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?