Awkward and uncomfortable interviews aren’t rarities in the wonderful world of media. But Rev. Franklin Graham’s (son of famed evangelist Billy Graham) appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” today certainly distinguishes itself, particularly due to the nature of the discussion: The faiths of President Barack Obama and the GOP presidential contenders. During the contentious interview, Graham declined to say whether he believes Obama is a Christian — a refusal that led to both confusion and angst among the show’s hosts.
“Do you believe that President Obama is a Christian?,” co-host Willie Geist asked.
“I think you have to ask President Obama…I think people have to ask Barack Obama — he’s come out saying he’s a Christian. So, I think the question is ‘What is a Christian?,’” Graham responded.
Geist pushed the faith leader on the question, appearing visibly surprised by his refusal to say, definitively, that Obama is, indeed, a believer. In reaffirming his refusal to confirm Obama’s faith, Graham, cited the president’s description of how he became a Christian — a story that allegedly focused more upon his community organizing than it did a heartfelt connection to the Almighty.
“So therefore by your definition, he’s not a Christian?,” Geist continued, with Graham again saying that he cannot answer that question on the president’s behalf.
Here’s the entire segment (but continue reading, below, for more on the banter):
If this weren’t awkward enough, Geist and other co-hosts asked Graham whether he believes Rick Santorum is a believer. In this instance, the faith leader didn’t waste much time in responding: “I think so.”
Naturally, Geist asked why Graham was able to answer for Santorum, but not for Obama.
“Well, because [Santorum's] values are so clear on moral issues,” Graham responded (later in the interview, Graham also said that he believes Newt Gingrich is a Christian – based on the fact that he’s said he is).
“[That's] an amazing double standard that you just applied,” said so-host John Heilemann. “Your reaction to the difference — The question about Rick Santorum and President Obama, I think, just exposes an incredible double standard you’re applying to those people. They’re exactly the same situation!”
At one point in the middle of the interview, co-host Alex Witt chimed in, asking, “Reverend, what about Mitt Romney…is he a Christian?” Here’s how the dialogue surrounding the top GOP contender’s faith unfolded:
GRAHAM: “He’s a Mormon.”
WITT: “But he’s said that he’s part of the Judeo-Christian faith. Do you take him at his word?”
GRAHAM: “No, but most Christians would not recognize Mormonism as part of the Christian faith.”
WITT: “So, he is not a Christian?”
GRAHAM: “Of course they believe in Jesus Christ, but they have a lot of other things that we believe in, too, that we don’t accept theologically.”
The hosts — particularly Geist — was flabbergasted, it seemed, that Graham was willing to reaffirm Christianity in Gingrich and Santorum’s lives, but that he was not willing to do the same for President Obama and Mitt Romney (it’s important to note that Graham has said numerous times that it is permissible for evangelicals to vote for Mormons). When Geist, once again, raised the issue and called out what he saw as a double standard, Graham spoke about the president’s focus on the “Muslims of the world.”
“Under…President Obama, the Muslims of the world — he seems more concerned about them than the Christians that are being murdered in the Muslim countries,” Graham responded.
ThinkProgress created a compilation of these discussions, below:
This on-air incident follows Santorum’s flap over the weekend surrounding whether he believes Obama is a Christian. However, this isn’t the first time Graham has questioned the president’s faith. In April 2011, he made similar comments about “the definition of a Christian” during an on-air back-and-forth with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell.
It seems on the faith front, President Obama just can’t catch a break.