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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 • Mitt Romney • Mormonism • Politics • Uncategorized • United States

soundoff (2,430 Responses)
  1. LittleHero

    If Mitt truly believes any of the dogma of Mormonism, then he is insane, if he doesn't he is a hypocrite.

    November 2, 2012 at 12:30 am |
    • Oldtimer 44

      I live in Jackson Country Missouri. I live 10minutes away from the Mormon Church where they believe God is going to come down out of the sky into the church!!! These people are delusional.

      November 2, 2012 at 12:37 am |
  2. Bill

    Neither Obama or Romney is fit to be president. Shame on Graham for backing a fool, but just as much shame on any fool who backs Obama.

    November 2, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • Esaias

      Amen! Obama is a fool.

      November 2, 2012 at 12:35 am |
    • Esaias

      Romney is the biggest fool!! Cult leader

      November 2, 2012 at 12:39 am |
    • Observer

      Mitt "I Was Completely Wrong" Romney wants everyone to pick up the taxes he won't pay because 13% tax is too much to pay for someone making $20 million and spending $77,000 on his horse..

      November 2, 2012 at 1:22 am |
  3. InFormed

    Religion and Politics should never and must never be mixed. Just take a look at the middle east to see the end result of the two merging into one. That is America's future if the two are allowed to fuse. The founders of America knew this all to well and tried their best to keep this from happening, but like an unwelcome rash the religious feel a need to spread into politics. Things were much better when they were only interested in food drives for the homeless and bake sales for the needy.

    November 2, 2012 at 12:18 am |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      American taliban.

      November 2, 2012 at 12:20 am |
    • mitten

      I agree, and I am an American pastor of a mainline denomination. There will be some overlap, but if we want the tax exempt status, we should stay out of politics. It is completely dishonest to do otherwise. Also, candidates are always wrong on somethings, right on others, none adequately represent God, and never will. When church people begin to play politics, they begin to misrepresent their candidate, and that is as Jews, or Christians say, naturally idolatrous. The candidate becomes their god instead of God.

      November 2, 2012 at 12:26 am |
    • JustPlainMe

      Actually our country was formed based on the religion of those who were promoting their religious (CHRISTIAN) freedom within their newly forming country. To say that religion is infiltrating government as if this country wasn't formed on CHRISTIAN principles by religious people who didn't AT ALL mind if the 10 Commandments, the mention of God and principles of His Word were blatantly associated with this country's formation, tells me that you are, in fact, UNInformed!

      November 2, 2012 at 12:36 am |
    • Jessica

      "Things were much better when they were only interested in food drives for the homeless and bake sales for the needy."

      That used to be what they focused on and then they found the GOP and the GOP found them. Now the so called christians vilify the poor and needy. Something I don't think Jesus would do.

      November 2, 2012 at 12:37 am |
  4. Your Candidate

    Satan here. I can guarantee that when I am elected President the days of the Republican Party will be sweet and they will have no end. America will prosper under a much smaller and less obtrusive Government that will exist primarily to smooth the path for wealth building and to uphold your rights under the Second Amendment. No one knows the Bible as well as I and no one knows as well as I that Jesus is the Son of the Living God, our Creator. If you are a believing right-thinking American I know you will vote for me.

    November 2, 2012 at 12:03 am |
    • Esaias

      America already voted for you. You're in the White House right now.

      November 2, 2012 at 12:31 am |
  5. mitten

    I agree with this guy, unfortunately there are many Christians that don't know what they believe, and they think being Christian is following their local Christian leader. Being Christian is following Jesus, it isn't being saved and going to heaven because of Jesus and then forgetting about him. Jesus said, anyone who wants to follow me must take up his cross. Therefore Jesus meant that he isn't just a guy who dies for everyone's sins and then if they say they believe, that is going to get them to the pearly gates. Jesus wants us to follow him walk the same road, take up the same cross. So many people treat religion like it is the license for their own political beliefs, this is a license to give yourself up, and live for Jesus.

    November 1, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  6. Johnny 5

    You shouldn't mix religion with politics or anything else for that matter. The continued fight for distorted views of our world will be the destroyer of our species. I personally would like to see our species of primate continue on.

    November 1, 2012 at 11:48 pm |
    • Alip

      I have a sincere question here. How do you not mix religion with politics? To do so would mean not truly living your religion (and then what would be the point of having religious beliefs if they didn't influence your behavior). To have a religion is to have a set of beliefs that influence every aspect of your life.

