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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. MildlyAmused

    Obama attended a church that espouses Black Liberation Theology which is labeled apostasy by the Vatican and thus, a cult. So what, exactly is Mr. Prothero's point here? Romney's Mormon inspired values of hard work and personal responsibiility are FAR more in line with evangelical Christians than Obama's pro-abortion and pro-government dependency increasing nanny state radicalism.

    November 3, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Ameri2010

      Exactly! Where are Mr. Prothero's articles about Obama and his wife sitting in a cult for over 20 years that preached about hating on Jewish people and persecuting white people and America. Where are his articles about Mr. G*d DAM AMERICA!

      November 3, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
    • tallulah13

      The traits Romney has most in common with evangelicals are his personal greed and indifference towards American workers. He seems to like Chinese workers a lot though, because he keeps giving them jobs. And he really must like off-shore banks, because he keeps sending them his money. Maybe because they don't charge him those nasty taxes that help the country he lives in pay for things like infrastructure and military protection. I guess he shares that other evangelical trait: The unwillingness to pay for what he uses.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
    • Ameri2010

      I guess you missed the memo that Obama invested overseas as well. The only difference is that Romney made money, whereby Obama lost money.

      If being a conservative means to invest wisely, I'm happy to own that label.

      Next!

      November 3, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Hey AmeriTwoYearsAgo: How about the part where Romney made the money he invests offshore by exporting American jobs to China? Next?

      November 3, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
    • Beancounter

      Talullah,

      Sorry to tell you, but CommieBama's pension plan invests in China.

      Are you going to say the same thing about Obama now?

      By the way, Romney doesn't export jobs to China, but Obama exported the Humvee to China. That's a fact.

      November 3, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  2. Beancounter

    Prothero,

    Of course you feel that way. You are likely an atheist who believes in the church of Nate Silver - you said so yourself!!!

    November 3, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  3. Ameri2010

    The extreme leftist will continue in their attempts to vilify Mitt Romney for his choice to be a Mormon, but the last time I checked – America was proud to welcome all faiths in this country.

    Obama and the leftist media are bullies and are persecuting people of different faiths.

    Romney / Ryan 2012 – The Only Choice For Tomorrow's America

    November 3, 2012 at 2:31 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      You are an idiot. In one sentence you slam Muslims and in another you claim religious tolerance.
      Flip flop like your boy Romney.
      Make up your mind or shut up.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • Ameri2010

      Smart people know better. Extreme leftists, like yourself, can't figure it out. I didn't slam Muslims. Point out one thing I said that was not true. If you consider the truth to be slamming a person, then you are not worthy to vote.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
    • tallulah13

      This is what happens when you use the generic foil to make your hat. Next time AmeriTwoYearsAgo should buy Reynolds Wrap.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
    • Ameri2010

      tallulah13 = Typical extreme lefty who uses elementary banter as a way of expressing himself, instead of engaging in adult discussion, because he's not educated.

      Thank you for proving my point: Lefties are school yard bullies who like to call names when they aren't educated enough to discuss grown up topics.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I'm sorry, AmeriTwoYearsAgo. Since you were engaging in blatantly false accusations, I was giving you the benefit of the doubt that you might be mentally disturbed. I guess you really are just a liar.

      November 3, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
  4. FRANK

    If only the evangelicals would open the book of mormon they would begin to understand the bible..because lets face it..they are both writtten by the same god

    November 3, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
    • I wonder

      What did Joseph Smith tell Oliver Cowdery when Oliver asked why he could not see any 'revelations' in the bottom of Joe's hat?

      November 3, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Joseph Smith and Saul of Tarsus were two of a kind - possibly the most successful con men in history.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  5. Karen

    This is the worst article I have ever read! It is rediculous to assume that because people disagree on points of religion, they can't agree on politics. We want politicians who do the right thing that is what is important, not ascribe to a certain religion. Religious tolerance is at the foundation of the country. I hope all people of all faith who want to the right thing will join together. We are the strongest when we are united.

    November 3, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
    • Dippy

      Karen, it's "ridiculous", not "rediculous".

      November 3, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  6. 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 2:27 pm |
    • Ameri2010

      That is very slanted and misleading because it's out of context.

