Why Franklin Graham is Wrong

His father was one of the greatest evangelists of this or any other age, but Franklin Graham ain’t your daddy’s evangelist. His work with Samaritan’s Purse, particularly in Sudan, is legendary, but his $416,000 salary and $117,000 benefits package (according to the organization’s 990, available on www.guidestar.org) gives one pause about his commitment to the people of the world living on less than $1 a day. (I guess that could be said about most of us who work to bring justice to the poor; Jesus, after all, told us to sell all our belongings and give the money to the poor. I am as unfaithful as Franklin Graham in that regard, just not as highly compensated.)  But this is not about Franklin Graham’s salary, this is about Franklin Graham’s theology. 

In a half-hearted acknowledgment of Barack Obama’s Christian faith on CNN, Graham commented: “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.” He continued: “Now it’s obvious that the president has renounced the prophet Mohammed and he has renounced Islam and he has accepted Jesus Christ. That is 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.”
The reason that Graham is wrong has nothing to do with Sharia law, which does, indeed, regard the child of a Muslim father as Muslim. When a baby is born, the Islamic call to prayer is whispered in its ears, and parents are expected to make every effort to raise their children as believers. And he is quite correct that Jewish tradition views the mother as the legitimate transmitter of Jewishness. Islam is patrilineal and Judaism matrilineal. In the Hebrew version of the Abraham story it is only the child of Sarah (Isaac) not the child of the Egyptian slave Hagar (Ishamel) who fulfills the promise of God. The Qu’ran reverses this, making Ishmael the legitimate fulfillment of God’s promise, while still presenting the birth of Isaac as a miracle. 
So what’s the problem? The problem is that Graham is supposed to be a Christian, and Christian theology is that “God shows no partiality and that in every nation anyone who fears God and does what is right is acceptable to God. ” (Acts 10:34) That’s what St. Peter figured out after meeting the Italian soldier Cornelius and his family. St. Paul continued the push for a universal gospel, and proclaimed that “Abraham ‘believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith.” (Galatians 3:6-9)
What Graham has done with his backhanded compliment of Obama’s faith is to undermine the very basis of both Evangelicalism (his father’s faith) and Biblical Christianity. If one’s faith is predetermined by birth, than Evangelicalism is demonstrably false in its insistence on converting the world to Christianity. But more importantly, if God hates Muslims, than both Peter and Paul were wrong, not to mention the entire sweep of Biblical universalist faith from Abraham on. After all, Yahweh promises Abraham that “all nations would be blessed through” his faith. Amos (9:7) claims that God had covenant relationships with the Cushites (Ethiopians), Phoenicians, and Arameans (Arabs). Micah (chapter 4) looks forward to the time when “all nations” shall live together in peace, the verse that is chiseled into the monument in front of the United Nations building. In spite of both Jewish and Christian attempts to own God, their own book proclaims that God’s love is universal. (John 3:17–yeah 17, look it up!) 
There is one last point of Graham’s commentary that bears comment: the President’s name. While it is true that Barack (the English spelling is the name in both Arabic and Swahili–the language of the President’s Kenyan father) is a popular Muslim name that means “blessed,” it is also a Hebrew name, spelled in English as “Baruch.” Graham hints that by giving him a Muslim name, the President’s father made him forever Muslim. That’s like saying that, because Graham’s father named him “Franklin,” he’s French. It’s just plain silly, as etymological games usually are. 
I am not going to question Graham’s faith, taking his word that he accepted Jesus Christ. That is what he says he has done and I cannot say that he hasn’t. But I can say, without a doubt, that he doesn’t understand Jesus Christ at all. And that he’s not French, in spite of his name. 

7 thoughts on “Why Franklin Graham is Wrong

  1. I love this response! Do you know, Tim, that you argue much like a Jew?? There is no stopping you! You have an authoritative answer to everything you disagree with — and provide documentation for all that you believe in. I love your articles. 🙂


  2. I think you are grasping at straws here Tim and trying to pick a fight where none exists. Obviously, Graham does not think Barrack's faith (nor anyone's) is determined for all time by birth nor does he think God hates Muslims. But, he rightly points out Barrack's faith heritage from birth and puts it in a Muslim context, something you have failed to do. I think Barrack's faith heritage is one contributing factor to the increase in number of people across party lines who believe Barrack is a Muslim.

    There are Christians who believe baptism as a child denotes them as Christians for life. I don't agree but from their perspective Christianity is determined by infant baptism. And of course, Universalism proposes that everyone is a Christian in essence because in the end they will all everyone of them convert to Christianity in this world or the next regardless of their personal choice, lifestyle, actions or lack of them or belief system. They have no choice. They will be Christian. They will receive salvation. They will go to heaven.

    The majority of Christians of all denominations and all times who don't believe in Universalism as you do don't think God hates people. That argument is a logical non-sequitar. It is God's love that provides the opportunity for salvation, but as Paul says, “How can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?”

    I think Franklin was responding to a question asked by a commentator about the Pew poll concerning people's misperception of Obama's faith and Franklin was realistic, insightful, and Christian in his assessment including his informed perspective on how Muslims view their faith.