      November 1, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
    • jair

      alip, that's easy. The government is for all people, all religions. Your religious views may not be the same as mine, so why should you be able to push them on me (or vice versa)? That's why it's called separation of church and state.

      November 2, 2012 at 12:11 am |
    • InFormed

      Alip – making laws that are biased towards ones faith. During this election politicians have openly said they only make laws 'compatible with their Christian faith' If my elected representative said that I would DEMAND he/she resign right away for violating the very essence of the American electoral system.

      November 2, 2012 at 12:21 am |
  7. David

    EVANGELICALS ARE NOT CHRISTIANS.

    November 1, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
    • jon

      What the heck is an evangelical anyway??? I thought there were just Protestants, Catholics and Jews – and Muslims, I suppose.

      November 2, 2012 at 12:17 am |
  8. aj0714

    this is Ralph Reed. http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/09/25/ralph-reed-group-mailer-asks-if-obama-is-worse-than-the-nazis-communists-or-u-s-civil-war/

    who cares about Mormonism vs. Christianity? the bigger issue: The Christian Right is indeed a shill for the GOP....and sadly anti- union and Big Business. no wonder so many young Christians are refusing to be hijacked by Choice vs. Life issues and focusing, i believe rightly, on the "politics" of Matthew 25 and what that admonition truly means, and which candidate and party embodies the teaching.

    Reed has been exposed to be self serving and manipulating Christians for the benefit of the party and his own financial gain. He has ceased to be a credible voice for Christianity. and frankly, considering the policies of the GOP– that no one on that platform said a word when an audience member screamed out "let him die" about the uninsured – you gotta ask where is God in all this? who amongst them embody the Christian Spirit? love thy neighbor as thyself??? it has become the party of gun totin hate. i shudder, given the kind of literature Reed is hawking along with the vitriol the Right is spinning on talk radio and Fox, the upshot of this campaign if Obama wins.

    not to speak of the lies. this candidate is running ads that he endorses that are filled with lies....bold face lies. witness, the most recent ads on Detroit – that Detroit itself has called out as egregious. yet the Christians and the Churches are lining up to vote for him. you gotta wonder why? who are these guys that call themselves Christian?

    i woke up one morning to hear: "In their greed, the new Pharisees".

    only this time the Christ they kill is the Christ of the same Matthew 25.

    November 1, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
    • Mark 12_31

      Yes! Well put. Today's "Moral Right" are the new Pharisees!

      November 2, 2012 at 12:31 am |
  9. Chris in Montana

    Mormons to Christians is like Muslims to Jews, they are not the same, although they are related.

    November 1, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  10. Gopherit

    Stephen Prothero has researched for and written several noteworthy books about the role of religion, emphassising Christianity, in U.S. political and cultural life. This article truthfully suggests if not notes that Christianity has been hijacked by the "Christian" right wing to suit its political agenda. The hypocrisy in this process was laid bare especially when the "Christian" right played a large part in instigating and executing the U.S. invasion of Iraq, in direct opposition to Jesus Christ's admonition that warfare and the concept of perpetuating an enemy relationship with others is completely wrong. If Billy Graham has sold out to the "Christian" right wing's mentality then his entire ministry is discredited.

    November 1, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
    • tony

      He'll soon be gone. And now that he has shown hos true self, soon forgotten too.

      November 2, 2012 at 12:11 am |
  11. parvo00

    The sheer amount of dumb in the CNN comments section makes my nose bleed.

    November 1, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
    • Blessed Geek

      "sheer amount" is a stale empty meaningless phrase.

      Stale, empty and annoying phrases like "with all due respect", "think outside the box"

      November 2, 2012 at 12:00 am |
    • Damocles

      Well stop reading them then. I'd be all kinds of sad if you bled to death through your nostrils.

      November 2, 2012 at 12:00 am |
  12. scott

    anything religious in my country's politics is abhorrent to me. why do we need religion in our politics (not that there aren't those who put THEIR god before my country)? and who's religion? yours? mine? theirs? there's a reason the founders separated church and state...unfortunately for many Americans, religion is foisted upon us like so much mud. i, for one, despise religion in politics because so-called christians act like anything but. Jesus was a Democrat, pure and simple. recently, as i see it, christians act more like brown shirts than the do the Son of God. give me a break. when christians begin acting like christians, i'll listen. until then, keep your god damned religion out of my government.