      Furthermore, where are your admonishments towards Obama and his waste of taxpayer's money by throwing millions into green companies that are now bankrupt?

      Figures that the lefties would crucify a person who has proven that capitalism works in this country by creating jobs and making money, while ignoring Obama who has proven (at the expense of taxpayers) that socialism does not work evidenced by our high unemployment rate and 16 trillion dollar debt.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  7. Ameri2010

    Obama a Christian? Biggest joke of the ELECTION year!!

    Obama is running on a platform that chose to leave any mention of God out. When people across America were outraged, they moved to put God back in at the Democratic National Convention, and when they did so, lefties booed.

    Obama has repeatedly mocked Christianity and persecuted Christians while defending and even advocating the Muslim faith.

    Romney never mocked Christians or the Bible. I know what Mormons believe, but more importantly, I know what they DON'T believe. They're not teaching their church members that in order to get to heaven, you need to blow people up. They haven't declared Jihad against Americans and they aren't pushing for Sharia Law.

    What good is freedom of religion if you don't have the freedom to express it? Christians are being persecuted and bullied more and more each day. Obama has partaken is activities to suppress Christian beliefs and is working to force Christians to engage in activities that are prohibited by their faith. At the same time, Obama is supporting Muslims and the rights of Muslims to carry out Sharia Law in America. The Obama administration is now arresting Americans for producing anti-Muslim You Tube videos while ignoring his own videos that bully Christians and the Bible.

    Despite growing tension in the Middle East, Obama has shirked Netanyahu on several occasions and has never found time to visit Israel. Obama, on the other hand, has found lots of time to visit Muslim countries.

    Obama is playing right into the hands of the U.N. who take the position that it's offensive and provocative to Muslims and others when Christians say that Christ is the only way to heaven. Obama has repeated that same sentiment about Christians while supporting those who believe in Sharia Law.

    Obama has made secret deals with Russia – asking for more time until after the election so he will then have more "flexibility" to carry out those secret deals. But yet, the biased leftist media refuses to inquire about what those secret deals were all about.

    46 million Americans are on food stamps; a 70% increase from 2007 and an all time high unemployment rate since the great depression. The national debt is over 16 trillion dollars and Obama keeps spending our hard-earned tax dollars.

    Obama a Christian? Again – the biggest election year joke EVER!

    Christians are conservative. Nothing about Obama or his policies are conservative – from religion to finances.

    November 3, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • Mormons are Christians?

      You are no Christian either.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • chet

      I listened to an idiot like you at the bar the other night. Full of liquid courage. We asked him to quiet down, but he just kept it up. And then he dropped the N word about Obama. Wow. When he hit the ground he just bounced. And then just laid there and whimpered. I imagine your day is coming soon. Just keep talking, princess.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • Ameri2010

      Extreme leftist bullies can't speak like adults so they engage in immature banter that proves how foolish they are. Grow up already.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • Ameri2010

      Hey Chet – The old "racist" standby wasn't meaningful four years ago, let alone today. People laugh at lefties who continue to use racism as a defense to every criticism towards Obama. If Carter were black, I'm sure leftists would have accused conservatives of being racists years ago when calling out his many failings.

      November 3, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  8. Mormons are Christians?

    It's funny how Mormons swear they are Christians. But when asked about their beliefs they dodge the questions. It's just like Romney.

    Hear are the facts:

    Mormons believe that God created multiple worlds and each world has people living on it. They also believe that multiple Gods exist but each has their own universe. We are only subject to our God and if we obtain the highest level of heaven we can become gods ourselves.

    In LDS theology you can be forgiven for any sin, save two. First, denying the Holy Spirit, and second, murder. Also, God is infinitely forgiving, until the second coming. After that, you end up where you end up, no matter what. There are no second chances. Period.

    In LDS doctrine there are three heavens: the Celestial Kingdom, Terrestrial Kingdom, and Telestial Kingdom. The Celestial is the highest, where God and the ones who followed his law reside. The Terrestrial is the middle, where people who followed the Law of Moses reside. The Telestial is the lowest, where the ones who followed carnal law reside.

    While most religions believe in God, the LDS religion believes in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit as separate beings. They also believe that God, Jesus and resurrected beings have bodies of “flesh and bone.”

