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My Take: Billy Graham and Ralph Reed are putting politics before God
November 1st, 2012
01:43 PM ET

My Take: Billy Graham and Ralph Reed are putting politics before God

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

(CNN)–Why are evangelicals like Billy Graham and Ralph Reed stumping for Mitt Romney? And why are roughly three-quarters of white evangelicals inclined to vote for him?

Because politics matters more to them than religion.

Last year, in a talk at a conference on Mormonism and Islam at Utah Valley University, I asked my Mormon listeners why they had not rushed to the defense of Muslims in controversies such as the one that raged over the Park51 project near ground zero. After all, they have been the victims of religious prejudice. Their founder, Joseph Smith, was killed by a mob of vigilantes.

Given this history, I expected that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known as Mormons, would feel the sting of anti-Muslim prejudice and speak out against it. But neither Mitt Romney of the GOP nor Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of the Democratic Party did anything of the sort. In fact, Romney issued a statement opposing the construction of the Islamic center.

Why? Because they were thinking and acting as Republicans or Democrats first and Mormons second.

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I see a parallel story playing out this election season with the religious right.

Until quite recently, many evangelicals saw Mormonism as a dangerous cult spreading false theology and dooming its followers to hell. In fact, only after Romney showed up for a meet and greet with Billy Graham in North Carolina earlier this month did the website of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association erase a reference to Mormonism as a “cult."

Did Mormons all of a sudden change their theology? Did Graham change his definition of a “cult”? Of course not. It just became politically expedient for Graham to declassify Mormonism, given the fact that Romney, a Mormon, was the presidential nominee of his beloved GOP.

Ralph Reed, too, is forsaking his theology for his politics, mobilizing his Atlanta-based Faith and Freedom Coalition to place voter guides in Ohio churches in the run-up to election day.

I am old enough to remember when the main purpose of Reed’s Christian Coalition and other groups on the religious right was to put born-again Christians in the Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court. And for decades those who were running those groups saw Mormons as non-Christians.

And don't get me started on Mike Huckabee, who in a recent ad says that a vote for Obama is a vote for your own damnation.

Have LDS Church members repudiated the Book of Mormon as “another testament of Jesus Christ” or their view that the Bible is the word of God only “as far as it is correctly translated”? Have they accepted the Trinity? Rejected their teaching that there are many gods?

As Ben Witherington, Albert Mohler, and many other evangelical thinkers continue to insist: no, no, and no.

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I used to believe that the purpose of the religious right was to infuse American politics with Christian politicians and Christian politics. I no longer believe that. The purpose of the religious right is to use the Christian God for political purposes. Why any Christian, conservative or liberal, can say "Amen" to that is beyond me.

I am perfectly happy to see Reed stump for Romney in Ohio and Graham plump for Romney in an ad in The Wall Street Journal. Just don’t tell me they are doing so as Christians. They are doing so as shills for the GOP.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Billy Graham • Christianity • Church and state • Evangelical • Mitt Romney • Mormonism • My Take • Politics • Uncategorized • United States

soundoff (2,430 Responses)
  1. KenC

    I very much do agree with your conclusions here. It appears that religious leaders are very much more apt to "bend" previous beliefs when the "correct" political party is involved.
    That should be extremely troubling to ALL religious people who feel that they should hold to something "absolute" only to be sold out by the heirarchy for political reasons!
    So will YOU vote the way the turncoat wants?

    November 1, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
  2. Anonymous

    There are a lot of people who believe in doing good and living a good life without the threat of being banished to a fiery furnace by a sky wizard.

    The bible belt as a whole leads the country in crime, divorce, and general depravity. This is no coincidence.

    November 1, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
    • KenC

      No argument there!! A believe in a "sky wizard" who will "strike you down" or send your soul to a fiery hell upon death is GREAT mythology, but only that.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
  3. Be Ready

    I will not argue that many who claim to be Christians are not. Satan has and army.

    We also have an army, and when mold penetrates our walls and we take ill, we long for care and healing. That care, that healing is the Lord.

