We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Is Franklin Graham a Christian?

Yesterday morning. Mr. Franklin Graham, CEO of the Christian NGO Samaritan's Purse, appeared on the MSNBC morning news program, "Morning Joe."   The "morning Joe" interview team, headed by Willie Geist, started the interview by asking Mr. Graham if he believed that the president is a Christian.  (For a video clip of the relevant part of the interview, see here).  There has been some controversy over remarks by presidential candidate Rick Santorum on that point.

Graham danced around the question and would not say in so many words without reservation or equivocation that President Obama is a Christian.  He acknowledges that the president says he is a Christian, but the doubt in Graham's mind seems to be that the president doesn't exhibit the marks of a true Christian.  By way of contrast, Graham readily acknowledged that Santorum is a Christian because, according to Graham, he displays the clear values of one.  Mr. Santorum has to a degree relied on the same logic.  Yes, so his line goes, Mr. Obama says he is a Christian, and I take him at his word...but.  What follows the but are complaints about the president's false, unbiblical "theology," which Mr. Santorum seems to think is just an ideology that values Planet Earth over against humanity.

This is all weird and seems to be murky.  Except, it really isn't.  Off camera and away from the reporters both gentlemen would surely agree that whatever the president may think he is, his actions are not those of a true Christian.  We have to remember that we are dealing here with individuals who stand as far right theologically as they do politically, and one of the things Christians do out there on the fringe right is judge the rest of us who are down stream for not being truly Christian.  Such judgmental attitudes are a distinguishing characteristic of their beliefs.

What is troubling is to see exponents of far right theologies speaking on national television apparently for all of us who (with trepidation) take the name of Christ.  What is still more troubling is the influence their narrow-minded, seriously unloving religiosity seems to be having on our political life.  We need to be clear here that in the United States of America whether the president is a Christian or not is irrelevant to the qualifications of his office as chief of a secular state.  We want an ethical, honest, wise, canny, and competent president.  People of other faiths (including atheism) can be ethical.  They can be honest.  They can be wise.  They can be canny politicians and competent statesmen.  Our nation is not a theocracy, and there is no religious test for holding office.  We decided in the years after the American Revolution that we do not want state churches and that  the state is to keep religion at arms length, for the sake of religious freedom as well as for freedom from religious domination.

Injecting religion into our politicking is thus unwise and one could even say, given our commitment to a secular state,  "un-American".  We need to stop it and go back to making the political judgment of who will be our leadership for the next two, four, and six years on the basis of what is best for all Americans.  Now, me, personally, I will draw on my faith in making my judgment on these matters.  That is my prerogative.  I can even state publicly, if I choose, the faith values on which I base my choices.  That too is my prerogative in a democracy.  What is not my right is to expect that public policy must conform to my understanding of biblical theology, which is precisely what Mr. Santorum is claiming to do.  He argues that he is the best candidate because he espouses a Christian theology, which he publicly makes the measure of what is right for the nation.  He does so while casting aspersions on his political opponents including the president, which means he has turned his view of biblical principles into a political tool, weapon, and set of talking points.  There is a huge difference between claiming that the president's policies are unwise or misguided and claiming that they are wrong because they are not Christian.  And that is most troubling of all.

As for the question in the heading, of course he is--just not my kind of Christian, that's all.