    The Book of Mormon is a book of LDS scripture that takes place during the same time as the Bible and takes place on the American continent. It follows the stories of two tribes who descended from the family of Lehi. After Jesus’ resurrection LDS people believe he visited the peoples of the Americas.

    This one is very unique to the LDS faith. Basically, everyone on earth now was a spirit in the pre-existence. When we die, our spirits are separated from our bodies and if we were good they go to “spirit paradise.” If we were bad they go to “spirit prison.” The spirit world exists as a place for spirits to go while awaiting the second coming.

    All of these beliefs are in total contradiction to the bible.

    November 3, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • Ameri2010

      And where is your breakdown of what Black Theology and Rev. Wrong preach?

      The bottom line is that Obama is certainly no Christian, so why this stupid article?

      America is about welcoming all faiths, but lefties are only tolerant of others when their viewpoints are in line with theirs – which is OPPOSITE of tolerance for those too dumb to know better.

      November 3, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  9. Ameri2010

    Obama a Christian? Biggest joke of the ELECTION year!!

    In May of this past year, Obama opposed legislation that would protect the rights of conscience for military chaplains who do not wish to perform gay marriages in violation of their strongly held religious beliefs.

    The Democratic Party launched a major assault against Chick-fil-A because its owner had the “audacity” to exercise their First Amendment freedoms by expressing his opposition to gay marriage. Christians were persecuted by Democratic politicians for having a viewpoint that was different than their own to the extent were Democratic politicians tried to ban an American business from operating in their city. Where was Obama during all of this and why did he not advocate for Christian rights like he does for non-Christians? What good is freedom of religion when one is persecuted for the same?

    November 3, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • Mormons are Christians?

      You mock a Christian and decide instead to push for a cultist into the white house.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:29 pm |
  10. Bigot Buster

    This looks like an article to stir up religious animosity right before the election.

    Pretty shameful.

    November 3, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
  11. sam13484

    So, if I understand your position, if Romney wins and becomes President, you will then be very disappointed if he doesn't put his LDS (Mormon) beliefs and practices ahead of being a President for all the people in the United States?

    November 3, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
  12. Anne

    Sort of like those nice church going black folks who hold voter registration drives for Obama in their churches when Obama approves of late term abortions, not giving medical treatment to babies who survive abortions and who approves of men in gay pride parades wearing pink lace panties and baloon hats. huh?

    November 3, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  13. Ameri2010

    Obama a Christian? Biggest joke of the ELECTION year!!

    Obama pushed through health care that forces the elderly to be subjected to panels who will decided which people get to live or die. If Obamacare stands, many elderly folks will be denied life saving treatment. In Obama's own words: "Maybe you're better off not having the surgery but taking the pain killer". Really, Obama? And this is best decided by the government rather than being decided by physicians and their patients? Once again, life is not valued.

    November 3, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
  14. Ameri2010

    Obama a Christian? Biggest joke of the ELECTION year!!

    Obama supports the brutal practice of partial-birth abortion where a full-term baby is delivered up to the neck. The living, kicking, half-born baby then has a pair of scissors jammed into the back of their skull and their brains are sucked out.

    Obama voted three times against the Born Alive Infant Protection Act leaving full term born babies alone to die in utility rooms. And he's a Christian? I think not.

    Obama turned his back on people of faith by forcing them to pay, via taxes, for abortion – something that is prohibited by their faith.

    November 3, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
  15. Ameri2010

    Obama a Christian? Biggest joke of the ELECTION year!!

    Obama has referred to the Bible as RADICAL, taking text out of context, by comparing laws that were written for the Jews to common day life trying to make a mockery of Scripture.

    The truth is, Obama doesn't know the first thing about the Bible and being a Christian or he would have known that the text he was quoting was NEVER meant to apply to Gentiles. He long ago outed himself as a non-Christian to those who know better. For those who don't know their Bible, they laughed along with him. Like I said: foolish bullies – anything for a laugh at the expense of the Christian. At least Romney never mocked Christians and their beliefs, especially while misquoting Scripture to make his point.!

