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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. tualatinweb

    Stephen,

    You just don't get it. It is because Billy Graham and Ralph Reed believe in the God of the Bible that they have decided to vote for the most godly candidate, which is Mitt Romney. Mr. Obama does not believe in the Bible and supports radical agendas like abortion on demand during all 9 months of pregnancy for any reason whatsoever (very un-godly).

    November 1, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Delusional idiocy.

      November 1, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • Anonymous

      The bible never says anything about abortion. How can you claim it is ungodly? Don't you know that it is a mortal sin to claim to speak for God?

      November 1, 2012 at 9:44 pm |
    • itsallaloadofbollocks

      Now you know that's not true. You should be ashamed posting blatant lies.

      November 1, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • Anonymous

      In fact, there is a story in Genesis about a woman named Tamar. God did not like the man she chose to be with, so he ordered Judah to burn her alive in order to kill her unborn baby.

      That's just about as close to killing a fetus "for any reason whatsoever" that you can get.

      You HAVE read the bible, right?

      November 1, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • Answer

      @Anonymous

      ==quote==
      "God did not like the man she chose to be with,"
      ==end==

      That statement alone counters the fact that states that god loves everyone. LOL
      I love hypocricy!

      November 1, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • christopher hitchens

      @answer
      Why are you afraid to say who you will be voting for?

      November 1, 2012 at 9:53 pm |
    • Answer

      Why are you an a.s.swipe? lol

      November 1, 2012 at 9:55 pm |
  2. Cindy

    Wow! Some of you atheists are so hateful. I thought this was a "beleif" blog. If you are so smart, why don't you go to church??

    November 1, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • Kyeld

      Nice troll there. Going to Church would be a stupid decision for an atheist.

      November 1, 2012 at 9:34 pm |
    • Anonymous

      If you are so smart, why don't you just ride a unicorn to work? Imagine the savings in gas alone!

      Or catch a leprechaun in order to get his pot of gold. You would be rich.

      Answer that, tough guy. If you're so smart, how come you don't have leprechaun gold?

      November 1, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
    • Romnesia

      If you're so smart, why not learn to spell?

      November 1, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • Mirror Mirror

      That was a hateful comment, Cindy.

      Why are Christians so angry?

      November 1, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
    • MCR

      Atheists are believers...they believe there is no god. And most US atheists believe in a simple material interpretation of reality. Perhaps you are thinking of skeptics?

      November 1, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Wow, these people are so predictable. Here once more is number thirteen on my list of the top thirteen most irritatingly stupid arguments that religionists make here:

      13. Atheists hate (and/or are mad at) God.
      eg: You atheists here are so full of hate. Right back atcha baby.
      eg: Atheists hate God. A ludicrous notion, how can you resent something you don’t believe exists.

      Way to go @Cindy for showing us the true stripes of a good Christian soldier.

      November 1, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @MCR,

      that's number one on my top thirteen list. Atheists don't believe in the non-existence of God. Some may, but all that is required is a disbelief in God.

      1. Equating atheism with a belief in the non-existence of God:
      eg: “Atheism is a religion” Ummm, no, really, it’s not!
      Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby,
      Atheism is a religion like bald is a hair color,
      Atheism is a religion like off is a television channel
      Atheism is a religion like abstinence is a sex act

      November 1, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
    • Cindy

      @Cindy

      What? What is wrong with you people. Are there ANY Christians on here? I feel dirty...

      November 1, 2012 at 9:47 pm |
    • Anonymous

      My guess would be because you haven't bathed in days.

      November 1, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • MCR

      @I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV,
      We'd have to do a national survey to know the beliefs of the majority, but I did my master's surveying student beliefs (and studied philosophy at a college that usually tops the "atheist" list) and I can guarantee you the majority of self-proclaimed atheists I've met in my 45 years actively believe in the non-existence of god. Those who just lack a belief in a god or gods rarely bother to call themselves atheists (not even with the usual boring discussion about the negative/positive atheist distinction). And no, I'm not a theist, but for full disclosure self-proclaimed "atheists" bug the crap out of me at least as much as theists do. Most are wildly ignorant of their own unexamined fundamental premises and they usually come from some religious hell of a family or small mid-western or southern town they're still reacting against. You don't see these "atheist" movements in intellectual centers or developed European counties because that kind of reactionary thinking was over 100 years ago.

