There’s been an ongoing controversy over the president’s religious status. Namely, accusations that he’s a (secret) Muslim. Recently, I ran across an ABC News story in which Franklin Graham suggested Obama was “born a Muslim” (whatever that means). One could dismiss the comment, if it weren’t for the fact that Franklin Graham is the son of the late Billy Graham, one of the most iconic Evangelical preachers of the last several decades.
Basically, Franklin Graham made a few choice comments: First, he pointed out that he (along w/ his father) had prayed together w/ Obama. But then Graham remarked:
“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.”
On the surface, the comment seems to make clear that Graham—a significant figure in the Evangelical community—accepts that Obama is, as he has so frequently stated, a Christian (and therefore not a Muslim). In fact, Graham goes even further than Obama has ever gone, by stating that Obama has renounced Islam (something even George W. Bush never did). But then there’s a hint of a passive aggressive tone when Graham suggests that he “has to believe that the president is what he has said.”
But then the comments become more outrageous. Immediately after the above block quote, Graham has is first big “but …”
“the Islamic world sees the president as one of theirs.”
Of course, whether the Islamic world sees Obama as one of its own is irrelevant to an individual’s professed faith (this, I should add, is a basic tenet of Protestantism: that faith is a highly personal relationship known only to God). But that flies in the face of evidence that Obama is increasingly not seen by the Islamic world as “one of theirs.” Obama has continued longstanding US policies (support for Israel, hostility towards Iran) that rankle much of the “Islamic world.”
But what bothered me the most was the following comments by Graham:
“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.”
Graham should know better. Anyone w/ some basic theological knowledge (such as the kind a minister should have) should know better. This leads me to conclude that either Graham is not well versed in—or doesn’t much care for—his own faith’s theology
Let’s make some basics clear: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all “Abrahamic” faiths. This means they share some basic core beliefs (such as monotheism), but also some scriptures. The Old Testament is common to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. And the New Testament is common to Christians & Muslims (who believe Jesus & Mohammed were both prophets). A key difference is that only Christianity & Islam are “confessional” faiths. That means that to become a Christian or a Muslim, one must make an explicit pronouncement of faith. Let’s be clear: One is not “born into” Islam any more than one is “born into” Christianity. This is all theology 101, which anyone who has ever taken a comparative religion course would learn. But—and more importantly—anyone who has gone to seminary (caveat: I have friends & relatives who have done so) would learn.
This leads me to conclude that either Graham is being deliberately deceitful about Islam, doesn’t care to learn about it, or is convinced in the truth of beliefs inconsistent w/ centuries of Christian theology. None of this speaks well of Graham’s legitimacy as a Christian minister. (Perhaps he believes he simply inherited his faith from his own father?)
Islam is neither a genetic condition passed on from father to son, nor is it a virus that is transmitted through close proximity. One cannot be born a Muslim, even if one received a “Muslim” name. Or would Graham have me believe that my son is assured eternal salvation as a Christian merely because he was born to a Christian household & bears a “Christian” name?
Graham has made other comments which are troubling. As have other purportedly “Christian” religious leaders (they claim to be Christians, so I can only take them at their word, right?) w/ arguments that Islam is dangerous specifically because its scriptures endorse polygamy, the stoning of adulterers, etc. I would challenge these leaders to pay more careful attention to their own scriptures. All these things—and more! (animal sacrifices, anyone?)—are specifically entailed throughout the Old Testament. And the great patriarchs of the faith had multiple wives. Solomon had hundreds, and he is acknowledged in the Bible as the wisest man ever to have lived. And if you want to talk about women’s rights, take a glance at some of St. Paul’s writings sometime. Oy!
Yet hardly any Christians today (or Jews, for that matter) endorse such practices. Sure, occasionally you get your Branch Davidians & Lord’s Resistance Army (which enforce strict adherence to the Ten Commandments in Uganda) from time to time. But no one suggests this is “true” or “mainstream” Christianity. And certainly no one can reasonably blame all Christians for the beliefs & actions of a few nutjobs.
Surely, Franklin Graham & his ilk know these things. Don’t they?