simple change of heart. It’s the fundamental point of evangelism: All it takes to be “saved” is a profession of belief.

Christians might point to Romans 10:9: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” That’s it. That’s all it takes. There are certain harsh, strange, unforgiving elements of evangelical Christianity, but this is not one of them: It’s available to anyone in the world, regardless of status or background.

Now Franklin Graham has made a public statement that suggests he doubts the validity of conversion. Here’s what he told CNN last night:

I think the president’s problem is that he was born a Muslim, his father was a Muslim. The seed of Islam is passed through the father like the seed of Judaism is passed through the mother. He was born a Muslim, his father gave him an Islamic name. Now it’s obvious that the president has renounced the prophet Mohammed and he has renounced Islam and he has accepted Jesus Christ. That’s what he says he has done, I cannot say that he hasn’t. So I just have to believe that the president is what he has said.

Let that sink in. What Franklin Graham is saying is that you are born with a fundamental religious and/or ethnic character, and that “seed” lingers unless (or even if?) it is convincingly renounced. Graham grudgingly allows that he has to take Obama at his word, since that’s all we have, but his acceptance is not terribly convincing. (Obama has said over and over and over that he’s a Christian.) As a friend put it in an email, Graham “believes that you are first and foremost Jew, Gentile, or Muslim, and then, and only then, based on a voluntaristic affirmation of faith – and one that is never sufficient unto itself as a declaration of truth – you might be a Christian.”

Would Franklin Graham say the same thing about the thousands and thousands of people converted to Christianity by his father’s words? Would he grudgingly tell them, “That’s what you say you’ve done; I can’t say you haven’t” in a national television appearance who sole purpose seems to be just that?

Franklin Graham – and all other Christians who continue to publicly raise doubts about President Obama’s professions of faith – are calling into serious question the possibility of authentic conversion for anyone. Do they mean to?


16 responses to “Franklin Graham CLAIMS to be a Christian. (See what I did there?)

  1. Amen! Other than when you suggested you put insulin in your SodaStream, this is my favorite thing I’ve read on your blog.

  2. Shaun McDonnell


    I believe he is talking about how Islam sees their faith vs. Christianity. They do believe those things that he mentioned regarding the ‘seed’, etc.

    If I am remembering his comments correctly he want on to say that no one can be born a Christian (you have to make a decision to become one, etc) and that he takes Obama at is word regarding that decision.

    That said, I think the point you are trying to make is a bit of a stretch and might be misrepresenting Graham.


  3. Hi, Shaun. Yes, Graham did say no one can be born a Christian and that he takes Obama at his word. However, he said that *after* saying “I think the president’s problem is that he was born a Muslim, his father was a Muslim.” Why is that a “problem” if Obama has become a Christian in the Graham-accepted way? If anything it should be an inspiration.

    For the record, I don’t actually believe that Franklin Graham, if asked, would deny the possibility of Christian conversion. I’m suggesting that his televised remarks on this issue point to that conclusion – which I’m sure he doesn’t actually support.

    On the other hand, if Graham’s whole purpose in making this CNN appearance was really to clarify that Obama is in fact a Christian, then he needs work on his tone. Check out the last paragraph in the TPM post:

    The amount of hedging it took for Graham to just answer the question when John King asked him if he believes Obama’s a Christian was … odd.

  4. Shaun McDonnell

    Yes, now that I agree with and personally I think Franklin’s father would not have responded at all the way Franklin did to the question (and in previous matter before this).

    Billy Graham was never a politician and Franklin acts more like a politician every day which is very disappointing.

    Taking Franklin’s more political rhetoric into account I believe when he says “I think the president’s problem is that he was born a Muslim, his father was a Muslim” he is attempting to come up with a reason behind the latest Pew poll. It is a lame reason based on people’s (especially American Muslim’s) perception, granted; however, I don’t think he is saying that because he was born a Muslim his conversion should be questioned.


  5. The ramifications of what Graham is saying strikes me as similar to those who want to do away with the 14th amendment in an effort to curb illegal immigration. The rhetoric, or lack thereof, is maddening.

    Also, just because Obama’s father was Muslim doesn’t mean that he was born Muslim as well. Unless having a Muslim father carries the same weight as having a Jewish mother? His mother was Christian, though I don’t remember which denomination. It makes me sad and angry that people continue to doubt his citizenship and his faith.

  6. I liked your thoughts about Franklin Graham’s comments but I just wanted to add three other points . . .
    1. Both Franklin and his father come from that evangelical premise that only “Christians” attain true salvation. This close-minded view point on God and who he/she/it accepts into heaven is exclusionary and offensive to me and many others around the world (even to many other Christians). I always found it hard to swollow that billions of Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews etc. somehow aren’t able to enter the kindgdom without some Christian licesnce plate hanging around their neck.
    2. Who cares whether Obama is Christian or Muslim. We are a country that should be rooted in the separation of church and state. What if he was Muslim? Except for the biggoted in this country who judge people by their race or religion, it shoudn’t matter.
    3. Just one historic reminder. The Nazis loved to reference the seed of Judaism as traced through the mother. That was their litmus test for deciding who was really Jewish. Nice job Franklin.