    Obama ordered that a monogram, which symbolizes Jesus, be covered up before speaking at a lecture hall? How bizarre is that?

    Obama on numerous occasions omitted the words "the Creator" when quoting the Declaration of Independence.

    November 3, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • tallulah13

      That tin-foil hat is kind of squeezing your brain, isn't it? Maybe you should take it off and get back on your meds.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • Athy

      Good for Obama. He's my man.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Ameri2010

      Extreme leftist bullies can't speak like adults so they engage in immature banter that proves how foolish they are. Grow up already.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  16. Lynn

    So..... let me ask you a question: why have, at least in the past, black evangelical pastors, who are overwhelmingly pro-life and pro traditional marriage (1 man and 1 woman), lining up and supporting Obama, who basically opposes much of the beliefs that they stand for? Liberal pundits like yourself always amaze me when they use an argument or "line of reasoning" (if you can call it that) to bash conservatives, particularly if they are Evangelical Christian conservatives; but they will almost NEVER use that same line of reasoning when it applies the same to liberals as well. And, the liberals like to call us "hypocrites".... how liberally hypocritical!

    November 3, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Maybe they understand (as neocons and evangelicals do not) that this is a secular nation, and that the separation of church and state is imperative to protect the right of all citizens to worship (or not worship) as they chose, without fear of persecution.

      Maybe they can understand (as neocons and evangelicals can not) that their own desires are not the will of the nation as a whole.

      Maybe they acknowledge (as neocons and evangelicals do not) that the economy is finally recovering from the failed policies of the Bush Administration, despite the obstructive actions of the republican party.

      Perhaps they can (as necons and evangelicals WILL NEVER) put the needs of the nation over their own personal selfishness.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  17. FRANK

    HEY STILL THRILL...REPENTANCE AND BAPTISM FOR THE REMISSION OF SINS..YOU THINK YOU CAN BE SAVED ON YOUR DEATHBED BY ACCEPTING JESUS..I KNOW YOUR TYPE

    November 3, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
  18. Bobby

    Nobody can be a true Christian and an Obama supporter. Gay marriage and abortion are not Christian values.

    November 3, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      Since christianity is one of the least moral of all the religions, thats a good thing.

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

      Tell still thrill that bobby. He is most likely gay and if he wants to take me on in the scriptures hes goin to show what he is ....afool.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • tallulah13

      So, Bobby, of all the things Christ allegedly said, all you take away from it is that gays shouldn't marry? Can you please point out where Christ spoke directly about that?

      Maybe you should consider the other things attributed to Christ, like turning the other cheek, or selling your earthly goods to give to the poor, or only throwing stones if you are without sin. I think most "christians" in this country don't know the first thing about the guy they pretend to worship.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  19. Michael J. Matthews

    Leave it to CNN to have a renown religious scholar as its Belief Blog contributor. Clearly he is the one putting politics first. Like most religious scholars his belief system is based in academia, elitism and the political ideology it sustains. An abundance of head knowledge but no true faith, therefore no true understanding of Christianity and how our faith informs us in every decision we make, political or otherwise. God did not place Christian in this free nation "of the people" for us fail to participate fully in political process In every decision there is a clear distinction between what is right and what is wrong. Our choices may not be what we would like but they are what God has given us. Between these two candidates the choice is clear; one is Mormon with deeply, long held and practiced beliefs. Beliefs that, thought not Christian, are consistent in large part with Christianity. The other's highest form of worship is himself. To him a body of believer's is just a group to associate with for political purposes as demonstrated by 20 years of hearing nothing at Trinity United Church of Christ. A president who has attacked Christianity at every available opportunity. President Obama is the supreme example of politics over religion. BTW, wonder what his children heard at Trinity? I wonder if their mother and/or father knows what they heard?

    November 3, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
  20. Ghandi

    You really don't understand Evangelicals, do you? President Obama's militant support of abortion and his turnabout to support gay marriage are as anti-Evangelical and anti-Catholic as you can get! Obama shows zero evidence that he is even a Christian. Mitt Romney supports the biblical family values that both Evengelicals and true Catholics fund most compelling. It's as simple as that.

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

      Wow. Thanks, Ghandi, that makes it easy. You have to vote for Obama.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:21 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.