I'm almost done with George W. Bush's memoir, Decision Points. Early in the book, this is a story he relayed. I'll comment below.
In the summer of 1985, we took our annual trip to Maine. Mother and Dad had invited the great evangelical preacher Billy Graham. Dad had asked him to answer some questions from the family after dinner. That was typical of Dad, always willing to share. It would have sent a signal of importance to have had Billy to himself, but that is not George H.W. Bush. He is a generous man, devoid of a big ego. So there we sat, about thirty of us - Laura, my grandmother, brothers, and sister, first and second cousins - in the large room at the end of the house on Walker's Point.
The first question was from Dad. He said, "Billy, some people say you have to have a born-again experience to go to heaven. Mother [my grandmother] here is the most religious, kind person I know, yet she has had no born-again experience. Will she go to heaven?" Wow, pretty profound question from the old man. We all looked at Billy. In his quiet, strong voice, he replied, "George, some of us require a born-again experience to understand God, and some of us are born Christians. It sounds as if your mom was just born a Christian."First thought: this is the memory of GWB and could be inaccurate, as quotes attributed from memory are sometimes not quite the same as what was said.
Second thought: Billy Graham could have very well been talking about a "born-again experience" in the most literal sense of that. You probably know people like this, who have a distinct, clarifying, "Woe is me for I am undone" kind of moment with God. They were hooked on something and God set them free. They had a vision or dream and God spoke to them. They were ready to put a bullet through their head and God saved them. Those radical, life-shifting moments could have been what BG had in mind.
Contrast that with my story and many others I know. I grew up around church. I remember, vaguely, being baptized. I remember a lot of that process starting when a guy I knew was hit by a car and killed. What I know about my story is that I didn't have a moment, I had a m o m e n t. My moment lasted several years, fed by good instruction and prayers. In that sense, I am born again without having a "born-again experience" and you might even say I was "born a Christian." For the record, that's not the language that I'd use. I would even argue against it in light of the doctrine of original sin. But after BG's faithful years of service in the Kingdom, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Last thought: if indeed what was said and what were meant were what was said and meant, I have issues with the theology represented. In fact, I think it undercuts what Jesus said (in the imperative): you must be born again. Just because you're at a table with a Vice-President or a future President or a friend or a neighbor or a belligerent jerk doesn't release us from Jesus' command: you must be born again.
But that's just me thinking thoughts...