GOP candidate Rick Santorum's recent comments on President Obama's "theology" continue to generate conversation, and the Rev. Franklin Graham joins Morning Joe to discuss whether the president is a Christian, Christianity in the Middle East, government overreach with religious institutions, and why he thinks Santorum is a Christian.
Rev. Franklin Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham and a prominent evangelical leader in his own right, waded into contentious waters Tuesday when asked for his views on the religious beliefs of President Obama and the GOP hopefuls.
Graham, the CEO and president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, told a Morning Joe panel he couldn't say for certain that Obama is a Christian.
“You have to ask him. I cannot answer that question for anybody. All I know is I’m a sinner, and that God has forgiven me of my sins," Graham said. "You have to ask every person. He has said he’s a Christian, so I just have to assume that he is.”
But Graham also said he couldn't "categorically" say Obama wasn't a Muslim, in part, because Islam has gotten a "free pass" under Obama. Graham also said the Muslim world sees Obama as a "son of Islam," because the president's father and grandfather were Muslim.
According to Edina Lekovic, director of policy at the Muslim Public Affairs Council, being born in a Muslim family doesn't make one a Muslim. A person has to make an active choice to become a Muslim, Lekovic said.
Obama has said again and again that he is a Christian, both as a presidential candidate and as president.
“I’m a Christian by choice,” Obama told a group of New Mexico voters last September, answering a question from a member of the audience. He said he has embraced his faith even though growing up, “my family didn’t, frankly. They weren’t folks who went to church every week.”
In Chicago, Obama was a member of Trinity United Church of Christ for years, but he quit in May 2008 after videos of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s racially-divisive sermons surfaced on the Web.
“Our relations with Trinity have been strained by the divisive statements of Reverend Wright, which sharply conflict with our own views,” Obama and his wife Michelle wrote at the time.
The debate over the president's faith was brought up again on the campaign trail this Saturday, when Rick Santorum told a Tea Party crowd in Columbus, Ohio, that Obama's agenda is "not about you. It's not about you. It's not about your quality of life. It's not about your job. It's about some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology, but no less a theology."
When pressed by reporters after Saturday's comments, the former Pennsylvania senator said he did not imply the president is not a Christian, but said the president was trumping religious freedoms.
Graham told the Morning Joe panel that he and Santorum share the same moral beliefs, and that he's confident Santorum is a fellow Christian.
"His values are so clear on moral issues, no question about it," he told the Morning Joe panel.
Graham spoke with a little less confidence about Gingrich's faith, and cast doubt on whether Romney's Mormonism is compatible with Christianity.
"I think Newt is a Christian, at least he told me he is," Graham said. He added that Romney's Mormon faith is not recognized as part of the Christian faith by most Christians, but he wouldn't give his own view.
Romney has stood by his faith, saying Mormonism's values are "as American as motherhood and apple pie."
"I believe in my Mormon faith," Romney said in a 2007 speech, "and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers. I'll be true to them and to my beliefs."
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