On Sunday, evangelist Franklin Graham argued that President Barack Obama may not have been born in the United States, even though numerous independent fact-checkers have debunked that claim as erroneous.
The White House quickly condemned Graham’s attack.
Graham, son of the famed evangelist Billy Graham who served as the spiritual adviser to several presidents, lobbed his attack on Obama while a guest on ABC’s “This Week with Christiane Amanpour” on Easter Sunday morning.
After talking about “God’s love” and “the sacrifice of Jesus Christ” on Easter, Graham launched into an attack on governmental policies and Obama.
“The president, I know, has some issues to deal with here,” Graham stated when asked about those claiming Obama was not born in the United States. “He can solve this whole birth certificate issue pretty quickly. I was born in a hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, and I know that my records are there – you can probably even go and find out what room my mother was in when I was born. I don’t know why he can’t produce that.”
Graham’s comments echoed the questions and attacks offered by “birthers,” the nickname given those who espouse the conspiracy theory that Obama was actually born in Kenya. “Birthers” continue to claim Obama has not proven his birth in Hawaii despite all evidence to the contrary.
During the interview, Graham also expressed his growing interest in the potential candidacy of Donald Trump, who burst to the top of the Republican presidential field by promoting “birther” claims.
“When I first saw that [Trump] was getting in, I thought, ‘Well, this has got to be a joke,'” Graham stated. “But the more you listen to him, the more you say to yourself, ‘You know, maybe the guy’s right.'”
Graham added that Trump might be the candidate he ends up supporting for president.
The independent fact-checking site Politifact.com, which won a Pulitzer for its work, has repeatedly debunked claims that Obama was not born in the United States.
Many critics of the “birther” movement argue that the claims are motivated by racism.
Numerous prominent Republican leaders have said Obama was born in the United States, including Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove and controversial conservative Arizona Governor Jan Brewer.
On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responded to a question about Graham’s claims the day before.
“I think it’s unfortunate that a religious leader would choose Easter Sunday to make preposterous charges,” Carney stated.
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During the interview on Sunday, Amanpour noted that Graham and his father had met and prayed with Obama. In response, Graham called Obama “a very nice man” but added that “our country is in big trouble” with him as president.
Graham also raised questions during the interview about whether Obama is a Christian.
“There are many people that do wonder where he really stands on that,” Graham said when asked if he thought Obama was a Muslim. “Now, he has told me that he is a Christian. But the debate comes: What is a Christian? For him, going to church means he’s a Christian. For me, the definition of a Christian is whether we have given our life to Christ, are following him in faith, and we have trusted him as our Lord and Savior.”
When pressed, Graham said he believed Obama’s claims to be a Christian because “God is the only one who knows his heart.”
Despite Graham’s claims about Obama’s theology, Obama frequently talks explicitly about salvation coming from Jesus. In fact, Obama repeated this language last week during his Easter breakfast for religious leaders.
“I wanted to host this breakfast for a simple reason,” Obama said, “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.
“This magnificent grace, this expansive grace, this ‘Amazing Grace’ calls me to reflect,” Obama added. “And it calls me to pray. It calls me to ask God for forgiveness for the times that I’ve not shown grace to others, those times that I’ve fallen short. It calls me to praise God for the gift of … his Son and our Savior.”
During ABC’s Sunday program, Amanpour asked Richard Land, the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s head, what he thought about those who questioned Obama’s faith.
“I think they’re irrational and a little unbalanced,” Land said. “I have no doubt whatsoever that Barack Obama is a very typical, 21st century mainline Protestant.”
Land also said, “The idea that he wasn’t born in Hawaii and the idea that he’s a Muslim is just flat nuts.”
Graham joins several Baptists in promoting the “birther” movement. Wiley Drake, a former Southern Baptist Convention second vice president, is among the leaders of the movement and even filed a lawsuit challenging Obama’s status as a natural-born citizen.
Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.