      November 1, 2012 at 10:04 pm |
    • haaaa

      yep we are here but as you have quickly discovered this blog has nothing to do with respectful discussion of views. Hang in there be encouraged, you are not alone!

      November 1, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @MCR,

      I heartily concur with your description of the "the usual boring discussion about the negative/positive atheist distinction".

      It is tiresome.

      One of my favorite quotes from Einstein echos your sentiment here: "And no, I'm not a theist, but for full disclosure self-proclaimed "atheists" bug the crap out of me at least as much as theists do."

      "“The bigotry of the nonbeliever is for me nearly as funny as the bigotry of the believer.” – Albert Einstein

      Everybody seems to want to claim Einstein for their "side" without first bothering to understand what he believed.

      I don't believe in God but nor can I disprove one. I think this notion is one that is growing but I can't claim any statistics for any 'degrees' of atheism, but do object (as you have seen) to the generalization that all atheists believe in the non-existence of God.

      I don't have any objections whatsoever to people living a life of faith, save those who proselytize, which 'bugs the crap out of me' to use your words.

      November 1, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      Pray tell, what does smart have to do with going to church except as a disincentive?

      November 1, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
  3. Moses

    And then while while we were sitting arond the campfire tripping our brains out...we made up a joke abut bread falling out of the sky. I never laughed so hard in my life. We made up a bunch of rules... like don't kill people and don't steal from them. But when we got to the don't covet your neighbor's wife part we started cracking up and telling each other who's wife we would like to milf and then it got real quiet. Then I noticed 3 of my wives "went to bed early"

    November 1, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
    • Moses

      THIS IS GOD SPEAKING!!! I GAVE YOU TEN RULES FROM MY TALKING SHRUBBERY!!! IF YOU DON'T OBEY... I WILL SMITE YOU

      November 1, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
  4. MCR

    For most humans, the function of a belief system (religion or politics) is to support their ego, and justify their having as much, or more, of the economic pie than they have. This is just the reality of how humans work. You start with a limited set of available belief systems (a large number in the modern US) and by the age of 35 or so will have picked the system or systems that make you feel best about yourself, your life, and what you can get for your children. So of course we will pick and choose and mix and match as times change. That's just life. In our "we have free will" society most will never accept that this is where their beliefs originate...and that's just life too. The sooner one accepts this the less time and stress is wasted complaining about the seeming inconsistencies.

    November 1, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
  5. Zwei Stein

    The truth hurts. We'll just ignore it.

    November 1, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
  6. GOOD NEWS

    Only those who sincerely seek the Truth can see the Truth,
    as predicted by Jesus (=John 6/27, 40),
    in the beginning of this most critical Third and Last DAY (=MILLENNIUM)
    here now:

    http://www.holy-19-harvest.com

    ***UNIVERSAL MAGNIFICENT MIRACLES!

    November 1, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
    • Answer

      Hilarious.

      You freaks will always set up new garbage websites. LOL

      November 1, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • Anonymous

      Yeah, that never happened. The only evidence that it did is a book written hundreds of years after it supposedly took place.

      If you lived in India, you would be preaching the merits of Hinduism. Stop for a moment and think about all this foolishness.

      November 1, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • cristopher hitchens

      @answer
      So who will you be voting for?

      November 1, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
    • Answer

      Why would you care? A.s.s.wipe

      November 1, 2012 at 9:29 pm |
    • cristopher hitchens

      Why the hostility? Who will you be voting for?

      November 1, 2012 at 9:31 pm |
    • Answer

      You can't read? Nor understand?

      November 1, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • christopher hitchens

      I seem to be reading just fine,writing and replying as well. Who will you be voting for?

      November 1, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • christopher hitchens

      I seem to be reading just fine,writing and replying as well. Who will you be voting for?

      November 1, 2012 at 9:41 pm |
    • Answer

      And the three ring circus of "why would you care? As.s.wipe" is repeated.

      November 1, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
    • christopher hitchens

      Again why the hostility? This is an anonymous site, i dare say your given name is not answer. Who will you be voting for Romney or Obama?

