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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. A Whitworth*

    We're not voting for Pope or Bishop of USA: instead we  vote for  a platform with roots older than recorded history – and against a grand social experiment that any classic Darwinist can see has no viable (only extinct) precedents. 

    November 3, 2012 at 8:48 pm |
  2. 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 8:37 pm |
  3. Mormons are Christians?

    Why do Mormons hide their true beliefs on Mormon.org? Why are they trying to look like Christians?

    November 3, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • D Norton

      Man, I've written you multiple questions, why are you ducking me? I'm not hiding anything. I'm right here telling you what you got right and wrong.

      November 3, 2012 at 8:30 pm |
    • Mormons are Christians?

      Your arguing small points in a bigger picture. Flesh but not blood. What difference does that make?

      November 3, 2012 at 8:45 pm |
  4. hazen62

    You have 4 choices, a Mormon who admits he is a Mormon, a Muslim who won't admit he is a Muslim, a third party candidate or don't vote.

    November 3, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • Dan

      Nope, you're a ****ing idi0t

      November 3, 2012 at 8:37 pm |
  5. @headinhome7

    Obama....A "Christian" tree bearing Muslim fruit! Yeshua said "Ye shall know a tree by the fruit it bears" His outreach programs have been towards the muslim community while ignoring the thousands of Christians being martyred throughout the world.People in the Liberal media continue to persecute the Christian and Jewish faiths while coddling the Islamic faith.You nit pick the Christian and Jewish faiths who are truly two faiths that reach out in love to all peoples while refusing to criticize the Islamic faith who treat their women like dogs.To the writer of this column.Are you scared to mention the faults of Islam? Sure you are and why? You`re afraid you`ll get beheaded.Yeshua said in the "Latter Days" That which is evil will be called good and That which is good will be called evil!" I challenge you to point out the faults of Islam but I know you won`t because you`re a scared rat hiding in a hole because you`re afraid the Muslims will chop your head off.What a sissy u r !

    November 3, 2012 at 8:11 pm |
  6. don mercer

    Prothero is way off base. Yes, Mormonism is a cult, pure and simple. But Obama's weak profession of the Christian faith is just that: weak and not believable. Non Christians have led this country before and it looks like we will get another one no matter who you vote for.
    Voting is a duty and a privelege in America. The point Mr. Prothero is that we have to vote for one of them. Not voting is not an option.
    Vote for the one who is going to make the real difference in national defense and the economy as well as the moral direction of the country. God will use the victor to suit His plan. However, I believe we are accountable for the leaders we choose. Those that 'tickle our ears' or those who have the experience and knowledge to lead.
    If you think Obama is that man, you are deceived and I mean it in the biblical sense.

    November 3, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
  7. Dan

    Well, this article seems to say that people choosing to not be religious bigots is somehow wrong.

    November 3, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
  8. Sarah

    Of course liberal CNN has hogwash like this on its site. CNN can't hide its extreme leftist bias anymore. Attention all liberals: No TRUE Christian could vote for Obama. That man voted FOUR TIMES as an Illinois state senator to let babies born after late term abortions be shelved in soiled utility closets and left to die alone, cold and gasping for breath. Christ said what we do to the least of our bretheren we do to Him. So how is killing babies jiving with the gospel? Or with being Christ-like? To me this is the most black and white issue facing our world today. I don't necessarily like Romney and I'm not 100% sure I'm voting for him instead of 3rd party yet but I certainly could never vote for babies-are-a-punishment-lets-abort-them-all Obama.

    November 3, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  9. Mormons are Christians?

    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 7:57 pm |
    • In Idaho

      Before you put the word facts at the beginning of something you might want to check that they are indeed facts. In your post there are a number of misrepresentations, misinterpretations, and outright untruths.

      November 3, 2012 at 8:10 pm |
    • Mormons are Christians?

      Then why have several years Mormons told me it was correct. Why are they hiding their beliefs. Mormon.org is hiding the truth. Mormonwiki.org is not.

