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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. FRANK

    midwest rail

    Well, since you typed in all caps, I'm sure you must be right. (eye roll) yOU ARE JUST WAY TO EDUCATED FOR ME

    November 3, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • midwest rail

      That would be "too".

      November 3, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
    • stillthrill1

      And let's not stop with the caps lock. it should also be "YOU" and not "yOU"

      November 3, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
  2. Sir2cents

    Stephen Prothero...You're right! Christians should support Obama who "claims" he is Christian but supports abortions, partial birth abortions, gay marriage, etc. I'd rather have this mormon in office, rather than the moron who occupies it now. Now all you lefties go ahead and get your undies wad and spit your venom out...I'm outta here and won't be looking back. Se ya!

    November 3, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
  3. FRANK

    THE OTHER RELIGIONS ARE WAKING UP AND REALIZING THE BOOK OF MORMON IS THE WORD OF GOD

    November 3, 2012 at 2:03 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Well, since you typed in all caps, I'm sure you must be right. (eye roll)

      November 3, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • stillthrill1

      hahahahaha

      Keep it up and less people will vote for Romney.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • sarah

      LMAO! You are too funny FRANK. I know – other religions have been asleepp for sooo long. lol.

      Too bad none of them, including Mormonism can offer ANY proof for their claims. The Joe Smith & Families, Inc. may have fooled some, but certainly not all. Many of us know the difference, FRANK, between circular proof and real proof. If the rehashed fable of the OT is so lacking credibility, why should one believe something that was based on something else that was based it? Face it, FRANK – the god of Abraham is pure fiction.

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

      clarification: . . . why should one believe something that was based on something else that was based on it (the OT)?

      November 3, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  4. FRANK

    stillthrill1

    Mormonism denies that there is only one God in all existence and also denies the forgiveness of sins alone in Christ alone. Therefore, it is outside Christianity. It is not a Christian religion.-YOU GAIN FORGIVENESS BY REPENTENCE FIRST AND FOREMOST. ALSO JESUS WROTE IS IT NOT WRITTEN "YE ARE ALL GODS"

    November 3, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • stillthrill1

      So repentance makes you a Christian? Repentance to what?

      And Jesus said – Matthew 7:21-23, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name? And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!"

      November 3, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • MCR

      It depends on whose defining Christianity. If you don't first give your definition of Christianity and then your justification for that definition your whole argument is pointless. I don't personally care much as I'm not a Christian, but having a lot of angry people around shouting meaningless (because you haven't defined your terms) nasty things at each other isn't going to help anyone. Odds are, once you do define your terms, the whole argument ends, because if you can't agree on a definition, there's just nothing to talk about.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • stillthrill1

      @ MCR you are 100% correct and that was a well written response.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
  5. Lazlo

    Huh? You're actually claiming that evangelicals are supporting a Mormon over a chap who spent 20 years in a church that wants to round up and exterminate white people for political and not moral reasons? Really?

    November 3, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  6. FRANK

    GET OVER IT PEOPLE..YOU HAVE A MORMON PRESDIDENT

    November 3, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  7. Dean

    Did you ever think that everyone is much more afraid of the guy in the White House who is in bed with the Muslims and very likely is a closet Muslim himself? Isam and Shariah Law is much worse than anything about Mormonism.

    November 3, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Let me guess – you're a birther too ?

      November 3, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • stillthrill1

      @Dean

      Its amazing the things you can say when you don't care about proof isn't it?

      November 3, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • Andy

      Did you ever think you shouldn't believe everything you hear or read? No – I didn't think so. In all likelihood, I doubt there's much truth to your first four words (as applied to YOU).

      November 3, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
    • Lazlo

      Not sure about the Muslim thing, but 100 percent sure that Obama spent 20 years in an anti-white racist church.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  8. DavidT

    Where's your blog about 95% blacks supporting Obama you hack?

    November 3, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • stillthrill1

      Whether or not he writes anything about black people supporting Obama doesn't change anything about this blog post you idiot.

      November 3, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • DavidT

      Better an idiot than a spineless hack who's too afraid to write about the hypocrisy of the left-wing ideology.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  9. david

    Good grief. As a fellow university scholar, I am embarassed by this diatribe. We are electing a President, not a pastor. Of course we are putting politics ahead of religion. Or, to be more accurate, we are putting public policy ahead of religion. Romney has experience and rhetoric which says that he has ideas which will put this country on the right track. As far as the religious views of the candidates are concerned, both of them say that they have accepted Jesus as their Savior. Therefore, I accept that both of them are Christian.

