Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Seed

What makes a Christian? And are there any theologians- better yet, anthropologists- in the house?

To the Reverend Franklin Graham, as he told (transcript from Crooks and Liars) John King of CNN,

you can't be born a Christian. The only way you can become a Christian is by confessing your sins to God, asking his forgiveness and by receiving Jesus Christ by faith into your heart.

That Christ died for our sins. Shed his blood on Calvary's cross and that God raised him to life. If you're willing to accept that and believe that, and let Jesus Christ be the lord of your life, God will forgive your sins, he'll heal your heart. And that's the only way you can become a Christian.

This runs contrary to Franklin's contention in the same interview that "The seed of Islam is passed through the father like the seed of Judaism is passed through the mother." In the secular sense, the reference to "seed" is ugly, implying a racial basis for Islam and Judaism, while Christianity is a matter of faith ("let Jesus Christ be the lord of your life..... the only way you can become a christian). But in the sacred, indeed Christian, sense, something else is inferred.

In Galatians 3:27-29, Paul writes, according to the New International Version translation

for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Most Bible commentaries- at least those which are Protestant, as are Rev. Graham and Barack Obama- maintain that Paul was not suggesting that baptism leads to salvation, but that it is an outward sign of the identification with Christ treasured by Graham.

Barack Obama was baptized in the early 1990s at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. He contends that he is a believer in Jesus Christ- no mortal can know for sure, but Graham himself concedes "of course the President says he is a Christian and we have to leave it at that." To Graham that means "That Christ died for our sins. Shed his blood on Calvary's cross and that God raised him to life." And in the explanation (which almost surely Graham would agree with) of the highly regarded Bible commentary published by Zondervan, Jesus "is the seed to whom the promises were made. Believers enter into the promises by entering into him and become spiritual seed to God as well."

This would in a spiritual sense suggest that Barack Obama and Franklin Graham belong to the same "seed." In strictly biological terms, Obama no more belongs to the "seed" of Islam than he does to the "seed" of Judaism, the religion to which Jesus Christ and his mother, Mary, belonged. That would be the same "seed" to which Franklin Graham belongs.

Certainly, though, Graham doesn't see it that way. It's unlikely that he considers Obama spiritually, or biologically, akin to himself. Barack Obama, to many on the Christian right such as Reverend Graham, already has failed the test of Christian identity. The latter is not asked the right questions, and he's not going to volunteer anything controversial. But the growing skepticism about Barack Obama's religious identity or faith goes beyond his race and complicated spritual background.

Soon after Ronald Reagan died in 2004, The Washington Times editorialized

His works reflected his faith as well. He spoke against abortion and for prayer in schools. He transformed cultural conservatism's frown at vice into a smile at virtue.

The right wing knows that Ronald Reagan was a Christian. They know it not because of any expression of faith as an adult in Jesus Christ as his personal savior, as Reverend Graham characterized Christianity, or because he chose to worship and glorify God at least once a week (he didn't), but because he believed in the right things. Or, rather, because he advocated the right things, whatever he might have believed. Those items, you probably will not be surprised to learn, had nothing to do with redemption, grace, or salvation. They had to do with abortion, the first Amendment, and the warm, fuzzy feeling he gave tough-guy conservatives when he "smile(d) at virtue." Unlike President Obama, Ronald Reagan had the right politics- and as you know if you're a modern-day conservative, that is what God really cares about.

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