    With His healing hands and sweet breath, he will spread wide your gaping hole and visit upon it the goodness that is knowing him.

    November 1, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      Is God running a mold removal service? I'd like to get some stock in that.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  4. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    November 1, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • HeavenSense

      Hi prayerbot...

      November 1, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
    • Anonymous

      Another Christian who has never read his bible.

      Would you agree that goats, pigs, and cows are "other living things"? Would you say their sacrifice demanded by God in the bible was healthy for them?

      November 1, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • truth be told

      In the proper sauce, absolutely !

      November 1, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
  5. The Mighty Paw of Dog

    Be ready.
    About the mountain. Yes mountain's are constantly moving. But that's going to happen with or without prayer. And I know you're going to say "but not without god".

    November 1, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • HeavenSense

      @Mighty Paw

      I like you and enjoy your logic and reason. I would say to you that that very intelligence can be leveraged to penetrate the invisible wall that is holding you back from the Lord.

      Yes God is in all things, but WE are the wind at His back. He holds up and lights the way, but we must still paddle.

      Pray and seek Him in that one place only you know. Only you, and Him, have the key.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:46 pm |
    • Be Ready

      Sorry for my handle snafu Mighty Paw. Message goes unchanged.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:47 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      I just want to know why god is playing hide and seek with humanity.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
  6. GI Joe

    still think Rmoney pad Franklin enough money to change the website of his father Billy. Mormonism is and always has been a cult.

    Romney will beg, borrow, steal, or buy the presidency any way he can. Read the White Horse Prophesy. Mormons want to take over the entire world.

    November 1, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
  7. John Q Public

    Who is the author of this to speak on putting politics first? He's notoriously wrong on every single thing he writes, on a daily basis. Joker.

    November 1, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • me

      i agree. i think he missed the part where there is suppose to be a separation of church and state.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
  8. Ellen Barks

    The answer to your question is that our country is founded on religious freedom and both Reed and Graham recognize that the Republican party is fighting to preserve that freedom. When that freedom is threatened good people of faith band together.

    November 1, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Wow. Graham in favor of freedom? Here's a tip: Imposing one brand of Christianity of everyone isn't religious freedom, it's theocracy, and that's what Graham promotes.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      Ellen. You need to change freedom to indoctrination in you post above.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
    • Blondie

      LOL! The Republican party has been hijaked by a bunch of fanatical christian freaks is what is going on. They're trying to imose their beliefs on the world and their wierd moralty on other people. Sorry. LAME.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • Jim

      And what religious freedom is being threatened? I have heard no mention of curtailing the rights of the religious to worship as they choose.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • saggyroy

      What religious freedoms are being threatened?

      November 1, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • me

      You have the right to religious freedom, your religious freedom should be involved in politics.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
    • jean

      Which of your religious freedoms has been taken away? Were you able to go to the church of your choice this last week? Is there anything preventing you from having a bible in your home? Were you able to pray at your dinner table today? So tell us, which of your freedoms has been taken away?

      November 1, 2012 at 8:51 pm |
    • jean

      Some people say that they want a Christian nation, but that would pose a problem. Which denomination of Christianity would it be? It can't be all of them, as they differ in their doctrines. Would it be a Roman Catholic nation?Eastern Orthodox? Baptist (which one)? Lutheran (which one)? Presbyterian? Unitarian? Methodist? Anglican?Apostolic? Assembly of God? Charismatic? Christian Science? Episcopal? Mormon? Non-denominational? Inter-denominational? Nazarene? Pentecostal? Seventh-Day Adventist? Did I miss any? Some believe in the trinity, some don't. Some take the bible literally, some don't. Some believe in a literal heaven and hell, some don't. So which one should it be?

      November 1, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
  9. Blondie

    Evangelical Christians are the biggest, dumbest, most duplicitous group of of people on earth. They're liars, cheaters, powerhungry war mongering bigoted pigs. Sorry those of you who are actually nice people, the one's who represent your awful religion are HORRIBLE people. SHAME.