    November 3, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • Rummy Pirate Times-Dispatch

      Well what about Romney's record for putting people OUT of work, david? (see below)

      November 3, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • stillthrill1

      Mormonism denies that there is only one God in all existence and also denies the forgiveness of sins alone in Christ alone. Therefore, it is outside Christianity. It is not a Christian religion.

      November 3, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  10. 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."

    A couple of examples (it's pretty easy to find more):

    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.

    Also, this is disconcerting:

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

    http://globalgrind.com/news/mitt-romney-lied-perjury-under-oath-divorce-court-case-tom-stemberg-details

    November 3, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  11. deadpoet4life

    Dear Mr. Prothero, you are so blinded and cannot see that your one God you believe in is Obama the devil himself who promotes abotion and the descretion of the the christian world.

    November 3, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  12. clp

    >>>> 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.<<<<

    Mr. Prothero needs to do better research. Billy Graham is a registered member of the democratic party. Google it. It's intellectually dishonest to use the words "his beloved GOP" to describe Graham when he doesn't actually know the heart of Mr. Graham. Perhaps Graham actually loves the Democratic party (which would be a more logical conclusion given his party affiliation), but doesn't believe Obama to be a viable candidate. So one of his prime examples supporting his argument actually repudiates it. As a religious scholar, Prothera should know better. This is simply shoddy, (if not shallow) work and is NOT scholarly but rather biased and opinionated. The many excellent responses to this article illustrate this.

    November 3, 2012 at 1:33 pm |
    • stillthrill1

      Bill O'Reilly is registered as an independant... don't make me laugh.

      November 3, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • clp

      >>>>Bill O'Reilly is registered as an independant... don't make me laugh.<<<<

      It's pretty easy to see an argument as to why O'Reilly registers as an independent. It's a bit more difficult to explain Graham's choice. It's also easy to spout off without truly responding to an argument. Don't make me laugh.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • stillthrill1

      Ok – So here's a more serious response:

      "Mr. Prothero needs to do better research. Billy Graham is a registered member of the democratic party. Google it. It's intellectually dishonest to use the words "his beloved GOP" to describe Graham when he doesn't actually know the heart of Mr. Graham."

      You're right, Prothero doesn't know the "heart" of Mr. Graham. But does anyone know the "heart" of anyone else? What does that even mean? If you mean what Mr. Graham firmly believes or stands for, then looking at party affiliation is a very poor way of getting your answer. Being a registered Democrat means very little. So if you really are interested in what someone's firm beliefs are... you listen to what they say. There's no other way to gain insight into someone else's head or "heart" aside from that imprecise method.

      So does what Mr. Graham say make him seem like he loves the GOP? Let's be honest here and say yes.

      November 3, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  13. Denny Martin

    Stephen,
    God used wicked rulers and rulers termed as "good" who were not necessarily what today's evangelicals would term as believers, to accomplish His will in the days of the old testament. You know as well as I do, that even pagans can give their children good things. Satan can also show himself as an angel of light. No, not saying our president is Satan, just that we must look at the fruits of their service and as Christians it is our duty to be political when electing the people that manage our country and lead us as a people to either turn our faces toward God, or turn our backs on Him. Mr. Romney will have to work out his salvation with fear and trembling , but in the meanwhile if he exhibits Godly actions more than a another, that claims to be a Christian, then the one that more closely obeys God should lead our country. By sorting out the best leader during election time is among the highest calling a Christian has here on earth.

    November 3, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
  14. americagolf

    I find your blog post disgusting. I don't remember reading a post from you about the vile preachings of Obama Clergy Wright & Lowery. Please advise.

    November 3, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • stillthrill1

      I am unsure whether Prof. Prothero has ever written anything on Obama and Wright but whether he has or hasn't.... says nothing about the contents of this blog post.

      November 3, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • Lazlo

      It actually says a great deal about this blog post. Mormonism is clearly the lesser of two evils when stacked against anti-white racism cloaked as a theology.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:06 pm |
    • stillthrill1

      No, it actually says absolutely nothing about this blog post. Since this blog post is not endorsing Mormonism, Obama or Evangelicalism, it says nothing about this blog post.

      So again... it has nothing to do with this blog post...

      Do I need to repeat myself to be understood? Ok let's try this in another way... If I write a criticism of Christianity, but I don't write a criticism of Buddhism, does that mean my criticism of Christianity is wrong? The answer is NO. If you can't see that... then God help you.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  15. Glenn

    Christians are pulling for Romney because we need a President who will respect the rights of Christians to not be FORCED to provide coverage for abortifactants and birth control. We need a President who will be willing to protect the rights of Christians as much as he is willing to protect the rights of Muslims.

