As part of an Easter edition of This Week that explored religion's influence on government, Christiane Amanpour hosted right-wing evangelist Rev. Franklin Graham, who took used the opportunity to promote the conspiracy theory that President Obama hasn't produced his birth certificate. He also cast doubt on Obama's religion and declared that "secularism is anti-Christ."
It's stunning that ABC would lead its Easter edition of This Week by hosting Graham. He was, after all, uninvited from a National Prayer Day ceremony at the Pentagon last year after calling Islam "evil" and counseling Muslims that "they don't have to die in a car bomb."
Amanpour seemed to make a brief reference to this during the interview, telling Graham: "You've made some very controversial comments about Islam, about Muslims, including on our program, when we had our town hall that you joined us on a few months ago. Do you still feel that there is a real divide between Islam and Christianity in this country?"
But that was it. Amanpour didn't press him any further on his history of anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Amanpour's most egregious error during the interview was failing to make clear the facts about Obama's birth certificate:
AMANPOUR: Does it bother you that people like Donald Trump, for instance, right now are making another huge, big deal about birth certificates and whether he's a Muslim or a Christian and where he was born?
GRAHAM: Well, the president I know has some issues to deal with here. He can solve this whole birth certificate issue pretty quickly. I don't -- 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. So, I'm not -- I don't know, but it's an issue that looks like he could answer pretty quickly.
After hearing a statement like that, there can be only one response: Barack Obama has "solve[d] this whole birth certificate issue." It seems surreal to be discussing this three years after the fact, but in June 2008, Obama's presidential campaign released a "certification of live birth." As FactCheck.org noted, it "meets all of the requirements from the State Department for proving U.S. citizenship." There is no "issue."
But as Graham transitioned into subtly casting doubt on Obama's faith, Amanpour said nothing:
GRAHAM: As it relates to Muslim: There are many people that do wonder where he really stands on that. 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 and are following him in faith, and we have trusted him as our Lord and savior. That's the definition of a Christian. It's not as to what church you are a member of. A membership doesn't make you Christian.
See the distinction? Although Obama has "told" Graham "that he is a Christian," Graham makes clear that he and Obama have differing definitions of Christianity. Sure, Obama may go to church, but that doesn't necessarily make you Christian, Graham says.
Here's how Amanpour replied:
AMANPOUR: Do you believe him when he tells you he's a Christian?
GRAHAM: Well, when he says it, of course I can't -- I'm not going to say, "Well, no, you're not." I mean, God is the only one who knows his heart.
Again, an equivocal answer. It would be rude to flatly tell Obama he's not a Christian, and really, only God can know the truth of the matter anyway.
The interview also included an attack by Graham on secularism:
AMANPOUR: Easter is obviously an enormously important holiday for Christians all over the world. What's the word that you most dearly associate with Easter? Is it sacrifice? Is it love? What is it?
GRAHAM: It's all of that. It's God's love. It's the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. For me, when I look at Easter, I look at my sins and realize that Jesus Christ paid my debt in full when he died on that cross. He died for me. He died for you, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: You have also said that we live in the time of the Antichrist.
AMANPOUR: How do you reconcile those two?
GRAHAM: I look at the world in which we live today. And the secularism is anti-Christ. It's every bit anti-Christ. We can't talk about Jesus in our schools. God has been kicked out of our government. And whether it's Europe or whether it's here, yes, the spirit of anti-Christ is in the world today.
The debate over the meaning of "secularism" is intense, but I feel confident in saying that most Americans who support secularism aren't "anti-Christ." They're people who want the government to adhere to the First Amendment's guarantee that Congress won't pass laws "respecting an establishment of religion" -- or those "prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
That is to say, they're decidedly in favor of Christians freely exercising their beliefs. To suggest otherwise, especially in reference to living "in the time of the Antichrist," is a cheap smear.
For ABC, there's a simple solution to this problem. Rather than trying to correct Graham's embarrassing forays into birtherism and slanders of those with whom he disagrees, just don't invite him on your program.
There are other Christian leaders who won't engage in the same sort of behavior.