    November 1, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
    • Alip

      I know this is an irrelevant comment to this article, but I don't think Jesus Christ was or would be politically affiliated. I agree that there should be a separation of church and state, but you can't (and I personally don't think you should) try to separate a person and their religion because religion is what has made some people what and who they are (in both a good and bad sense). It is inevitable that religion will always influence politics and we probably just have to get used to that fact because many people will always put God before politics.

      November 1, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
    • Andrew

      So, in essence, should not mix religion with politics unless it agrees with what you believe?

      November 2, 2012 at 12:14 am |
  13. God's Oldest Dreamer

    Is dumbness genetical or is it societal hierarchies being the dumbness from which socialisms are currently adorned and auspisciously bequeathed?

    November 1, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
    • Blessed Geek

      Your sentence makes on sense.

      November 2, 2012 at 12:01 am |
  14. Reality

    Again "Professor" Stevie P misses the real evangelical/Christian right issue but that is not unusual as his only concern is that we love all the gods.

    Now to the issue at hand and why Obama (and Axelrod) are running pro-choice/pro-abortion/pro-Roe vs Wade ads non- stop this week:

    Why the Christian Right/evangelicals no longer matter in presidential elections:

    Once again, all the conservative votes in the country "ain't" going to help a "pro-life" presidential candidate, i.e Mitt Romney, in 2012 as the "Immoral Majority" rules the country and will be doing so for awhile. The "Immoral Majority" you ask?

    The fastest growing USA voting bloc: In 2008, the 70+ million "Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers" of aborted womb-babies" whose ranks grow by two million per year i.e. 78+ million "IM" voters in 2012.

    2008 Presidential popular vote results:

    69,456,897 for pro-abortion/choice BO, 59,934,814 for "pro-life" JM.

    And the irony:

    And all because many women fail to take the Pill once a day or men fail to use a condom even though in most cases these men have them in their pockets. (maybe they should be called the "Stupid Majority"?)

    The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and S-TDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or condoms properly and/or use other safer birth control methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.

    i.e. IF THE PILL AND MALE CONDOMS WERE USED PROPERLY, ABORTION WOULD NOT BE AN ISSUE AND OBAMA WOULD NOT BE PRESIDENT.

    November 1, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
    • Reality

      From the Guttmacher Insti-tute- August 2011

      "In 2008, 1.21 million abortions were performed, down from 1.31 million in 2000. However, between 2005 and 2008, the long-term decline in abortions stalled. From 1973 through 2008, nearly 50 million legal abortions occurred.[2]"

      i.e. making the number of Immoral Majority members more like 100 million in 2012.

      More from Guttmacher:

      "• Fifty-four percent of women who have abortions had used a contraceptive method (usually the condom or the pill) during the month they became pregnant. Among those women, 76% of pill users and 49% of condom users report having used their method inconsistently, while 13% of pill users and 14% of condom users report correct use.["

      And if half of these aborting "mothers and fathers" have had two abortions, the Immoral Majority would still be a huge voting bloc i.e. ~75 million, enough votes to give any presidential candidate the differential votes needed considering many voters vote straight Democratic or Republican tickets no matter what the issues are.

      November 1, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
  15. Observer

    We just had 8 years of a president who "talks to God all the time". We ended up with: 2 wars, including one he started for false reasons; losing a half million jobs each month; a plummeting stock market and a president who frequently couldn't compose simple proper English sentences. There also was 9/11 and Katrina.

    November 1, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
    • Reality

      Some elements of our War on Terror and Aggression:

      -Operation Iraqi Freedom- The 24/7 Sunni-Shiite centuries-old blood feud currently being carried out in Iraq, US Troops killed in action, 3,480 and 928 in non combat roles as of 09/15/2011/, 102,522 – 112,049 Iraqi civilians killed as of 9/16/2011/, mostly due to suicide bombers, land mines and bombs of various types, http://www.iraqbodycount.org/ and http://www.defenselink.mil/news/casualty.pdf

      – Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan: US troops 1,385 killed in action, 273 killed in non-combat situations as of 09/15/2011. Over 40,000 Afghan civilians killed mostly due to the dark-age, koranic-driven Taliban acts of horror,

      – Sa-dd-am, his sons and major he-nchmen have been deleted. Sa-dd-am's bravado about WMD was one of his major mistakes. Kuwait was saved.

      – Iran is being been contained. (beside containing the Sunni-Shiite civil war in Baghdad, that is the main reason we are in Iraq. And yes, essential oil continues to flow from the region.)

      – North Korea is still u-ncivil but is contained.