      November 3, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • D Norton

      Who's hiding? I'm right here and I've posted some of the things you got wrong. By the way, why did you re-post the same post? Is it your goal to have a debate about mormon's on this blog or to discuss the blog post? You're silly.

      November 3, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
  10. jim gilbert

    I've read none of the posts on this blog, so it's likely that what I have to say has been said. There's no doubt in my mind that Billy Graham did not write his election eve message. Never before in his public ministry has he come close to endorsing a candidate for President as this message clearly does. My belief is that Franklin Graham wrote the message, sincerely believing that had his father been able to write it, he would have and further sincerely believing that he was being compelled by God to do so.

    It saddens me that the great man's misguided son has done this. It detracts from his almost apolitical evangelistic history.

    November 3, 2012 at 7:56 pm |
    • mucopurulent

      Mitt and Franklin are both lesser sons of greater fathers. Both are pure parasites living off their fathers's work.

      November 3, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • gorddo

      You mean the great Billy Graham who sat in the Crystal Cathedral and told Robert Schuller that he believes "all roads lead to God"? I think even Franklin knows better than that. So then Jesus died for nothing?

      November 3, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
  11. Dr. Rogalsky

    We as a citizens has our right to vote it doesnt matter what beliefs you have. For sure I am not voting because of the 2 choices lesser evil and evil, I will vote what my heart dictates to vote, Not voting for Obama for sure!

    November 3, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  12. Susan Meade

    I'm voting for a man who shares the same conservative value system that I have. His job will be to run the country. I'm not voting for him to be my pastor. If you want to discuss compromising principles...why would a Christian support an unholy alliance with CNN? Or is it that you don't care where you get your money from? Seems like selling your soul to the Devil if you ask me.

    November 3, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • Mormons are Christians?

      Mormons worship a false god. They believe God is flesh and blood. And that they can become gods themselves.

      November 3, 2012 at 7:53 pm |
    • D Norton

      I also know of no doctrine that says God has blood. Flesh yes. Like the other post. Mostly accurate.

      November 3, 2012 at 8:16 pm |
  13. Johnny Boy

    “I will stand with the Muslims should the political winds shift in an ugly direction.” – Obama

    November 3, 2012 at 7:45 pm |
    • Rummy Pirate Times-Dispatch

      This statement is a rewording of a passage from page 261 of The Audacity of Hope, in which Barack Obama spoke of the importance of not allowing inflamed public opinion to result in innocent members of immigrant groups being stripped of their rights, denied their due as American citizens, or placed into confinement, as was done with Japanese-Americans during World War II. The original contains no specific mention of "Muslims":
      In the wake of 9/11, my meetings with Arab and Pakistani Americans, for example, have a more urgent quality, for the stories of detentions and FBI questioning and hard stares from neighbors have shaken their sense of security and belonging. They have been reminded that the history of immigration in this country has a dark underbelly; they need specific reassurances that their citizenship really means something, that America has learned the right lessons from the Japanese internments during World War II, and that I will stand with them should the political winds shift in an ugly direction.

      Nice try – a rewording is just as good as a lie.

      November 3, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
  14. Johnny Boy

    Why is CNN worried about Christians now? Oh, cuz they aren't going to vote for Obama? Not really a tough choice, a Mormon who has more Godly beliefs compared to a wishy washy non-Christian, possibly Muslim. Sorry CNN, try to spin this all you want, Obama is not going to get the Christian vote.

    November 3, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  15. cherykie

    Until Jesus Christ returns to earth to set up his earthly kingdom , we will not have a truly Christian government. Human weakness will be around until we are " changed in the twinkling of a eye", but we are to strive toward perfection- and Romney exemplifies the Christian nature vastly greater than the current president. God sees the heart of man , and Mitt Romney wears his heart on his sleeve. Obama's heart must be hidden along with his stash of other secret things.
    I have family and friends who are Mormon and I have never heard one of them deny that Jesus Christ is the only begotten son of God. Claiming to be a Christian does not make you a Christian, the shed blood of Jesus Christ and acceptance of the free gift of his grace makes one a Christian. I think Romney qualifies.

