Photo: Morning Joe
Morning Joe aired a cringe-worthy segment this morning, where hosts Willie Geist and Mike Barnicle subjected, Franklin Graham to a kind of Inquisition about whether or not he believed President Obama or the other candidates were Christians. Graham is the son of the famous evangelist, Billy Graham, and the head of Samaritan’s Purse. He said that he accepted that the President says he is a Christian, but that he couldn’t know for sure.
Now everyone is upset with Graham. Chuck Todd, scolded him from Twitter, “Franklin Graham has a lot to learn from his father.”
Here’s how it went down.
Geist asked Graham, “Do you believe President Obama is a Christian?” And Graham replied “I think you have to ask President Obama.” Graham repeatedly said “I can’t answer that question for anybody” and “If he says he is a Christian than I accept that.” Graham referred to his own faith, and said “That’s all I know.”
Barnicle sighed with evident disgust, “I just don’t get it.”
Graham wasn’t doing himself favours by giving short, even curt answers that didn’t seem to explain his thinking.
The segment then went down a long excursion through foreign policy in Sudan, and whether Obama has sufficiently opposed Islamist movements in the Arab world. Graham gave an odd statement where he said he didn’t believe that Obama was a Muslim, but that he couldn’t rule it out ‘categorically’ because Obama was giving Islam a pass. But the show returned to the subject of whether certain people could be known to be Christians.
WILLIE GEIST (co-host, Morning Joe): Do you believe that Rick Santorum is Christian?
GRAHAM: I think so.
GEIST: Why is it different for Rick Santorum?
GRAHAM: Well, because his values are so clear on moral issues….no question about it. And I just appreciate the moral stand he takes on these things. I believe he is. He comes from a Catholic faith. I’m a Protestant so there are differences between what we believe.
JOHN HEILEMANN (New York Magazine): That’s an amazing double standard. Your reaction to the difference. The question about Rick Santorum and President Obama, I think, just exposes an incredible double standard you’re applying to the two people. They’re exactly the same situation.
GRAHAM… I have no idea what he really believes. And I have no idea other than what Rick Santorum stands for. I’m just giving you my opinion. I think Rock Santorum is a fine man.
ALEX WITT (host, NOW): Reverend, what about Mitt Romney…is he a Christian?
GRAHAM: I like him. He’s a Mormon… most Christians would not recognise Mormons as part of the Christian faith. […]
GRAHAM: Any one of these candidates. Newt Gingrich. Now, Newt has been married several times, so he’s had those issues — but he can make a good candidate. And I think that Newt is a Christian, at least he told me he is.
The hosts just could not contemplate Graham’s views at all. Barnicle tried to portray Graham has a modern-day Pharisee, spending his time measuring and judging people.
But Graham was just awkwardly expressing the standard Evangelical view that no one could know with certainty whether anyone else was a Christian, because we cannot see into men’s hearts. But that you had to discern based on the evidence in their lives.
When referring to other people’s faith, Graham continually said, “I think” they are a Christian and said only that he “knew” his own faith. Graham gives a more generous reading to Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich because he thinks their public stands on issues like abortion, foreign policy, and religious liberty are consistent with what a Christian would think. That’s why he says later that he has “no idea other than what Rick Santorum stands for.” In other words, he’s just looking at a “tell.”
The “I can’t know” but “I do think” distinction may sound slippery to non-Evangelicals, but it is how Graham would think about it.
As evidence for not giving Obama the same benefit of the doubt, Graham pointed to his foreign policy, his public positions, and recalled a story where Obama explained that people in the South Side of Chicago demanded that he go to a church, and so he did. For an Evangelical joining a church because others told you to do so would not be a persuasive testimony to your personal faith.
The truly odd part of Graham’s view is that foreign policy is that he seems to regard foreign policy as much of a ‘tell’ as stands on moral issues.
Here is an “edited” version of the segment, including all the questions:
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