    November 1, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      Undoubtedly there are many evangelical christians who are fine and admirable people; the ones who are the loudest and most visible are not.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  10. Bonehead

    Excellent article. Where are all the people who think that putting a crazy Mormon in the White House is a bad idea? No one is speaking against the Mormon for that reason! It is mindlessly ridiculous. Rmoney is getting all the money for all people backing him.

    November 1, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  11. 0G-No gods, ghosts, goblins or ghouls

    Given that there is not a single bit of evidence for any god, all religios leaders (aka charlatans) are lars, delusional or both. What sorts of behaviour do you expect from Lars and the mentally ill? I expect exactly what is being reported here.

    November 1, 2012 at 8:29 pm |
  12. sparky

    How could anyone who believes in god and an after life choose to back romney and a party that puts money before all else

    November 1, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • Steven

      Sparky. I could not agree with you more. I am stunned. I am a Christian, but I do not understand how a Christian could vote for a man who could care less for this nations poor and as the Bible says, we are to take care of those of us who have less. And a Christian voting for a MORMON? Who believes JESUS was just normal MAN?

      November 1, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      They are delusional. He who lies to others is a villain; he who lies to himself, a fool.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
    • Steph

      Easy on the caps there, Steven. People might think that you're a blurter, or worse.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
  13. pooltop

    I enjoy it anytime someone points out the blatant hypocrisy of the religious right. In America, we have this thing called separation of church and state and so very, very few on the right want to acknowledge it. Mormonism is a cult. So while the right spent 4 years looking for Obama's birth certificate and then accusing him of being a 'muslim,' the christians were MORE than happy to coddle up to a mormon leader, despite the contradiction of the religious messages that come from that cult.

    I have absolutely nothing against christians or religious folks UNTIL they bring in the hypocrisy that so many of them are known for. At that point, I dismiss them not as religious people but as being irrational and illogical. You can't have a legitimate debate with someone like a republican who keeps changing the rules and keeps shifting their ideals.

    November 1, 2012 at 8:24 pm |
  14. gkochanowsky

    What do you get when you mix religion and politics?

    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .

    You get politics.

    November 1, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      ...and corrupt religion.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
    • Steph

      corrupt religion is redundant redundancy.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
    • gkochanowsky

      Nope. You just get religion. I do not understand why any religious person would want to mix their religion with politics if they actually cared about their religion.

      November 2, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
    • gkochanowsky

      Ooops, It should say, "You just get politics."

      November 2, 2012 at 1:57 pm |
  15. spockmonster

    if Jesus appeared today, Christians and the GOP would denounce him as a liberal and crucify him. I mean, for all we know, they already have, probably have. Any Christian should be ashamed of their religion and turn their back on it – you can still believe in God, but don't empower the Church, it is nothing but evil and politics, and does not represent the Peace and Love of Jesus, it represents HATE. They think only about those they hate, which is many groups of people, and politics is their main way of attacking those they hate. Don't support this, loving people!

    November 1, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
  16. Dan

    I wasn't aware they were voting for Preacher of the United States. Why wouldn't you put your politics first? A vote for Romney isn't a vote for Mormonism. It never was.

    November 1, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • spockmonster

      Ummm, the GOP candidates main party plank is religion. they kiss priests and pastors on stage while dressed in holy garb of priests and pastors. they kiss the hand of billy graham every Presidential election. Voting GOP IS a vote for Preacher of the United States.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
    • Steven

      No, a vote for Romney is a vote for 8 more years of W...........................

      November 1, 2012 at 8:41 pm |
  17. The Mighty Paw of Dog

    be ready.
    Did you have a chance to poo yet. If so did it get rid of that knot in your stomach?

    November 1, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • Be Ready

      @The Mighty Paw of Dog

      You would do well to stroke the mighty paw of the Lord. I know you are most likely a college educated person and a good person, but you took the wrong turn on the road to spiritual enlightenment.

      I know this because each of us is part of the same whole, and a brother or sister that strays is painful to a Christian who loves He who knits the sweater.

