And a bit embarrassing.
Not the media's skewering of Franklin Graham yesterday on MSNBC's Morning Joe program. But Franklin Graham's own sloppy performance during the show.
You can't blame it on inexperience. The most famous son of the widely-admired evangelist is no stranger to television, the news media, and controversy, but he almost completely flubbed Monday's interview. Today, the liberal wing of America's media elite is gleefully picking apart Graham's disappointing responses to some, frankly, easy questions.
Easy questions that were also quite uneducated on the part of the assembled journalists: Willie Geist, John Heilemann, Alex Wagner, Michael Steele and Mike Barnicle. MSNBC's panel obviously didn't have a good grasp on what evangelicals mean when they use the term "Christian."
But then again, it appears Franklin himself doesn't, either.
It's a tortuous, grimace-inducing spectacle, watching Graham butcher the relevance of orthodox Christianity at the hands of eager accomplices, his cable TV interrogators. President Obama isn't saved because Graham doesn't like how he coddles Muslims, but two Catholics are? It just doesn't make much sense.
Instead, here's how Graham should have answered the following questions:
Q: Do you believe President Obama is a Christian?
A: To answer that question, we first need to define our terms. If you're asking if I think President Obama is a Christian as opposed to being Muslim, or Buddhist, then yes, I'd say that religiously, he in the Christian category. Now, if you're asking me if President Obama is an evangelical Christ-follower, then I would say no, he's not. He has not made a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as his savior. He has said that he became a "Christian" when he started attending a Christian church. But that does not mean that he's born-again - another term that can be substituted for "evangelical."
Q: So you don't take him at his word when he says he's a Christian?
A: When President Obama says he's a "Christian," I won't argue that he doesn't attend Christian religious services in a Christian religious building. But does he believe and testify that Jesus is lord of his life? Until he does that, then why should anybody believe that he's a born-again, inerrant-Bible-believing, evangelical Christian? It will be provable by both what he says and how he acts. Why should anybody believe me when I say I'm a born-again believer in Christ if I don't say it with my mouth and live it with my life? The Bible says we will know believers by their fruit - which means the Fruit of the Spirit. Those are love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, meekness, and self-control. Now, to a certain extent, the President does exhibit many of these things in his public life, but until he confesses Christ with his mouth, then there's no correlation between his actions and his claim to be an evangelical Christian. I know this sounds terribly haughty of me to say, but I'm a strict-interpretationist of the Bible, and God Himself says His Word can sound offensive to people who don't believe it.
Q: So therefore, by your definition, he's not a Christian?
A: Not a born-again Christ-follower, no.
Q: Do you believe he's a Muslim?
A: No. He has not made a personal testimony to that effect. He's claimed to be, and demonstrated by church attendance his preference as, a Christian. At least in terms of religious category.
Q: Were Egypt - and the world - a better place with Hosni Mubarak in power?
A: Better? No. But neither was Egypt a worse place with Mubarak in power than it is today. We are witnessing a tragic escalation of human rights abuses now that Mubarak is out of power. Religious freedom is practically non-existent, and Egypt's diplomatic ties with Israel are much worse. Those two facts cannot be good for Egypt, or the world.
(At this point, Alex Wagner, clearly subjective in an unprofessionally journalistic fashion, comes in with a robust defense of President Obama and how he's dealing with the crisis in the Sudan. Graham, perhaps surprisingly, considering his relatively lame answers up until now, immediately responds in a manner which establishes his superior credibility - and her naivete - on this particular topic.
But then Graham misinterprets another question regarding politics and religion. Although he rightfully points out that the Obama administration is overstepping its bounds regarding the contraception issue and conscientious objection, that wasn't the question posed to him. The question was how he'd respond to people who say that politicians shouldn't be shoving their religion down the country's throat?)
A: First of all, I'd say that whether you were a Muslim, a Jew or a Christian, I'd have more respect for you if your personal faith affected your worldview, than the other way around. We shouldn't be surprised that people of faith - no matter what faith it is - don't act out that faith in every aspect of life. It's not aways done perfectly, but if your faith really doesn't mean much to you, then it's not worth much, is it? Second, I'd say that the reason evaluating the faith of a political candidate has importance comes when you consider how you'd anticipate their responses to various issues. If their faith isn't important, you have a sort of answer, too. Third, to the extent that a politician's faith is expressed in their policies, I'd personally understand where people who don't believe the same way I do would be threatened by how my faith influences my decision-making. I'd say that's one of the ways our Constitution comes into play, because it protects all of us from other people foisting their viewpoints upon us without our consent.
