The Last Word | February 21, 2012
>>> associate professor of religious studies . and thea butler. thank you for joining me tonight. professor butler, i have to start with you. a lot of religion has been thrown around this morning on " morning joe " and tonight in the last few minutes. let's go to this thing that reverend graham brought up this morning that islam is something that you are born into. if your father and your grandfather were muslims then you don't have to check with anybody, you're a muslim.
>> well, you know, what's so funny to me about this is franklin graham is in the business of being a missionary. part of what's going on with him is that he's trying to be an evangelist to do this. that's just not true. one of the things he said this morning that needs to be corrected is that president obama 's grandfather's actually christian before turning muslim. okay? so he was a convert. so to make up this whole strain of because his dad was a muslim, he's a cryptomuslim or however you want to put it is hog wash. it was appalling this morning to see him selling the memory of his father this way.
>> gene robinson , there was this theory out there in political land last week that some religiousoity getting into the campaign was helpful to rick santorum because it highlights in some ways mitt romney 's mormonism, which as we've seen evangelical christians are uncomfortable with and it brings the strength of rick santorum 's hardcore conservatism to the fore. is -- have they now crossed a line into something that is alienating to the vast majority of american voters, this kind of i'm a christian, you're not a christian, who is a christian?
>> i think they certainly have. this drawing of lines and closing of the door against some who would profess to be christians but i don't think they really are. and that's -- that gets out into kind of loony territory in the minds, i think, of many independents. and i think it's ill advised if rick santorum were to win the nomination and would like to win the general election . i don't even think it's that much of a help in the primary. he obviously thinks it's going to help him with evangelicals. but i think he's gone too far with this.
>> well, let's listen to the white house reaction to it today with jay carney .
>> he firmly believes that getting an extra $40 in every paycheck is a vastly greater significance to most americans than someone's opinion expressed on cable television about his personal faith.
>> professor, what would you like to hear in a political campaign about religion? my own feeling has been if you want to hear about religion, go to church. i don't understand why it's ever discussed by politicians at any time. what -- so i'm an extremist over here on -- i don't want to hear a word about it. then there's people who say, i need to know everything about you religiously in order to decide how i'm going to vote, i don't care where you are on taxes, i just care about where you are on religion. where do you think the balance is here?
>> i think the balance is you state upfront what you are and that's it. you don't use it as a wedge or a divider, to use president obama 's words. i think what's happened is that all of these candidates have forgotten that there's a clause that says, there is no religious test to be the president or for public office . this is just ridiculous. and further, you know, what i really think is -- what franklin graham did this morning is the kind of grandstanding he does every time he tries to latch on to the person he thinks who is the christian values candidate. so the kinds of things he said this morning were just total disconnect. i mean, he knows that mormons -- in his opinion at least -- mormons are not christians . catholics wouldn't have even been considered to be christians by most evangelicals and certainly not southern baptists . this whole thing is just ridiculous. what has happened is they've used this as a way to sort of try to set another betting point. i don't believe it's helping at all.
>> let's listen to how franklin graham this morning distinguished his understanding of the faith that president obama has versus the faith that rick santorum has.
>> i asked president obama how he came to faith in christ. and he said, i don't go to church.
>> have you had that conversation with rick santorum ?
>> i talked to rick santorum , yes.
>> he was more depth on the sincerity of his question?
>> i think so. you have to look at what a person does with his life.
>> gene, it seems that reverend graham would be well advised to stay away from politics on television.
>> he really should, or else he should pay closer attention. didn't president obama back during the campaign get into serious trouble for going to church? for going to a church that many people thought was the wrong church? you know, i think what most voters who are people of faith pay attention to is whether politicians walk the walk. i don't think they necessarily want to hear them talk the talk. and so for many catholic voters, if a politician votes for or against abortion, that's important. for many evangelical voters, i think political stances and official actions that a politician takes can be important. but i don't think anybody is listening for a president to be kind of a theologian in chief. you know, we like to hear our sermons on sunday and not potentially from the oval office .
>> msnbc political analyst eugene robinson . and associate professor of religious studies at penn. anthea butler. thank you both your joining me tonight.