    You are not commenting on your own nor responding to Franklins' comments on why more people perceive Obama as a Muslim than did when he first took office. In your post here you appear to be more interested in providing an apologetic for Universalism by attacking a fellow believer and falsely attributing conclusions to him that he never made.


  3. Kevin, as always, you hold me accountable, which is a nice way of saying that you automatically gainsay my propositions, which, as Monty Python noted, is only contradiction, not argument. I'm going to answer you in two parts, due to the annoying character limit of Blogger.

    Nevertheless, to your point that I did not adequately address Graham's argument that because Sharia law says that Obama was “born Muslim,” a Christian should recognize that law, let me try to expand.

    Christian missiology has long argued that, when encountering other religions with the Gospel, the message of Christ must be “inculturated,” that is, explained within the context of the encountered culture, taking note of anthropological, mythological and theological understandings. already present. Thus the Roman Catholic missionaries to the American aboriginal peoples spoke easily of the Great Spirit, and in China, the veneration of ancestors was explained within the creedal teachings of the Communion of Saints. It is, in John Paul II's words, “the ongoing dialogue between faith and culture.”

    One might, therefore, say that Graham's answer to the CNN reporter was a form of inculturation: because of Sharia's patrilineal anthropology, Obama was born Muslim. His father's naming of him as “Blessed,” could then be considered a further nod to Islamic belief. But, where missiology encounters beliefs that contradict the Gospel, the misssionary must find a way to shine light in the darkness. If Graham had said, “Islam teaches that, because his father was a Muslim, the President was 'born Muslim,' however Christianity teaches that each person must proclaim his or her own faith and the President has unequivocally stated that his faith is in Jesus Christ” then I would have had no problem with his statement. But he didn't. He fed into the current, bizarre conspiracy-theory-laced zeitgeist by giving a nod to Sharia, a nod to Judaism, and ignored the place where Christianity differs from its sister faiths. Maybe he had not had time to think through an adequate answer, maybe he's not a very good apologist, but his answer was still wrong. It left the listener with the impression, deliberate or not, that because he was born to a Muslim father, he was somehow “born Muslim.” He could have said, “Look, I've prayed with the President, I've heard him express faith in Jesus Christ. He's a Christian and Christian leaders need to defend that, not feed into the paranoia. You can disagree with this President on his policies, but take him seriously when he says he's a Christian.”

    Instead, he said half-heartedly: “That is what he says he has done, I cannot say that he hasn't.” Well, of course none of us can read another's heart and none of us can know for certain whether another's profession of faith is real or affected. My disappointment in his response is further heightened by the fact that Graham knows that the press wants to make him out to be anti-Islamic: he has, after all, made many fiery anti-Islamic statements. So he had reason to make a very measured, well thought out response, and he didn't. I don't know if he was afraid that his constituency would think he was a secret Obamaite if he defended Obama too vigorously, but he blew it. That's the bottom line.


  4. Kevin, Part II of my answer deals with the nature of baptism, and soteriology.

    Your questioning of the indelibility of the sacrament of baptism is understandable, given your evangelical heritage. It is not, however, the prevailing view within orthodox Christian teaching. The sacrament of baptism and the chrism of baptismal oil mark the newly baptized “as Christ's own forever.” One may later apostasize but sacramental theology teaches that you can't be “unbaptized.” Baptism, whether of a child or an adult, is the rising to eternal life in Christ. Your relationship to God through Christ, revealed in the sacrament, may be denied later, but it cannot be broken. That doesn't mean that baptism licenses us to do anything we want to do, but that, in the outward and visible sign of water and anointing oil, the Holy Spirit has laid claim to us, and made us part of Christ's One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church forever. Human disbelief is no match for Divine action. It's why the Nicene Creed speaks of “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” Any re-baptizing action, no matter how sincerely performed, is not a sacrament, and thus serves no soteriological purpose.

    As to my universalism, I confess: you got me. The author of Hebrews (who most certainly was not Paul), does fret about the possibility of our “neglecting so great a salvation.” But whether or not God's purpose is to redeem the entire universe or just rescue the “first fruits,” really comes down to theodicy: I may argue that scripture teaches thus and so and you may argue (you will, I know!) that is doesn't, but none of that matters. What matters is the nature of God.

    Is God incapable of redeeming all of creation? Is God bound to some rule that one must do certain things (including baptism) to be saved? If so, then God is not, by definition, All Mighty. God really then can make a rock too big for Him to pick up. That God is less than God, and thus no God at all.

    The underlying sweep of the Biblical narrative is that “as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” In fact, 1 Corinthians 15, Paul's great explication of his redemptive hope is insistent: even death itself shall be destroyed when Christ hands over the Cosmos to the Father. The curse of human sin is no match for the infinite grace of the Redeeming God. “At the name of Jesus” Paul wrote to the church in
    Phillipi, “every knee will bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

    The words “all,” “every,” seem to me to imply that the redemption of the world is what God has in mind, that “Christ died, not only for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world.” I do not deny that there are exclusivist tendencies in some of Scripture. But I think that taking the narrative as a whole leads one to the inescapable conclusion: human sin screwed up the universe, but Divine Grace will prevail.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s