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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. Paul

    I always believed that liberals and conservatives may disagree on issues ranging from social program funding and defense etc. It was to me a given that true liberals would lay down thier lives to defend freedom of speach and religion. But here in this blog and the following comments, the true fascists and the real enemies of this country spew thier hate.
    In three days we will begin to repair the damage caused by incompetance and you can all crawl back in your dirty little holes.

    November 3, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog.

      We could begin repairing but unfortunately Republicans will still have the house.

      November 3, 2012 at 3:23 pm |
    • Paul

      Dont worry we will show you how bills can be passed by working with the Democrats instead of sending Reid and Pelosi out to drive wedges and slam bills through against the will of the people. You know.....Hope and Change, remember.

      November 3, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  2. Becky

    How is supporting a pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-religious freedom candidate putting politics before God??

    Oh, and I watched the ad that Huckabee narrated. In no way does it suggest that "a vote for Obama is a vote for your own damnation." The "test of fire" isn't Hell. It is metaphorically referring to whether something has true, lasting value.

    November 3, 2012 at 3:16 pm |
    • Andy

      are you suggesting Romney is "pro-religious freedom"

      HA HA HA – that's a good one.

      Dont' quit your day job for a new career in comedy.

      November 3, 2012 at 3:21 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 3:14 pm |
    • roy

      Promoting a cult is not accepting a faith, dude.

      November 3, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
    • Ameri2010

      But you have no qualms with supporting Obama's Black Theology cult? Hypocrisy much?

      November 3, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog.

      You moron. You slam Obama calling him a Muslim. Then ask for religious tolerance.
      Shut it.

      November 3, 2012 at 3:22 pm |
    • roy

      " Obama's Black Theology cult" is about a real a thing as the gold tablets – words with no proof, dude.

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

    Stephen Prothero how can you have a PhD from Harvard University and be a professor of religion at Boston University and have no basic understanding of world religions and theology?

    November 3, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • slashsplat

      And ignore that 95% of blacks voted for Obama in 2008...

      November 3, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  5. Rk

    To be fair you should also write about Catholic politicians whose social positions are not aligned with Catholic theology.

    November 3, 2012 at 3:10 pm |
  6. John

    Thank you for putting your bias on clear display. These men are Christians, and no Christian can vote for Barack Obama with a clear conscience. It certainly does put one's soul in jeopardy. These men and other Christians support Romney not because Jesus is a Republican, but because Obama's Presidency has been hostile to Christian principles, not to mention religious freedom, and Romney is not. There is no other option for a Christian.

    November 3, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
    • sarah

      "no Christian can vote for Barack Obama with a clear conscience."

      Lol. Like this is new. Christians telling other Christians they are not Christians.

      Christians are hypocrites – BY NATURE.

      November 3, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • Mormons are Christians?

      So instead you vote for a blasphemous cultist.

      November 3, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
    • Mormons are Christians?

      You prefer to vote for someone who believes he will become a God?

      November 3, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
  7. 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 3:06 pm |
    • Ameri2010

      Very misleading information you posted.

      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 3:13 pm |
    • slashsplat

      Less than 10% of the Bain companies went bankrupt. Better record than Obama's 90B into Green companies.

      November 3, 2012 at 3:14 pm |
    • roy

      The replies to this show idiocy. The point is not how successful the end result companies were – it's about how they could only achieve some kind of "success" by laying of tons of people here in America in the process.

      November 3, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  8. Matt

    The reason a true Christian will not vote for Obama is because of his beliefs. Obama is for the murder of unborn children. Obama doesn't hold Christian values in general. Obama therefore is not a Christian even though he claims to be one. There are some problems with the Mormon religion. Mormons are not Christians, but they do not advocate abortion. Politically Mitt Romney is a conservative. This is why Christians are going to vote for Romney.

    November 3, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
    • sarah

      Not even all Catholics would agree with you. I know of many who find Romney's disdain for the poor of more importance than his supposed anti-abortion stance. (A stance like many of his, which has not been easy to pin down.)

      November 3, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
    • tallulah13

      One would hope that all citizens would vote for what was best for the country, not what was best for their religion. Sadly, I think that some people, especially evangelicals, are more loyal to their pastor than they are to the United States. But I bet they're all wearing little flag pins on their lapels even as they pray for the destruction of the Consti.tution and our first Amendment right to worship or not worship as we choose.

      Honestly, if you want to live in a theocracy, why don't all you evangelical types pool your money (I imagine a few of you have quite a bundle socked away in off-shore, untaxed accounts) and buy your own country. Since you don't love America, why don't you leave it?

      November 3, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  9. FRANK

    Whenever we have the mormon haters raiding the comment column they like to say how mormons are said to believe they are gods-are going to become gods etc. etc. Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? JOHN 10/34

    November 3, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • sarah

      Building a cult on top of an unfounded religion (Christianity) that is built on top of fable (OT) gives you . . . .
      more fable!

      November 3, 2012 at 3:04 pm |
  10. James Hash

    Gosh, Steve, perhaps you should pose your question to Harry Reid, his Mormonism doesn't seem to affect his politics.

    November 3, 2012 at 2:58 pm |
  11. pezz

    What would a mormon in the white house look like? Probably a lot like a mormon as the governor of Massachusetts.

    November 3, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • FRANK

      ride on Pezz

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

      yeah – they couldn't wait to get that idiot out of there. lol

      November 3, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      If mitt was such a good governor why is he losing Massachusetts?

      November 3, 2012 at 3:11 pm |
  12. Chris Johnson

    (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"

    Wrong!....The real reason evangelicals vote for freedom, is because religion is more in jeopardy when a single vote is cast for Obama.

    I appears Stephen is too young to know the difference.

