Megachurch pastor Bishop T.D. Jakes this weekend denounced the Rev. Franklin Graham for questioning President Obama’s faith in a recent television interview. “I find it insulting,” Jakes said May 15 on TV One’s “Washington Watch with Roland Martin,” also accusing Graham of hypocrisy. “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.”
Graham, son of the world-renowned evangelist Billy Graham, made his statements in an interview with journalist Christiane Amanpour on ABC’s “This Week,” which was broadcast on Easter Sunday.
Asked to address the persistent rumors that President Obama was not a U.S. citizen and is a secret Muslim, Graham said, “As it relates to Muslim, there are many people that do wonder where he really stands on that. Now, he has told me that he is a Christian. But the debate comes, what is a Christian?”
“For him (Obama), 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,” Graham continued. “That’s the definition of a Christian; it’s not as to what church you’re a member of. A membership doesn’t make you a Christian.”
Obama has faced doubts about his Christian faith even before he became president. During his campaign for the White House then-candidate Obama was hounded by rumors of his supposed Islamic leanings – fed by his estranged father’s birth into a Muslim household and Obama’s upbringing in countries like Indonesia – forcing him to make explicit statements about his Christian beliefs during a Jan. 15, 2008 presidential debate and in other forums.
And despite those declarations, 2011 polls indicate that at least one in five Americans believed him to be Muslim. During Easter, some wondered why Obama didn’t release a proclamation – though he hosted an Easter Prayer Breakfast at the White House. “I wanted to host this breakfast for a simple reason – because as busy as we are, as many tasks as pile up, during this season, we are reminded that there’s something about the resurrection – something about the resurrection of our savior, Jesus Christ, that puts everything else in perspective,” he said at that event.
Bishop Jakes, who is the chief pastor of the 30,000-member Potter’s House in Dallas, said Graham should apologize for disparaging the president’s profession of faith. “… 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,” said Jakes. “And if it’s good enough for the Bible, it ought to be good enough for the rest of us.”
Jakes and others also condemned Graham for wading into politics and aligning himself with right-wing political figures such as Sarah Palin and now-discredited “birther” Donald Trump, of whom Graham said, “The more you listen to him, the more you say to yourself, you know, maybe the guy’s right.”
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said during an April 25 press briefing, “I think it’s unfortunate that a religious leader would choose Easter Sunday to make preposterous charges.”
And CNN belief blogger, Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar, said in a May 17 column that Graham was a “political hack,” who was embarrassing his father – who famously said no when asked to join Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority.
“Evangelists cannot be closely identified with any particular party or person. We have to stand I the middle in order to preach to all people, right and left,” Prothero quoted Billy Graham as saying.
Jakes agreed, saying Franklin Graham ought to follow the example of his father. “ I wish he had the diplomacy of his father, “ Jakes said, “who brought the Gospel to people without being nuanced by politics, because when you do those things, you offend people that you’re actually called to save and to serve.”