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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. Roberto Fontanez

    Typical, typical, liberals just don't like anyone that challenge their way of thinking. Anyone oppose to thier ideas is either an idiot, evil or racist. Well all I have to say is that on Tuesday you are going to have such a big headache.

    November 3, 2012 at 10:40 am |
  2. Jim Noblet

    Mr. Prothero, your blog is nothing more than a vulgar attempt at misdirection. For it to be close to consideration as accurate, one would need to be totally convinced that the present Whitehouse occupant professes and practices religious beliefs that are closer to Evangelical Christian beliefs than Gov. Romney's. I doubt that you have such evidence, otherwise you would have posted it. Please crawl back into your Neandethral cave and leave serious remarks to the less biased.

    November 3, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  3. BryBry

    Someone who claims Christianity but shows no evidence is to be more feared than a Mormon who tries to live a principled life. Would I love to have a Christian in the White House? Sure! But I don't believe that's one of the options this time. Obama is leading us down the path of the godless communists. In government we trust.

    November 3, 2012 at 9:11 am |
    • Moby Schtick

      When Mitt is forced to explain some of the more wacky mormon beliefs, he's clearly very uncomfortable because he understands how silly it all is. Obama hasn't really been asked about the more wacky christian beliefs, but he seems just as uncomfortable over their silliness as Mitt is over his. They decided before the debates not to touch on the other's religion. Do you vote for a guy who believes in talking snakes and talking donkeys and zombies or a guy who wears magic underwear and that he'll be god of his own planet one day?? One retarded myth belief is as stupid as the other.

      November 3, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  4. Zac C

    As a conservative Christian, I could not endorse Mitt Romney in the primary. By conservative, I mean that I believe the Bible must be literally interpreted and fully believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, coeaqual and coeternal, and that he died for our sins and rose again the third day.

    However since Tuesday's election has been narrowed down to a choice between two men, I have to pick the lesser of two evils. Mitt Romney doesn't believe in the same God I do, and for once a liberal is upset about diversity. President Obama is also not a conservative Christian, but he is pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, and embraces a one-world economy consistent with what the Book of Revelation shows will be coming in the end.

    November 3, 2012 at 8:22 am |
  5. Dana

    As a Christian, I choose a politician based no on his party but on his moral character. In this, while I may disagree with Romney's religious beliefs, I find Romney to be a more moral person than Obama.

    November 3, 2012 at 7:35 am |
  6. John Stefanyszyn

    They are doing it because their first "religion", their true way of life, is freedom. of self-rights...to serve and magnify oneself (XES).

    November 3, 2012 at 7:19 am |
  7. donner

    Mormons believe they are descended from space travellers from the planet Kolob. Literally. I cannot find Kolob anywhere in my Bible. Why wasn't Romney asked about this on camera?? If he denies it, he is out of the church. If he confirms it, his campaign is finished. Why wasn't he asked? And if the Evangelical Christians are willing to throw their faith under the bus, what exactly are they truly after in America?

    November 2, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
    • Doc_Navy

      Umm, maybe because Mormons don't "Believe they are descended from space travellers",Jackwagon. (btw, how can you spell "travelers" wrong when the comment system has a built in spell checker?)

      Anyone worth their salt asking a question like that would look like drooling imbecile, and I suspect that most journalists/reporters want to keep their job. It's Moonbats like you that take the deep doctrine of religions and try to twist it and make it sound like it's a central tenet of a religion. Lots of mainstream religions have odd doctrine. Ever heard of "Transubstantiation?" It's a Catholic belief... look it up. How about snake handling? Pentecostals. "Speaking in tongues?" (otherwise known as "Glossolalia") Charismatics, Born-again, Southern Baptists, MANY Protestant faiths.

      Man, I could go on and on...Suffice it to say that I am less concerned with whether or not Romney believes he'll have his own planet after he dies (The Bible doesn't actually SAY what a person's "mansions and kingdoms in heaven" actually are, BTW. I suppose the planet theory is just as good as anything else.) than I am concerned about Obama fvcking up Benghazi, his failed policies that have NOT led to anything even resembling an economic recovery, or the fact that he's had SO MANY major staff members and appointees quit on him or be involved in some sort of scandal that was quietly brushed under the rug during his Presidency.

      Get a life.