    November 3, 2012 at 2:52 pm |
    • Lorraine

      Thank you Chris for your insight. Stephen, I am a born again Christian. Do I believe the Mormon faith is errant? Yes. Do I believe Obama is a Christian? Absolutely not. He is a wolf is sheep's clothing. So when an evangelical Christian has a choice between two candidates and neither one is Christian, how do you vote? You vote for the candidate that will allow Christianity to flourish and be practiced freely in the nation.

      Mitt Romney expresses an open love for Christ and appears to be a man of character. I can't imagine him doing away with the National Day of Prayer or demand a nativity scene be removed from a town square.

      Obama suports abortion – even outside the womb, is against Biblical marriage, does not seek a strong relationship with Israel and has tried to impose his Health Care Law on the Catholic Church – even when it contradicts the tenets of their doctrine. That is a blatant over reach of separation of church and state. When the government tries to impose its will on a church, we better all sit up and take notice.

      Evangelicals are not the ones putting politics above faith, in fact, we watched in horror as God was booed on the floor of the Democratic Convention. Not once, but three times.

      I don't think Christ would ever set foot in a Planned Parenthood or even Jeremiah Wright's Church.. I don't see any hypocrisy
      or contradiction in my vote for Mitt Romney at all. But I do see a lot of muddled thinking and partisanship in your writing.

      November 3, 2012 at 3:12 pm |
    • Athy

      God should be booed completely out of our government. Why should we have such mindless mythology in our leadership? We are not a Christian (or any other religion) nation. And we never will be.

      November 3, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  13. Eric

    So this is a great example of the "damned if you do, damned if you dont trap. If Christians put aside their religion and support Mitt Romney, then they are hypocritical because they are putting politics before religion. But if they say I wont vote for him as a mormon, then they are intolerant zealoted bigots who cling to their religion. I wonder if I as a Christian said I wouldn't vote for Barack Obama because of his 20 years attending a black liberation theology church, would the author first classify me as a religious bigot or a racist.

    Plenty of protestants voted for JFK, and the gulf between catholic and protestant was much wider then than it is today. I'm quite confident that the author wouldn't call them sellouts. Instead, he and his ilk would wax nostalgic for how Kennedy broke down the barriers and assured the voters that he wouldn't take orders from the Pope. I believe Kennedy was truthful about that. Likewise, as a Christian, while I do not agree with Mormon theology, I have no problem with voting for a Mormon President...and God willing, we'll get one on Tuesday.

    November 3, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  14. Tim Cogar

    This is real simple. You should know this. They are supporting Romney because he supports christian beliefs. Mormon or not. Christians, like other people, vote for the person that agrees with them. I'm sure you do the same. Our president has very few positions that agree with most Christians in this country. Simple Really.

    November 3, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
    • Mormons are Christians?

      Romney is only telling you what you want to hear. Wake up. He has flip flopped more then anyone.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
    • sarah

      yep – Romney has set a new world record for flip-flopping smack in the middle of a campaign.

      November 3, 2012 at 3:01 pm |
    • YouReign

      Only 1/4 of all Christians voted in the last presidential election. Christians need to turn out in this election and vote for the candidate/party that will best allow us to freely practice our faith. I think it's quite simple, if Christians turn out in this election our voices will be loudly heard as judgement is inevitable.

      November 3, 2012 at 3:20 pm |
  15. pezz

    I would rather vote for a non-christian who supports christian values, than a christian who opposes christian values and is at war with the catholic church, forcing them to disobey their christian convictions. See it for what it really is. He is masquerading as a christian and tearing down christian values. Give me the mormon please.

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

      YOU ARE RIGHT PEZZAR

      November 3, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • tallulah13

      I would rather support the American that supports American values - the one who understands the Consti.tutional separation of church and state. That is why I will be voting to reelect President Obama.

      November 3, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
  16. FRANK

    Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? JOHN 10/34

    November 3, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  17. 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.

    November 3, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • FRANK

      Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? JOHN 10/34 NOW SHUT UP AND THOSE WHO HAVE EARS LET THEM HEAR

      November 3, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • Who invited me?

      Here is the most important fact...all religions and gods were created by men.
      All religions started as cults.
      There are no gods except the ones that live in your imagination.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
    • FRANK

      THIS STORY YOU TELL HAS SO MANY HOLES IN IT ...WHERE DO YOU WANT ME TO START?..AND ILL PROVE IT WITH THE BIBLE YOU CLAIM TO KNOW SO WELL

      November 3, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
    • sarah

      ha ha ha.. oh my. frank doesn't have a clue. The Bible is proof of nothing, because you can't prove anything in the stupid fable.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
  18. The Mighty Paw of Dog

    Do you know why right wing idiots post here on cnn?

    November 3, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
  19. chet

    All you right wing conspiracy kooks might want to Google the "White Horse Prophecy" The Mormon church has had a plan for America for 150 years. Read about it. If you can stop jerkin' off to your Sean Hannity poster for 10 minutes. You mindless filth.

    November 3, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • FRANK

      they have a plan and you are not part of it repent chet

      November 3, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
    • sarah

      lol. punctuate much, idiot FRANK?

      November 3, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  20. FRANK

    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.”...THIS IS TO "MORMONS ARE CHRISTIANS"–NOW NOW JESUS CHRIST IS NOT THE SAME GOD AS HEAVENLY FATHER..THEY ARE SEPARATE BEINGS{ONE IN PURPOSE}..Therefore..who was Jesus praying to in the garden of gesthaname????

    November 3, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • chet

      Go to YouTube and search "Banned Mormon Cartoon" to learn what Mormons really believe. You won't believe it.

      November 3, 2012 at 2:40 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.