  7. Hi, Lois. Good comment! My post was just about the internal consistency of Graham’s recent words within his own worldview, but your points — especially #1 and #2 — get into whether his view is worth defending at all.

  8. It seemed pretty clear to me that Graham, in the context of the poll results, was simply explaining the confusion that manifest in the poll. When seen in that light, it makes more sense. For the record, Graham’s explanation of the poll is far more charitable than my own.
    Regarding Lois’ point #3, that’s the Jewish rule, not a rule imposed by the Nazis.

  9. Hi, there. Thanks for the comment! So you think Graham’s saying the “problem” is 18% of Americans’ belief that Obama is Muslim? It’s a charitable read, but sure, maybe. But then I still come back to Graham’s overall tone, which betrays a clear doubt about whether Obama is really-and-truly a convert. And if he has legitimate reason to doubt Obama’s faith – if it’s a question of this particular conversion, rather than the general concept — then let him come out with it and explain why. (That said, I think the bar should be *extremely* high for doubting a profession of personal faith.)

  10. It’s possible we’re talking past one another, but (I’m speculating here) I didn’t get the impression that he was questioning Obama’s faith so much as explaining why so many Americans are confused. I think it’s only a partial explanation, but I think it’s accurate as far as it goes.
    The question of the day seemed to be, “why are so many confused.” Well, the answer to that is going to involved exposing some sort of “problem.” I didn’t sense any personal judgment on Obama so much as an analysis of the situation. It’s a “problem” just like my “problem” is I live too far from the Ocean to make regular trips to the beach. I see it as more clinical than judgmental.
    I’ve been saying the same thing to my family for 8 years regarding Bush when they question his faith. “He says he’s a Christian, and you have no standing to doubt that.” That’s essentially what Graham was saying about Obama. Note also that the “problem” that Graham identifies is one that is explicitly beyond Obama’s control.
    As I said, Graham’s explanation is a bit more charitable than mine:

  11. Snaqwell (great name, btw) – As one who was born and raised in the conservative Christian community (now age 60), I’m very aware of the language-coding that goes with the culture. I believe Franklin Graham was speaking very carefully to his audience, using language that on the surface *sounds* innocuous, but that his audience would understand: he was questioning Obama’s confession of faith. I think Ruth’s blog entry headline on this topic is on the money.

  12. I also neglected to address what seems your basic premise.
    Without conceding the point that he’s questioning Obama’s faith….
    Just because you question the validity of one event doesn’t mean you doubt it’s possibility.
    Simplistic example: I don’t think my daughter walked to school today, but I know it’s possible.

  13. Yes, your last point is what I was trying to address in my last comment – IF Graham has a legitimate reason to doubt Obama’s particular conversion (rather than the whole concept of conversion) then he needs to come out with it and explain why. If he doesn’t, then the tone of this particular interview is peculiar. The most charitable thing I can say about Graham’s performance is that he should have been a lot clearer, especially considering that a not-insubstantial chunk of his own audience belongs to the 18% in the Pew study. I would say he has an extra responsibility to be clear.

    Another thought: I wonder if part of the reason such a low number of Americans say Obama is a “Christian” is because there are so many definitions of that word. I am a member of and regular attendee at a Christian church, yet I know that many people I grew up with would not consider me a real Christian because of my particular beliefs. Once we base religious identity on heart-content, then it really does become fair game to speculate about not just salvation but even self-labeling. I think too often we use “Christian” to mean “going to heaven under the terms of my very particular belief system.” That makes it easy to declare huge swaths of self-proclaimed Christians as non-Christian.

  14. It’s interesting how people take things in different ways, depending upon their backgrounds and experiences. I speak and understand the same “code” Bob speaks about (although not for 60 years), and I didn’t take it the same way at all. I think Graham erred in trying to explain the poll results, to be honest. He would have been better served with a simple, “The president has stated repeatedly that he’s a Christian, so there really isn’t much more to be said about the matter.” But you don’t get invited onto talk shows by giving stunted answers to questions.
    I think sometimes, even in public settings, people can get caught up expounding on a thought (trying to explain why half of America seems to be confused on what should be a simple issue) and forget their audience. They forget that not everyone is going to hear them as intended.

  15. Well said. I would only add that it’s possible to give Graham the benefit of the doubt for those reasons – TV is difficult, he’s speaking to multiple audiences, etc. — and still lament the particular way this segment went down and question both the assumptions that undergird it and the implications that follow from it.

  16. Agreed, I had the same thoughts when AG Holder commented on the AZ immigration law before reading it. While he should have realized his stature would work as a megaphone for his comments on a state law and refused to comment until he could at least say he’d read the short law; the mistake was understandable.

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