      November 1, 2012 at 9:48 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @christopher hitchens,

      I daresay your name is not Christopher Hitchens.

      Who will you be voting for?

      November 1, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • Answer

      I'll let you think – think hard on why it is irrelevant.

      A.s.s.wipe

      November 1, 2012 at 9:52 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      The only people who ever see a Sasquatch are people who believe in Sasquatch.

      November 1, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  7. Will

    You are absolutely right Stephen Prothero. I am an Evangelical and for forty years I have watched as my evangelical brothers and sisters have climbed into bed with a very secular, social-darwinistic conservatism that has little to do with Jesus and the prophets. It repulses me. I've stopped going to church in the States and I travel to latin America regularly because there you will find a liberating, transformational church that understands its role and doesn't equate unregulated greed with godliness.

    November 1, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
  8. Al

    In Gods eyes he created everyone equally, and with that thought and believe than that means that by the choices that were made by each individual regardless of if the choice was correct or incorrect it was their choice. Now for the political side to that statement, those that made the incorrect choice should be bailed out by those that made the correct choice. Welcome to the new America where failure is rewarded.

    November 1, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  9. Carlin123

    Billy Graham and Ralph Reed are two of the lowest forms of life known to exist on this planet. One can only hope for the quick demise of both.

    November 1, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • truth be told

      Run that by us again when you are in your mid nineties.

      November 1, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Carlin123,

      I think you are being unfair to Dr. Graham there.

      If instead you had said "Franklin Graham and Ralph Reed are two of the ..."

      I would have to concur.

      November 1, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
    • sqeptiq

      Senility is an exculpatory factor; however, Franklin is just stupid, not senile like his dad.

      November 1, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
  10. RadicalModerate

    Though I agee with you, I believe you have may have misinterpreted Mike Huckabee. I think instead of damnation he was referring to 1 Cor. 3:12-15 where it speaks about our works being tested with fire during judgement. I would have thought that as a religion scholar you would have understood that important distinction. Nevertheless I agree that it was over the top and I'm frustrated with Christian leaders sacrificing their faith for their ideology. Maranatha.

    November 1, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
  11. me

    "Don't put politics before God."

    Why? Both are equally evil deities that lust after your soul and will lie, steal, cheat and threaten to get it.

    November 1, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
    • Sgt. Friday

      You have no soul in the theological sense. You only have the illusion of one. It's exactly like saying that the animation exhibited by a car when it is on is it's soul, and when the car crashes and won't work anymore, it's soul has left for car heaven.

      No. The machine does not work anymore. Same with living organisms.

      November 1, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
  12. Moses

    I climbed up on a mountain and told you that a bush talked to me....and you believed it! Me and my seven wives crack up about that every night

    November 1, 2012 at 9:17 pm |
  13. leo

    "The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom.... I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in 'A,' 'B,' 'C,' and 'D.' Just who do they think they are?... I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of "conservatism."

    - Barry Goldwater, (1909–1998), five-term US Senator, Republican Party nominee for President in 1964*, Maj. Gen., US Air Force Reserves, author of The Conscience of a Conservative.

    November 1, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
  14. robtemery

    One either believes or doesn't. If one believes, then one believes God can take care of himself and can pass judgement on New York by himself and for that matter LA by earthquake

    November 1, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
    • Critical thinking helps

      What kind of cruel, evil being would condemn everyone in a city for the behaviors of a few? What kind of mentally ill jerk punishes people but leaves the reason for the punishment totally unknown so that they don't know how to improve? What kind of freakish nutcase makes his punishment seem like a natural event so most cannot even be sure it was punishment, much less what the punishment was for?

      Your god is truly evil.

      November 1, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • Anonymous

      Genesis 9:11 – I will establish my covenant with you, and all flesh shall be no more destroyed with the waters of a flood, neither shall there be from henceforth a flood to waste the earth.

      If you haven't even read your Bible, how can you claim to be a Christian? I wouldn't call myself a mathematician if I had never picked up a math book and didn't know how to do simple addition.

      November 1, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
  15. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things,

    November 1, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
    • HeavenSense

      High prayerbot.