    November 3, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Nonsense. You're not being forced to provide anything. Insurance providers are another matter. You play in the secular arena, you play by secular rules. Or, you could always renounce your tax exempt status.

      November 3, 2012 at 1:38 pm |
  16. Tracy Mitman

    Dear Mr. Prothero, If our only choices (realistically, a vote for anyone outside of democrats and republicans is a vote thrown away) are between Obama and Romney, Romney should get the votes of all Christians. His values are much more in line with Christian values, he has lived his life by those values – something Obama has never done – and he loves this country – again, something Obama has never done. Trying to "shame" Christians into voting for Obama or not voting at all is something you should be ashamed of.....but I doubt that will happen since you choose to work for an organization that is so obviously anti-Christian.

    November 3, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
    • stillthrill1

      "Trying to "shame" Christians into voting for Obama or not voting at all is something you should be ashamed of.....but I doubt that will happen since you choose to work for an organization that is so obviously anti-Christian."

      Shame Christian's into voting for Obama? Please tell me where Prothero does any of that!? And where is he Anti-Christian?

      Produce any evidence of either and you get a cookie.

      November 3, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
    • Tracy Mitman

      stillthrill1, The first three sentences in this article imply then state that Christians are putting politics ahead of religion. If that isn't an attempt to shame Christians, then what purpose could the author have for starting the article off in that way?! Near the end he states, "The purpose of the religious right is to use the Christian God for political purposes." This is a very anti-Christian statement and I guarantee that if this article were about Muslims and similar statements were made about them in this manner, they would be rioting and the author would have to go into hiding!! Now where is my cookie??!!

      November 3, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
  17. tiernanlaw

    LOL, what utter bigotry and ignorance of Chrisitan values.

    Let's flip this, lets have the REAL Christians write editorials about religous persecution by Obama, Abortion on demand by Obama, force payment by employers to perform abortions, Gay marriage! Then lets look AT WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS ABOUT THESE ISSUES! Not just, "Romneys a mormon, thus all christians should vote for the socialist again!"

    Then lets talk about the evny and coveting thy neighbors possessions, the entire basis of the democratic party!

    Obama and left wing socialism is 100% in opposition to the words for Jesus, he spoke out against evny and covetousness, the exact Opposite of what Obama has been spewing these past years!

    November 3, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
    • Kuta

      Yep! Time to teach those socialists who give to the poor what Jesus really said. Love thy [tea party affiliated] neighbor as thyself.

      November 3, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
  18. Jim

    The flaw in the argument here is that the Christian community is not hiring their new pastor. If they were, Governor Romney would never have made it past the first resume cut.

    But that is NOT the decision we are facing. We are choosing the best leader, to lead the greatest country, during the worst of times.

    November 3, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • truth be told

      Romney isn't a choice he is a curse.

      November 3, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • stillthrill1

      The flaw in your criticism of his argument is that Prothero is not arguing that the "Christian community is not hiring their new pastor".

      If I criticize you for worshipping cats (even though you probably don't), is that a valid criticism?

      November 3, 2012 at 2:01 pm |
  19. John

    People of all faiths use religion to control people. Huckabee is equating a vote for Obama as a repudiation against God that will send you to hell. This is typical of how politicians use religion for their purely political agenda. The Republicans are masters of it; so are many fundamentalist preachers, whose real agenda IS politics. This is clearly where Ralph Reed falls. I don't believe in hell–Ralph Reed better hope that it doesn't exist for his own sake.

    November 3, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • Jay

      Too bad Huckabee was referencing a passage from St Pauls first epistle to the church of Corinth that a persons works/actions shall be tested by fire by God. But I get that you wouldn't understand that if you read from this disgrace of a Religion Scholar who wouldn't know a Bible if it struck him in the face.

      November 3, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • Andy

      Huckabee's bigotry is obvious. And who give's a fvck about one of the earliest bigot characters from iron age fable.

      November 3, 2012 at 1:55 pm |
  20. JoeVet

    Truthbetold, how ironic that you choose that handle and all you spew is lies and distortions about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It isn't your place to say who has accepted Christ in their heart and who has not. You are just a cheap anti-Mormon bigot, negating the worth of anything you post. You are a single-issue crusader, and that makes your posts hilariously impertinent and inaccurate. You are just making a fool of yourself, and one day will be held accountable for your repeated false witness bearing.

    November 3, 2012 at 1:07 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.