    November 3, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • Mormons are Christians?

      Romney believes he will become a God when he dies.

      November 3, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • D Norton

      Let me rephrase a more accurate representation: "Romney believes if he is worthy and faithful he will eventually become a god." (small 'g') Why is that important? Mormon's do not believe they will ever be equals to God the Father or Jesus Christ, but you probably already knew that, you just failed to add that right?

      November 3, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
  16. B Payne

    No, Christians are choosing the lesser of two evils–a Mormon v. a Black Muslim. I doubt that Romney will be proselytising from the White House. Obama has done more to hurt religion, especially Christianity, in this country in 4 years than Romney could ever do.

    November 3, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • mucopurulent

      You say that like it is a bad thing. Embrace reality.

      November 3, 2012 at 8:38 pm |
  17. Mormons are Christians?

    Mormons are Christians?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 7:35 pm |
    • BrianE

      If anyone wants to really know what Mormons believe, go to http://www.mormon.org

      November 3, 2012 at 7:59 pm |
    • Mormons are Christians?

      Go to Mormonwiki.org

      November 3, 2012 at 8:09 pm |
    • D Norton

      You got most of your "facts" right, I've been a Mormon my whole life and I never knew each "God" had there own universe. Maybe you could post where that is in our scriptures or another verifiable primary source. Also, the murder reference is not completely accurate, after all didn't Nephi murder King Laban? I think what your referencing is the shedding of innocent blood, but that can be interpreted differently than basic murder. I don't presume to know how God will judge anyone and I do my best to follow Christ's counsel to not judge others. Are all those "facts" proof that we aren't Christian or that we have different beliefs that you? As for Mormon's dodging questions about their faith, I don't know what Mormon's you know but if someone asks me a question I have no problem answering them.

      November 3, 2012 at 8:14 pm |
    • D Norton

      Go to Mormonwiki huh? Why? To avoid learning about Mormon's from Mormon's. I know, I know, we're going to lie to you and trick you into joining our faith. Wiki's are nice, but are not authoritative sources for anything.

      November 3, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • Skip

      This is primarily for "Mormons are Christians?"
      Matthew 5:48 "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."

      You evidently don't believe Jesus, since if we are children of a Heavenly Father and we are told to be perfect - just as He is, then why is it not reasonable that we have the ability to become like Him?
      Your entire post is false.

      November 3, 2012 at 8:25 pm |
    • Mormons are Christians?

      It might not be perfect but it's more informative than Mormon.org

      November 3, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • D Norton

      Oh, Skip don't go bringing scriptures and logic into the discussion. That has no place here.

      November 3, 2012 at 8:32 pm |
    • Mormons are Christians?

      Really? To strive to be like God is one thing. To say you are almost like him is blasphemous.

      November 3, 2012 at 8:43 pm |
  18. weezer

    Funny, Democrats are the ones who removed God from the party platform and putting it back in was voted down three times

    November 3, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
  19. David Mueller

    God is sad to see CNN and there unholy ways shame o you!!!

    November 3, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
  20. Juanita Tedder

    I Business is not touchy feeling and although I believe they look at employment they also look at loss. If I was an investor of Bain Capital I would expect gain or find my another person to run the company. If Obama is an investor you would also find the same t transactions. In fact we find tax payer money going to China which of course is not looking for a business gain for the tax payer.
    I believe we are fighting for the life of our country, for freedoms that some of us treasure with our lives, for our children, not to be prosperous, but to live in freedom. My God have mercy on us and show those who do not understand "freedom" for what is, for who they are. Read about Germany and how their freedom was taken away.

    November 3, 2012 at 7:13 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.