      – Northern Ireland is finally at peace.

      – The Jews and Palestinians are being separated by walls. Hopefully the walls will follow the 1948 UN accords. Unfortunately the Annapolis Peace Conference was not successful. And unfortunately the recent events in Gaza has put this situation back to “squ-are one”. And this significant stupidity is driven by the mythical foundations of both religions!!!

      – – Fa-na–tical Islam has basically been contained to the Middle East but a wall between India and Pakistan would be a plus for world peace. Ditto for a wall between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

      – Timothy McVeigh was exe-cuted. Terry Nichols escaped the death penalty twice because of deadlocked juries. He was sentenced to 161 consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole,[3][7] and is incarcerated in ADX Florence, a super maximum security prison near Florence, Colorado. He shares a cellblock that is commonly referred to as "Bombers Row" with Ramzi Yousef and Ted Kaczynski

      – Eric Ru-dolph is spending three life terms in pri-son with no par-ole.

      – Jim Jones, David Koresh, Kaczynski, the "nuns" from Rwanda, and the KKK were all dealt with and either eliminated themselves or are being punished.

      – Islamic Sudan, Dar-fur and So-malia are still terror hot spots.

      – The terror and tor-ture of Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo and Kuwait were ended by the proper application of the military forces of the USA and her freedom-loving friends. Ra-dovan Karadzic was finally captured on 7/23/08 and is charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the law of war – charges related to the 1992-1995 civil war that followed Bosnia-Herzegovina's secession from Yugoslavia.

      The capture of Ratko Mladić: (Serbian Cyrillic: Ратко Младић, pronounced [râtkɔ mlǎːditɕ], born 12 March 1943[1][2]) is an accused war criminal and a former Bosnian Serb military leader. On May 31, 2011, Mladić was extradited to The Hague, where he was processed at the detention center that holds suspects for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).[3] His trial began on 3 June 2011.

      – the bloody terror brought about by the Ja-panese, Na-zis and Co-mmunists was with great difficulty eliminated by the good guys.

      – Bin Laden was executed for crimes against humanity on May 1, 2011

      – Ditto for Anwar al-Awlaki on September 30, 2011

      – Ditto for Abu Yahya al-Libi on June 5, 2012

      November 1, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
  16. God's Oldest Dreamer

    What in Sam hell,,,, ?

    Too damn many children allowed to stay up way too late! Dumb parents,,, :-(

    November 1, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • Yolanda

      To correctly do ellipsis, type a space, a period, a space, a period, a space, and a period. Not four, not commas, and not all together.

      Learn to be a grammatically correct dingbat. It will make your stupidity look a trifle less stupid.

      November 1, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
    • Blessed Geek

      What's your dad doing letting you stay awake?

      November 2, 2012 at 12:03 am |
  17. tony

    Funny how Moses didn't wonder why "his" powerful god couldn't kill the Egyptian soldiers the night before he parted the red sea, when he had to raise a dust storm to hide the jewish horde instead. Ahh, but Moses was a "religious leader" who "spoke with god", but of course when no-one else was with him.

    November 1, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • Ben

      Why not just have God kill all Egyptians in Egypt, and take over their land instead of marching hundreds of miles to conquer a dustbowl? He already killed all the little boy babies using the angel of death so this should have been a snap.

      November 2, 2012 at 12:14 am |
  18. Larry's Comfort Shoes

    I do wish that God had seen fit to make "Thou shalt write correctly, with proper punctuation and spelling and grammar, or I shalt cut off thine naughty bits and stuff them up your derriere" the Eleventh Commandment.

    November 1, 2012 at 11:25 pm |
    • Ben

      Watch your own orbs there buddy, you used too many "and"s. :-)

      November 2, 2012 at 12:16 am |
    • Shakespeare's Comfort Shoes

      Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
      Creeps in at its petty pace . . .

      November 2, 2012 at 1:04 am |
  19. tony

    Religious leaders are the one's who have figured out there is no god. Otherwise they'd be agonizing over why the massacre of the 250,000 plus innocent Tsunami deaths happened. But they haven't made so much as a peep about it. It's their (very god) living and sure beats working.

    November 1, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Are you sure they were all innocent? Perhaps they were all guilty of worshiping the wrong "god"...

      November 1, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • Larry's Comfort Shoes

      God really hates Thai food. Simple as that.

      November 1, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
  20. Kevin

    The sky cake is a lie.

    November 1, 2012 at 11:19 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.