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Franklin Graham wrong to question Obama's Christianity

By Roland S. Martin
  • Rev. Franklin Graham said in an interview that he wasn't questioning Obama's faith
  • But that, in fact, was exactly what he had done, Roland S. Martin says
  • Martin: Bible says one only has to profess Christ as his Savior to be a Christian, as Obama has
  • When Graham talks like this, he sounds like a partisan, not a pastor, Martin says

Editor's note: Roland Martin is a syndicated columnist and author of "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." You can see his interview with Bishop T.D. Jakes on "Washington Watch with Roland Martin," on TV One Cable at 11 a.m. ET Sunday.

(CNN) -- Any Christian will tell you: If a person verbally professes Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, that person is considered saved. No ifs, ands or buts. That's when the conversation should end.

Yet for some reason, the question as to whether President Barack Obama is a true Christian continues to be challenged by many, and one of those who should know better is the Rev. Franklin Graham.

As the son of the Rev. Billy Graham, Franklin Graham is often called upon by national media outlets to discuss matters of faith. But on the question of President Obama's faith, Graham has gotten a free pass from far too many folks in the media, and to be honest, his back-and-forth answers help to muddy the waters.

Recently, in an interview with ABC's Christian Amanpour on her Sunday show, "This Week," Graham was asked whether the president is a Christian, and he replied, "He has told me that he is a Christian. But the debate comes, what is a Christian?

"For him, going to church means he's a Christian. For me, the definition of a Christian is whether we have given our life to Christ and are following him in faith, and we have trusted him as our Lord and Savior. That's the definition of a Christian. It's not as to what church you are a member of. A membership doesn't make you Christian."

Instead of challenging Graham with Obama's own words about his salvation, Amanpour ignores Graham's sleight of hand by asking if he actually believes the president.

"Well, when he says it, of course I can't -- I'm not going to say, 'Well, no, you're not.' I mean, God is the only one who knows his heart," Graham said.

But that's exactly what he did!

In Graham's own, sly way, he managed to say that he believes Obama is a Christian because he said so, and then question if he's really a Christian by suggesting that he's just a guy who thinks if you show up at church makes you one.

This two-step that Graham is doing is dangerous because all of a sudden he has become the arbiter of who is and who isn't a Christian through the eyes of those in the media. By even asking him the question, we are affording Graham a level of respect that he doesn't deserve.

In fact, if anyone wanted to truly challenge Graham, all they would have to do is actually read what Obama has written on the matter.

In his best-selling book, "The Audacity of Hope," Obama wrote that he "felt God's spirit beckoning me," and as a result, "I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth." And he was baptized at Trinity United Church of Christ in the 1990s.

Yet polling done last year showed that one in four Americans believe the president to be a Muslim. There is no doubt his name plays into that and the fact that his father was a Muslim. I wonder if Dr. Ergun Caner has to contend with that. He was actually a practicing Muslim, yet converted to Christianity, and today, is the dean of the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.

It is simply a stubborn fact that too many Christian conservatives like Graham refuse to accept, something that Bishop T.D. Jakes, one of the world's most prominent pastors, finds "insulting."

"We didn't question the Christianity of President Bush when he said he accepted Christ, and I'm disappointed in Rev. Franklin Graham in that regard," Jakes told me Friday for my TV One Cable Network Sunday morning news show, "Washington Watch. "I wish he had the diplomacy of his father, who brought the gospel to people without being nuanced by politics because when you do those things you offend people that you are actually called to save and to serve.

"And I would hope that he would see the rationale in apologizing for such statements -- because if the president's faith is suspect, then all of our faiths are suspect, because the Bible is quite clear about what it takes to be saved and the president has been quite open about his accepting Christ and him openly confessing it before men. And if it's good enough for the Bible it ought to be good enough for the rest of us."

While Jakes has the courage to take on the issue, far too many of fellow Christians have refused to call out Graham on his shenanigans, which is clearly an attempt to cast doubt on the issue. Where are the likes of pastors Rick Warren, Rod Parsley, Robert H. Schuller, John Hagee, Richard Land, Dr. Julius Scruggs, Paige Patterson, Samuel Rodriguez, or even the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops? Are they too afraid to offend their congregations by directly challenging the erroneous assumptions of Graham and speak truthfully and prophetically?

When Graham has gone on CNN, ABC and other media outlets offering his contradictory statements, they should have the courage to come right out and say even Billy Graham's son is dead wrong.

This isn't an ideological issue. This has nothing to do with Democrats or Republicans. It doesn't matter if you are Catholic, Methodist, Baptist or any other Christian denomination. It has everything to do with Christian values, and standing up and defending a fellow follower of the faith.

But the reality is that these days, when the Rev. Franklin Graham speaks, he sounds more like a partisan politician rather than a prophetic pastor.

The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland S. Martin.