What was Franklin Graham Thinking?

by Brad Harmon on August 23, 2010 in Miscellany

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If you’ve watched the news during the past few days, chances are that you’ve seen a headline like “Franklin Graham says President Obama was born a Muslim,” or something quite similar.  This weekend, the blogs were filled with descriptions of Franklin Graham as a hatemonger, bigot, liar, uneducated, and many more I won’t repeat.

The whole situation leaves me scratching my head (yes that’s me and not Franklin in the picture) wondering why Franklin would say such a thing, and why people have been so vehemently offended by his remarks.  Let’s start by looking at what he actually said.

Franklin Graham on CNN’s John King, USA

Here’s John King’s interview with Franklin Graham on August 19, 2010.  The poll John King refers to was conducted by the Pew Research Center, and found that 18% of Americans believe President Obama is Muslim with 43% saying they don’t know which faith he claims.

Honestly, when I first saw the interview I didn’t think much of it.  I hate the question, “Is … a Christian?”  You can’t truthfully answer the question yes or no because only God knows the heart of man (1 Sam 16:7).  It’s typically (if not always) a “gotcha question” when asked in a television interview.

I’ve Been Certified 100% Christian

The question by John King seemed to be asking Franklin Graham to certify President Obama as a Christian.  Franklin has been around the press enough that he should have recognized the trap set before him, but inexplicably he starts his answer almost justifying the poll’s results.

Many Islamic scholars have weighed in since saying that one is not born Muslim.  President Obama wrote in his memoirs that his father had denounced Islam and became an atheist a few years before Obama was born.  Why, then, did Franklin feel it necessary to say that Obama was born a Muslim?

I’m not an Islamic scholar, so I must admit that I believed Franklin.  I thought he was talking about race verses religion similar to being born Jewish; however, given that most Americans don’t understand that distinction it seemed to confuse his answer if anything else.  Now, I’m not so sure of his intent.

How to Tell if Someone is a Christian

It didn’t seem that Franklin wanted to give his stamp of approval on Obama’s claim of being a Christian.  At the very best, he gave a very weak, unenthusiastic yes.  If only God knows for sure, are there any ways that you can determine if someone is most likely a Christian?

Jesus says Look at Their Fruit

Here’s what Jesus said about how we can know His true followers from those who only claim His name.

15Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.16Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. 21Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. – Matthew 7:15-23

The obvious question would be for what type of fruit should we be seeking?  Here’s what Paul tells us about the the fruit of the Spirit.

22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,23Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. – Galatians 5:22-23

Jesus says Look for Their Love

This echos the new commandment that Jesus gave His disciples at the last supper.

34A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. – John 13:34-35

Paul gives us a great description of what this kind of love looks like.

4Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 6Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 8Charity never faileth: – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a

Jesus says Look for Their Obedience

Finally, Jesus tells us that those who truly love Him follow His commandments.

21He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. 22Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? 23Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. 24He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me. – John 14:21-24

Is [fill in the blank] a Christian?

There have been, and likely will be, evil and cruel actions taken in the name of God.  These “false prophets” sow seeds of doubt smearing the name of Christ.  Inevitably, people are left with two options: that Christianity is a cruel religion; or that this person is not a Christian.  How do we answer which is correct?

Maybe, the answer is that we don’t.  Yes, we need to be able to discern those who are Christian in name only; however, to point our finger at this person, or that person, and proclaim who is a true Christian is very dangerous ground to tread upon.  Why not rely on Christ’s words to speak for themselves?

  • Share the gospel – that one must confess their sins, believe that Jesus can cleanse them of their sins, and accept His gift of salvation.
  • Admit that only God can look on the heart to know if a person’s proclamation of faith is genuine.  We can only look at a person’s actions.
  • Tell them that Jesus gave us some signs to look for in true believers:
    • Look at the fruit they produce
    • Look for the love they show one another
    • Look for their obedience to the commandments of Christ

Do You Believe [fill in the blank] is a Christian?

“It doesn’t matter what I believe.  All that matters is what God knows to be true, and what His Spirit has revealed to you.”  Why can’t that response be enough?  Is there more we’re compelled to say or do as Christians?

If a Christian is spreading false doctrine, or is involved in immoral acts, the Bible gives clear instructions on how the local church is to respond.  I don’t see anyplace in my Bible where one should publicly pronounce their opinion (or even discernment) on the authenticity of a proclamation of faith by another.

So I’m still left with the question, “What was Franklin Graham thinking?”  To you pastors that read this blog, am I missing something?  Please correct me if I am.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Kissie August 23, 2010 at 5:37 pm

I’m not a pastor … well, in that sense.

But, like you, I thought FG knew something I didn’t when he said he was born that way. And listening to the interview, I know there’s only one way to be born again and so he was on point there. Guess I can speak from the point that I’m not a pastor, who am I to say what he was thinking any more to say who and who is not a Christian. We are given guidelines as how to distinguish sheep from goats but … normally what comes out of a man is what’s in him and perhaps he has his doubts and they came forth in his (subtle) answer. It’s all politics, if you ask me. You did ask me, didn’t you? 😉
Kissie recently posted..Something Sunday- Mom- the Mediator


Brad Harmon August 23, 2010 at 9:34 pm

I loved that part of his answer Kissie. He would have been much better off dropping the Muslim and Jewish references and just answering the question posed to him. I think we have a tendency, as Christians, to want to explain everything and to defend our faith. I’m certainly guilty of this from time to time, and more often than I wish.


Kissie August 24, 2010 at 2:10 am

Defend my faith, no never … I stick with telling my story and nobody can tell me different.

Kissie recently posted..Why Didn’t I Think of That


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