Franklin Graham gave an interview to ABC’s Christiane Amanpour. In it he praised Donald Trump, about whom the Reverend Graham said, “When I first saw that he was getting in, I thought ‘well this has got to be a joke,’ but the more you listen to him, the more you say to yourself, ‘you know maybe the guy’s right.’” Graham also spoke about the spirit of the anti-Christ, the end times, and President Obama. He is, Graham says, a “very nice man,” though Graham seems to reserve judgment about Obama’s American citizenship. And then Graham ventures into speculation about whether or not Obama is a Christian. The Reverend Graham acknowledges that Obama claims he’s a Christian – but then focuses on semantics. “For him,” Graham says of Obama, “going to church means he’s a Christian.” For Graham, on the other hand, the Christian faith is a matter of allegiance to Jesus.
The problem is that President Obama has never claimed that the definition of Christianity is church attendance. In fact, at this year’s National Prayer Breakfast, Mr. Obama spoke in very personal terms about his own journey of faith, going so far as to say, “it was through that experience working with pastors and laypeople trying to heal the wounds of hurting neighborhoods that I came to know Jesus Christ for myself and embrace Him as my Lord and Savior.” Obama added, “When I wake in the morning, I wait on the Lord, and I ask Him to give me the strength to do right by our country and its people. And when I go to bed at night I wait on the Lord, and I ask Him to forgive me my sins, and look after my family and the American people, and make me an instrument of His will.”
What Franklin Graham said, then, is simply not accurate; Obama has been as explicit about his Christian faith as a public figure can be. And yet for Graham it isn’t enough; like Obama’s citizenship, this matter needs to be cloaked in mystery, even where none exists.
On the same program Amanpour interviewed Timothy J. Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. It was a short, thoughtful discussion in which Keller spoke on a number of topics, including politics and the dangers of demonization of opponents. The role of churches should be to produce individuals “who know how to talk civilly,” says Keller (full disclosure: Tim is a friend who wrote the foreword to a book I co-authored on religion and politics). Humility and graciousness should be hallmarks of their discourse. Institutionally, Keller says, a lot of churches have “lost a lot of credibility.” He warns against speaking ex cathedra on a range of political issues. The church, as the church, should be less political.
The interview with Franklin Graham is a perfect illustration as to why.