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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. mark jessup

    MITT ROMNEY'S GRANDFATHER AND GREAT GRANDFATHER WERE BOTH CHILD RAPISTS.....THE ROMNEY FAMILY WERE RACISTS AT LEAST UNTIL 1978 WHEN THE U.S GOVERNMENT FORCED THEM THEY COULD NO LONGER HATE BLACK PEOPLE AND WERE FORCED TO GIVE BLACKS THE SAME RIGHTS AS WHITES,MITT ROMNEY WAS ALREADY IN HIS 30'S AND WAS STILL A RACIST-NOW THATS SAD AND JUST ID SAD IS MITT ROMNEY DOESNT HAVE 1 BLACK FRIEND NOT 1–NOW SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH THAT....

    November 3, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • David Mueller

      You need to repent1

      November 3, 2012 at 7:26 pm |
  2. Mormons are Christians?

    Evangelicals have been tricked by the devil.

    November 3, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • stillthrill1

      There's witchcraft in them thar hills!

      November 3, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  3. Jeff

    I cannot see how any Christian would support a Democrat/Liberal agenda, the belief that it is ok to kill a child in the womb, but want to save people on death row just really is a crazy mind think.
    Also it is obvious that Midwest Rail is a troll.

    November 3, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • midwest rail

      False, but you already knew that. Desperation is so ugly.

      November 3, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • Mormons are Christians?

      And the Republican agenda. Let the uninsured die in the street. What happened to love your neighbor?

      November 3, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • JR

      Correct Jeff. The bible indicates God hates the shedding of innocent blood. How much more innocent than that of unborn babies. Throw in Obama's support for PBA and gay marriage...this vote is a no brainer for evangelicals. Evangelicals vote on issues...if the DEMS were right on these issues, then Evangelicals would vote DEM. It's funny the author can't understand that. I guess he;ll never understand evangelicals. Go ROMNEY!

      November 3, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
    • sockpuppet1984

      excuse me, but I am an evangelical Christian, I vote on issues–not down the party lines. The republican party no more represents Christian ideals than the democratic party does. If you can't see that, then you don't know your Bible.

      November 3, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • Jon

      It is simple. Vote for someone who says he is a Christian but is hostel towards christian values. Or vote for someone who says he is a Mormon and is friendly towards christian values. Your works mean more then your words.

      November 3, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  4. Mormons are Christians?

    If Mormons aren't Christians then why do they say they are?

    November 3, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • MCR

      They define Christianity differently than you do. Mormons follow the teachings of Christ as they interpret them, but also believe in a pantheistic materialist universe. What is your definition of Christian?

      November 3, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • stillthrill1

      Because Mormons would like their religion to be considered mainstream.

      I have nothing against Mormons. But I don't think they are Christians.

      November 3, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Mormons are Christians?

      The belief of attaining godhood is blasphemous.

      November 3, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • stillthrill1

      "The belief of attaining godhood is blasphemous."

      Umm and that is relevant to the conversation how?

      November 3, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  5. Craig

    It's a wonder that a CNN blogger would have the temerity to question Christians as to why they would vote for a Moromon. First off a secular non believer liberal commenteator wouldn't have the barest clue as to what motivates a Christian. Sceondly Christians still believe that Moromonism is a non christian religion, because it is. Thirdly, a pseudo Christian, semi conservative successful business man and community leader is better than the current inexperienced, consummate liar, Muslim, Golfer/partier community organizer commie in chief who doesn't even know who his daddy is.

    November 3, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
    • midwest rail

      I'm sure your comment was made with all the Christian "love" you could muster.

      November 3, 2012 at 6:06 pm |
    • Mormons are Christians?

      So vote for a blasphemous idol worshippers.

      November 3, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • stillthrill1

      "It's a wonder that a CNN blogger would have the temerity to question Christians as to why they would vote for a Moromon."

      It's a wonder that you can type because you obviously can't read. Prothero never said anything about questioning Christians as to why they would vote for a Mormon. The point of the article is to show the hypocrisy of Graham and Reed for changing their religious statements regarding Mormonism just because the GOP candidate is one.

      Prothero hasn't criticized Christians for voting for a Mormon. He is criticizing the fact that Evangelicals say one thing one day and something completely different the next.

      Now pay me for my cliffs notes.

      November 3, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
  6. Ameri2010

    Obama a Christian? Biggest lie of this 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.

    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 6:01 pm |
    • Alb2012

      Well said.

      November 3, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  7. Ameri2010

    Obama a Christian? Biggest lie of this ELECTION year!!

    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.

    November 3, 2012 at 6:00 pm |
  8. Ameri2010

    Obama a Christian? Biggest lie of this ELECTION year!!

    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.

    November 3, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Now you're just embarrassing yourself.

      November 3, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
  9. Ameri2010

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

    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.

    November 3, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Do you self-identify as Christian ?

      November 3, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • mark jessup

      fuk jesus AND god they have nothng TO DO WITH THIS ELECTION...TAKE YOUR CULTS TO CHURCH AND LEAVE THEM THERE

      November 3, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
  10. Mormons are Christians?

    Biggest lie of the year....... . Mormons are Christians.

    November 3, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  11. Ameri2010

    Obama: New election / Same (exact same) lies...

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZgQhnNRSuw&w=640&h=390]

    November 3, 2012 at 5:50 pm |
  12. Ameri2010

    When it comes to discussion on the budget, the President is determined to reply to any ideas with the same dishonest rhetoric. Instead of talking about issues and fact, he will demonize any plan different from his.

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9SOx9jtpqA&w=640&h=390]

    November 3, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  13. Rummy Pirate Times-Dispatch

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SA8yDLcnixU&w=640&h=390]

    November 3, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  14. Rummy Pirate Times-Dispatch

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5kQ8ugDa1U0&w=640&h=390]

    November 3, 2012 at 5:45 pm |
  15. Rummy Pirate Times-Dispatch

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5kQ8ugDa1U0&w=640&h=390]

    November 3, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  16. Ameri2010

    Obama Admits that He Ate Dog Meat

    Where are all you leftie dog lovers now?

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxuhQ5hKDhw&w=640&h=390]

    November 3, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  17. Mormons are Christians?

    Mormons believe that they can become gods!

    November 3, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
  18. 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

    DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH AND LEARN THE TRUTH ABOUT THE LYING RUMMY PIRATE
    BAIN'S INVESTOR "SUCCESSES" WERE PRIMARILY CONTINGENT ON MASS LAY-OFFS OF WORKERS

    November 3, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Apparently Republicans will accept a well-greased liar. Relaxation of their sphincters helps, which happens when they see the White House as a real possibility.

      November 3, 2012 at 5:47 pm |
  19. Ameri2010

    "If I wanted America to fail"

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZ-4gnNz0vc&w=640&h=390]

    November 3, 2012 at 5:41 pm |
  20. Ameri2010

    Senator Obama crossed the country promising that his campaign, and administration would be the most transparent in history. He promised that he wouldn’t allow lobbyists in his staff, or money in his funds. That was in 2007, as it stands today the President has accepted millions of dollars from lobbyists and special interest groups. The President even took it one step farther by appointing many of those lobbyists into positions of power and influence. The President knows how to put together an attractive campaign, but when the time comes to act on those promises he falls short.

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLaH7IJWeTk&w=640&h=390]

    November 3, 2012 at 5:38 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.