Richard Cizik Questions Franklin Graham On Islam

Franklin Graham took to the media last week lambasting the Obama administration over the cancellation of the Pentagon National Day of Prayer over his statements that Islam is an “evil and wicked religion.” While Graham got support from National Day of Prayer supporters and Sarah Palin, Richard Cizik, the ousted lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals and a founding partner of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, says evangelicals have to be particularly careful in their comments on Islam because of their exclusivist soteriology.

Graham’s comment about Islam “certainly is inflammatory,” Cizik told me this week, noting that Graham’s original articulation of these sentiments prompted him to organize a 2003 event (while still at the NAE), urging evangelical leaders not to disparage Islam. Cizik said he continues those efforts today through an initiative aimed at building common ground between Christians and Muslims on climate change, terrorism, and poverty.

Cizik added:

Graham has not over the years stated his position with any more sensitivity. I happen to with him hold to exclusivist soteriology. I am a traditional orthodox Christian who believes one receives salvation through Jesus Christ. But I don’t call Islam or its adherents by inference evil. Why? Because, as I said, all people and religions are stained by sin. All evil is a consequence of the fall. . . . All human beings are made in God’s image and are entitled to love and respect. [We should] reach out with love to those who are our Muslim neighbors.

Graham insisted to The Brody File that he loves Muslims, too: “I want Muslims everywhere to know what I know that Jesus Christ died for their sins the same way he died for mine and if they’re willing to confess and repent of their sins and receive Christ in their hearts, then their lives, they can have that assurance of salvation, forgiveness of sin, and they can have that assurance of Heaven, and I want them to know that.” Graham, though, maintains that it’s Christianity that is being disparaged while Islam gets a “free pass.” Brody agreed on the double standard: “It’s hard to argue that there is NOT a double standard here. Don’t offend the Muslims but its OK to offend the Christians.” 

Huh? Were there Muslims asking for a day of prayer at which they said all the Christians are going to hell?

Graham repeated his claims that Muslims don’t worship the same God as Christians to USA Today last week, and threw in a little mockery of Hindus as well. And oddly — while many on the religious right are attempting to reach out to African-American conservatives — he told the newspaper’s religion reporter, Cathy Lynn Grossman, that “Obama pays attention only to black charismatic and Pentecostal pastors, such as his spiritual adviser, Joshua Dubois.”

Partisan politics appear to be at the heart of Graham’s grievances. On Brody’s show, he threatened that evangelicals who once supported Obama now won’t. And Brody agreed, arguing, “Graham’s words should not be ignored by the President’s supporters. Think of these comments as a warning sign. While you can make the case that the President has tried to be more civil in tone the stark reality is that from a policy perspective conservative Evangelicals who liked what they saw in 2008 are having a hard time swallowing some big parts of this administration’s agenda. (healthcare, gay rights, judges, softening tone towards radical Islam just to name a few).”

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email