      November 1, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
    • thfan

      BS. Religion is far more harmful for children and other living things.

      November 1, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
    • nope

      @thf...
      nope

      November 1, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • Anonymous

      Over 200 thousand people died in the religious crusades. There are articles on CNN this very moment about children dying daily due to the Israel/Palestine conflict.

      I couldn't find any articles about people killing others over atheism though.

      November 1, 2012 at 9:30 pm |
  16. leo

    "Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they're sure trying to do so, it's going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can't and won't compromise. I know, I've tried to deal with them." Republican US Senatro Barry Goldwater

    November 1, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
    • robtemery

      Oh you mean the self righteous who claim not to lie unless only for their purposes and who espouse Christianity after working hours.

      November 1, 2012 at 9:16 pm |
  17. sqeptiq

    "I like your Christ. I do not like your christians. They are so unlike your Christ." -Gandhi

    November 1, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
    • cristopher hitchens

      Would that be the same Gandi that liked to drink his own urine?

      November 1, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
    • itsallaloadofbollocks

      Fake Hitchens. Do you expect anyone to take you seriously when you can't spell? Provide a link to evidence not urban legends.

      November 1, 2012 at 9:18 pm |
    • cristopher hitchens

      The smell of his and your breath.

      November 1, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • Romnesia

      ch. Are you upset because he preferred his urine to you? I think most people would.

      November 1, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • cristopher hitchens

      Gandi was ashes before we were born.

      November 1, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
    • Marcus

      @itsallaloadofbollocks – Provide a link to evidence not urban legends on the existence of God?

      November 1, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
  18. Moses

    If you are still primative and believe in a man in the sky... raise you monkey paw

    November 1, 2012 at 9:10 pm |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things..

    November 1, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • rockney

      No, heaping religious dogma and guilt onto children does FAR more harm.

      November 1, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
    • nope

      @roc...
      nope

      November 1, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
    • thfan

      Atheism is more honest than any religion .. Stop filling children's heads with fairytles and nonsense.

      November 1, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • nope

      @th...
      nope

      November 1, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
  20. DellStator

    Nothing wrong with putting politics before religion, since most peoples religion consists of what I believe is right, what you believe is wrong, so I can tell you what to do. Few religous people I've met, meet the "supposed" tenants of I'm pretty sure all religons, peace, tolerance, caring for each other. Hence, politics being the bridge between two religions is better than eternal antagonsim isn't it? I'd MUCH rather the religous right so deeply entrenched in the republican states would put aside their religous self interest in favor of their political self interest, getting a better standard of living, not being ripped off by their political leaders, and execs at every corporation headquartered in the S (they tend to be Southern states, the red ones) for their cheap labor and low taxes, that ensure the poor and middle class go no where, receive poor health care, etc..

    November 1, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
    • robtemery

      AMEN

      November 1, 2012 at 9:19 pm |
    • jean

      The problem is that many Christians are focused on the afterlife, not the here and now. In fact, they believe that the sooner this world ends, the sooner they will go to Heaven. They have no interest in improving things "here" when the goal is to get "there."

      November 1, 2012 at 9:25 pm |
    • Faxchecker

      if you are looking for people who follow Christ, you probably won't find them here on the comment boards

      November 1, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      Can it be said and also inferred that all of Life here upon these celestial shorelines of life forms resonate from a single celled life form all the ways to massive cellularized life formations? Is it 'not' written within the Gospels that mankind is but buildings that are husbanded by the Godly? Do we not labour together with God in our tasks? Who among us can deny our being as God-Heads?

      Nothing is a Foreverness and Matter, in its' infinitesimally established finiteness, is a materialized foreverness unobtainable by us, human-like megaliths called mankind. We are all giants too huge and too vast for us to ever re-enter in wholeness back into the Kingdoms of God which are inside or within our bodies. So many damningly dumb buildings of evolution's ascension into the spatial voids of outward motions sanctioned by the Godly!

      1Corinthians 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building.

      Luke 17:21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

      Ergo. does that mean dumbness is genetical or is it societal hierarchies being the dumbness from which socialisms are bequeathed?

      November 1, 2012 at 9:30 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.