      November 3, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Pam

      So, I should shelve my moral beliefs and vote for someone who supports abortion, even in late term pregnancies. I used to work for PP and have watched the nurses sort through the aborted fetus to make sure they got all of the body parts. Do not tell me that abortion is not murder, when it so obviously is. I was pro choice until I worked for PP.

      November 3, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • Chaseford

      Why wasn't he asked? Probably because what you said is a lie.

      November 3, 2012 at 10:54 am |
  8. Phil Snead

    It is sad when a religeous scholar wants us to hate someone for their religon.

    November 2, 2012 at 7:57 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      It's tragic when someone can't type "religious" without fvcking it up.

      November 2, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • Athy

      Or spell religion without fucking it up.

      November 2, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
  9. The Mighty Paw of Dog

    Evangelicals please attempt to think for yourselves. Your leaders have abandoned you. They have sold their souls.

    November 2, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  10. stewartiii

    NewsBusters: CNN Religion Blogger Attacks Christian Conservatives for Supporting Mormon Romney

    http://newsbusters.org/blogs/ken-shepherd/2012/11/02/cnn-religion-blogger-attacks-christian-conservatives-supporting-mormon

    November 2, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
  11. joejmz

    "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?"

    Simple. Because the views of the Church of Latter Day Saints and the views of it's members are waaaaay more in line with evangelical Christianity than are the Black Liberation Theology preached to Barack Obama for over 20 years by Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

    November 2, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      Evangelicals worship the same false idol?

      November 2, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • Mormons are Christians?

      Think twice. Please inform yourself about Mormons.

      November 2, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • Chaseford

      I recommend studying up on Mormons yourself. This time try going to the actual Mormon website where you can learn first hand what they believe.

      November 3, 2012 at 10:56 am |
  12. donnjuann

    This looks like a feeble attempt to chastise evangelicals into voting for a supposed baptist. Nice try but it won't work. I know you hate to see evangelicals and mormons put aside their difference for the common cause of defeating the great one but that's something you and your box of tissues will have to deal with Wednesday morning.

    November 2, 2012 at 4:53 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      Evangelicals preach hate and greed. Your souls are rotting.

      November 2, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  13. The Mighty Paw of Dog

    So some guy said something as a joke and you're going to blame Obama?

    November 2, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  14. panola

    On Wednesday, longtime African-American civil rights advocate Rev. Joseph Lowery, who Barack Obama selected to give the benediction at his January 2009 inauguration, told his audience of up to 300 African-Americans that "all whites will go to hell".

    Lowery also told the audience “I don’t know what kind of a n—– wouldn’t vote with a black man running,” in the same speech.

    Barack Obama: "Judge me by the people who surround me"

    November 2, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Do you have evidence this even happened, or do you just feel like trolling with stupidity?

      November 2, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • My goodness you Christians are slimy

      Barack Obama: "Judge me by the people who surround me"

      I don’t think giving a benediction 4 years ago quite qualifies as “surrounds”

      November 2, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      Philip c Smith,
      I am not surprised that I received no answer about your Mormon beliefs. You would prefer to keep those things hidden. It seems like Romney is the same.

      November 2, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  15. The Mighty Paw of Dog

    And yet all I hear is hate from the evangelicals. The true army of Satan.

    November 2, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  16. The Mighty Paw of Dog

    If Satan existed he would be running the evangelical church.

    November 2, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Evangelical

      What a horrible and evil thing to say.

      November 2, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  17. Rummy Pirate Times-Dispatch

    "In Greed We Trust"

    In 1994, Bain invested $27 million as part of a deal with other firms to acquire Dade International, a medical-diagnostics-equipment firm, from its parent company, Baxter International. Bain ultimately made nearly 10 times its money, getting back $230 million. But Dade wound up laying off more than 1,600 people and filed for bankruptcy protection in 2002, amid crushing debt and rising interest rates. The company, with Bain in charge, had borrowed heavily to do acquisitions, accumulating $1.6 billion in debt by 2000. The company cut benefits for some workers at the acquired firms and laid off others. When it merged with Behring Diagnostics, a German company, Dade shut down three U.S. plants. At the same time, Dade paid out $421 million to Bain Capital’s investors and investing partners.

    For 15 years, Romney had been in the business of creative destruction and wealth creation. But what about his claims of job creation? Though Bain Capital surely helped expand some companies that had created jobs, the layoffs and closures at other firms would lead Romney’s political opponents to say that he had amassed a fortune in part by putting people out of work. The lucrative deals that made Romney wealthy could exact a cost. Maximizing financial return to investors could mean slashing jobs, closing plants, and moving production overseas. It could also mean clashing with union workers, serving on the board of a company that ran afoul of federal laws, and loading up already struggling companies with debt.