Q: Do you believe Rick Santorum is a Christian?
A: Here again, Santorum is a Christian in the sense that Roman Catholicism is religiously Christian. Does he have a personal faith in Jesus Christ as his lord and savior? Is he a Biblical-inerrancy, evangelical Christian like I am? Not if he believes Jesus Christ isn't the only way to God the Father. Most Catholics don't have a Biblical understanding of Who Christ is. Yet I believe you can be a nominal, non-papist Catholic and be born-again. I don't know if Santorum is a nominal, non-papist Catholic, but if he is, that bumps him up a little higher in my estimation of his candidacy!
(Of, course, Graham doesn't answer this way, and he immediately falls into a quagmire of his own making. The double-standard Graham draws between saying a Catholic is a Christian because of his good morals, while the Protestant Obama probably isn't a Christian because... his morals don't jive with Graham's? That is not a logical answer. That is not a Biblical answer. Let's look once again at what the Bible says is our standard for deducing the quality of faith a person has: the Fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, meekness, self-control. President Obama probably shares all of those to the same degree, if not similarly, as Santorum does.
But that complicates the political picture for evangelicals like Graham who find it much easier to label Obama non-Christian than fellow political conservatives like Santorum, Gingrich, and even Romney.
If Graham had earlier laid out the distinctions between religious Christians and evangelical, born-again Christians, then this question probably wouldn't have come up. And the reason why Obama is so unpopular among evangelical right-wingers would seem less irrational. But even if it had, about the only issue most evangelicals consistently hold against the President is his pro-choice stand on abortion. Which, I agree, is relatively damning, unless you take the longer view that hatred of others is Biblically akin to murder, so at what point on the murder spectrum should evangelicals decide to quit while we're still innocent? Many of us evangelicals have somebody in life whom we hate, and we don't work very hard at abolishing that hate, so who's committing the worse sin?
Not that I'm pro-choice. Personally, I think that's taking the abortion debate a bit too far beyond its essential boundaries. Suffice it to say that there are born-again evangelicals who support President Obama, and we can't say they're sinning by doing so without pointing the finger back to ourselves.)
Anyway, back to the interview:
Q: Is Mitt Romney a Christian?
A: No, he's a Mormon. Mormons like to classify themselves as Christians, but they're neither religious Christians or born-again Christians. Mormonism is a cult, plain and simple. So, Romney is not any type of Christian.
Q: Is Newt Gingrich a Christian?
A: Gingrich is a Roman Catholic. The same parameters apply to Gingrich as to Santorum, who's also Roman Catholic. They are religious Christians. But since I've not heard either of them profess that Christ is the only way to God our Father, then no, neither one are saved, evangelical Christians.
Aaannnd... we're clear. The interview is over!
But the fallout has just begun.
Perhaps what's even worse than his insufficient answers, Graham falls into the deceptive trap, already set up by the equally-erroneous Santorum this past weekend, of classifying people by religion rather than faith. Instead of drawing distinctives between people who go by the label Christian, Jew, Mormon, or Muslim, Graham should have stuck with the Biblically-reliable distinctive between people who believe that Christ is the Son of God and the savior of sinners, and people who don't.
But here again, doing so isn't exactly politically expedient.
Graham's father, the iconic Billy Graham, wisely kept out of partisan politics in general, although he struck up close relationships with several world leaders of various political stripes. Also, by not focusing on the Christianity question, he could introduce the Savior of souls to everyone, regardless of their religion.
Even if their religion was Christianity!
His son, however, hasn't learned the art of mastering the media to suit your needs, something the respected Billy did wonderfully. And still does. Franklin Graham's interrogators practically genuflected in their attitudes as they asked after his father's well-being, almost hushed and reverential in their tone.
I think I know what Franklin was trying to say on MSNBC yesterday. I just wish he'd have actually said it!