      Be there for all of us Mighty Paw. Be mighty and hold our sweater together so that we might all find warmth in the Lord.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
  18. Be Ready

    Atheists and confused souls, you are lost, but as I pray to the heavens tonight you will be in my thoughts and my prayers will be as a stitch in the fabric of God's life.

    You would say, "prayer does not help" "prayer cannot be proven" "prayer is a waste of time" but I would say to you, thoughts have mass and mass can move mountains.

    Pray, and as you do God will gently hold you in His arms and feel the passion of your soul. He would heal you and love you. He would offer you the greatest gift he can offer. He would be risen for you and penetrate you with His passion.

    These gifts are not given lightly however. If you want a happy ending, you must pay first.

    November 1, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      @be ready. Move a mountain then. All talk?

      November 1, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • Be Ready

      @The Mighty Paw of Dog

      Measure the great Rocky Mountains today, and then measure them again tomorrow. Would you then say mountains cannot be moved?

      November 1, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • spockmonster

      I don't have to be an atheist to stand opposed to organized religion. As soon as Jesus died, the Devil worked to present itself as the Church, that is why the Church is always involved in war and HATE. The Church doesn't line up to help out at Food Kitchens, but it lines up to by chicken sandwiches in support of HATRED. The Church is evil, Period. I still believe in JC but vow to defeat The Christian Religion.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:26 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      @Be Ready
      Are you claiming that your faith is manifested as plate tectonics?

      November 1, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • spockmonster

      Wait, you are claiming you moved the Rocky Mountains? You are insane. I guess that explains your belief in Christianity.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
    • Be Ready

      @Moby Schtick and spockmonster

      Naturally that is the reaction I expected from you. If said to you "faith is moving those tectonic plates" "I wished for beauty and it was done" "fresh water is needed and delivered", you would scoff and rebuke me.

      But I say to you, God is in all of these things, and in all of these things is prayer. Prayer moves mountains.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Be Ready

      Prove it.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • Jesus

      You're delusional. Illogical. Have no common sense. There is no afterlife. You don't get wings and a cloud to float on. There is NO heaven or hell, no god or devil. A white man with a white beard in the sky? A red man with a pointy tail and you suffer in fire for all time? Are u insane? Do you see how crazy that is? You've all been brainwashed by your churches for the last 2000+ years. Think for yourselves, don't blindly follow what any man in robes tells you to do.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:39 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @Be Ready

      Also, your original post is so full of self-serving, condescending ridiculousness it's hard to accept you may actually be serious.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:40 pm |
    • Steven

      AMEN

      November 1, 2012 at 8:42 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      Prayer is the ultimate blasphemy; it presumes that god is not competent to run his own universe without your advice.

      November 1, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
  19. Be Ready

    Atheists and confused souls, you are lost, but as I pray to the heavens tonight you will be in my thoughts and my prayers will be as a stitch in the fabric of God's life.

    You would say, "prayer does not help" "prayer cannot be proven" "prayer is a waste of time" but I would say to you, thoughs have mass and mass can move mountains.

    Pray, and as you do God will gently hold you in His arms and feel the passion of your soul. He would heal you and love you. He would offer you the greatest gift he can offer. He would be risen for you and penetrate you with His passion.

    These gifts are not given lightly however. If you want a happy ending, you must pay first.

    November 1, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • JeremyH6

      Awesome! Thanks! That saves me quite a bit of time and effort.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • Be Ready

      @Be Ready

      Bless and I hope you get your Happy Ending.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
    • spockmonster

      " penetrate you with His passion" ... ? That's just sick

      November 1, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
    • Jesus

      You are delusional. Science will tell u everything u need to know about mountains or anything on this planet. Prayer does not and can not physically move anything in this world.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
  20. No one including Jesus should come before a KING!

    November 1, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      It's 'showboating GodHeads' like this where taxation should be wielded upon,,, or be disbanded for their works' sakedness for crying out loud!

      November 1, 2012 at 8:44 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.