    Marc Wolpow, a former Bain partner who worked with Romney on many deals, said the discussion at buyout companies typically does not focus on whether jobs will be created. “It’s the opposite—what jobs we can cut,” Wolpow said. “Because you had to document how you were going to create value. Eliminating redundancy, or the elimination of people, is a very valid way."

    Bain closed GST Steel plant in 2001 laying off 750 workers.

    Controlling share owner Bain Capital closes BRP plant (Southern Illinois) so the 340 jobs there could be outsourced to Mexico.

    http://www.examiner.com/article/mitt-romney-implicated-perjury-and-stock-fraud-made-millions-process

    November 2, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Evangelical

      Your post to too long.

      Vote Romney/Ryan 2012!

      November 2, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Rummy Pirate Times-Dispatch

      Oh, I see Evan., "your post is too long" is your rebuttal? Of course, if reading is too taxing for you, I have to assume your reason for voting for Romney/Ryan comes from blind ignorance and lack of education.

      November 2, 2012 at 3:37 pm |
  18. Evangelical

    Graham and Reid are not putting politics before God. They are putting God back in politics. My church prints up voter cards, we hold rallys for Romney, and we take people to vote on election day. I'm not sure a lot of people would even vote if not for us. God is a powerful motivating factor.

    November 2, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      So how do you feel about the Mormon belief in receiving your own planet after death?

      November 2, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • Evangelical

      I do not believe the way the Mormons do. But we must ask ourselves, who is more likely to lead America back to God? The answer is clear.

      November 2, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      Lead us to elohim and the planet kolob you mean.

      November 2, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
    • Dippy

      It's "rallies", not "rallys". Typical vangie writing.

      November 2, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      I think they all go get fast food for Romney. But I'm surprised its not chic-fil-a.

      November 2, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Doc_Navy

      I love Chick-fil-a. I especially like the fact that they are closed on Sundays out of respect. Plus, it tastes better than McD's, BK, KFC and Wendy's.

      November 3, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    November 2, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but your assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. Using my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module, the expression that best matches the degree to which your assertions may represent truths is: "TOTAL FAIL".

      I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book can help you:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...
      by the Alzheimer's Disease Society

      November 2, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
    • TrollAlert

      "Ronald Regonzo" who degenerates to:
      "Salvatore" degenerates to:
      "Douglas" degenerates to:
      "truth be told" degenerates to:
      "and as always" degenerates to:
      "Thinker23" degenerates to:
      "Atheism is not healthy ..." degenerates to:
      "another repentant sinner" degenerates to:
      "Dodney Rangerfield" degenerates to:
      "tina" degenerates to:
      "captain america" degenerates to:
      "Atheist Hunter" degenerates to:
      "Anybody know how to read? " degenerates to:
      "just sayin" degenerates to:
      "ImLook'nUp" degenerates to:
      "Kindness" degenerates to:
      "Chad" degenerates to
      "Bob" degenerates to
      "nope" degenerates to:
      "2357" degenerates to:
      "WOW" degenerates to:
      "fred" degenerates to:
      "!" degenerates to:
      "pervert alert" degenerates to;

      This troll is not a christian.

      November 2, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs.~

      November 2, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  20. Phillip C. Smith

    How wonderful it is to have a country in which freedom of religion is held as a standard. In spite of the many times when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been misunderstood and mistreated, we still hold to this freedom and try as well to protect other religions from mistreatment. The Church does not interfere with the rights of its members to say or do what they wish politically. I continue to hope and work for helping all to gain a better, more accurate understanding of the Church.

    Phillip C. Smith, Ph.D.

    November 2, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • truth be told

      However a vote for a Mormon is a vote for an anti- Christ.

      November 2, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      Please explain to me your god structure and afterlife beliefs . So that I can understand better.

      November 2, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
    • Lord Golob from Kolob

      You tell 'em, Phillip C.
      There will be rich composted reward for you when our boy Mittens Rmoney takes over your United Flakes for us and we make your Earth into our pre-Venus comfort station. It's a long ride from Kolob and even Magic Underwear can only hold back so much.

      November 2, 2012 at 5:17 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.