On the heels of a new poll suggesting that nearly one in five Americans incorrectly believes that President Obama is a Muslim, one of the nation's most prominent evangelical leaders has weighed in with a seemingly lukewarm endorsement of the president's Christian faith.
The Rev. Franklin Graham waded into the discussion with his own controversial explanation of why people wrongly believe the president is a Muslim. Graham, who prayed with Obama in a session with his father, Billy Graham, earlier this year, was asked whether he has any doubts about Obama's self-avowed Christian faith.
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"I think the president's problem is that he was born a Muslim, his father was a Muslim. The seed of Islam is passed through the father like the seed of Judaism is passed through the mother. He was born a Muslim, his father gave him an Islamic name," Graham told CNN's John King in a televised interview that aired Thursday night.
"Now it's obvious that the president has renounced the prophet Mohammed, and he has renounced Islam, and he has accepted Jesus Christ. That's what he says he has done. I cannot say that he hasn't. So I just have to believe that the president is what he has said," Graham continued, adding that "the Islamic world sees the president as one of theirs."
The president himself has written that his father, Barack Obama Sr., was already a confirmed atheist by the time he was born. His father divorced his mother when Obama was 2 years old, and he had little contact with his father during his childhood.
White House spokesman Bill Burton reacted to Graham's comments at a White House briefing today in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., saying simply that the president is a committed Christian and that Franklin Graham is entitled to his opinion.
Confusion about the president's beliefs appears to be growing among the population, according to a new poll from the nonpartisan Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The poll found that 18 percent of those surveyed wrongly identified Obama as Muslim, up from 11 percent in March 2009. At the same time, the number of Americans who said they believed, correctly, that Obama is Christian has declined from 48 percent in March 2009 to 34 percent today. But 43 percent of Americans now say they don't know what Obama's religion is at all.
The Pew poll was conducted between July 21 and Aug. 5, before Obama weighed in on the controversial plan to build an Islamic center near the site of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.
The misinformation continues to exist despite the president's own declarations of his Christian faith and the statements of his spiritual advisers.
"The president is, obviously, Christian. He prays every day," Burton said Thursday aboard Air Force One.
"He communicates with his religious adviser every single day," Burton said. "There's a group of pastors that he takes counsel from on a regular basis. His faith is very important to him, but it's not something that's a topic of conversation every single day."
Burton said the president has talked "extensively" about his faith in the past and "you can bet he'll talk about his faith again." But "making sure Americans know what a devout Christian he is" is not the president's top priority.