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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. Realchange

    Just another one sided view courtesy of CNN. CNN and MSNBC will print ANYTHING to keep Obama in Office. CNN used to be a pillar of news organizations, now they are just one sided. Too bad, I used to actually watch CNN for all my news. Hey CNN, ever wonder why FOX NEWS is always number one in ratings? Figure it out.

    November 3, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • Bill K

      Realchange, agreed. Answer of why Fox has the highest ratings is because 50% of the population have one cable tv outlet to get non-liberal news. The other 50% of the population divide their viewing preferences across all other liberal media outlets. Makes you sick and also makes you wonder why they are not fair and balanced to recover their lost viewers to Fox. Thanks God for Fox.

      November 3, 2012 at 10:27 pm |
  2. AWB

    Keep throwing stones you mental midget. You'll get yours when you appear before St Peter.

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

    Stephen,
    You intellectual migit. There are so many pastors and christians across this great country abadoning Obama taster then you can say "Romney wins in a landslide". I suggest you go to youtube and listen to all of the Dr James D Manning, or Bishop E.W. Jackson, Tmot, and many other Pastors who strongly oppose the fraud in the W.H.

    The silent large majority of White & Black Chrisitans, remember the "Chick Filet" lines this past summer? They will be voting against Barrack Hussein Obama in masses, and for Mitt Romney. Expect an undisputeable landslide results late next Tuesday night in favor of Christian Mitt Romney.

    November 3, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  4. Ted

    Oh, it's a shame that Christians vote for a fellow Christian. Sinful, even. How about the racist blacks who vote as a one for a black candidate? Where's the outrage? Oh, wait – it's part of the agenda.

    November 3, 2012 at 10:01 pm |
    • Blaine

      Ted, everyone's out to get you. Better hug that teddy bear closer.

      November 3, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
  5. Whatever

    The author suggests that Graham and Reed are abandoning their beliefs not to condemn Romney's church affiliation. And, I'm sure, he would be first in line to condemn them if they made an issue of his Mormonism. Maybe they are being pragmatic? Is he faulting them for this?

    I don't agree with either candidate's religion, nor am I in a position to evaluate whether their faith is sincere.

    I think many, many people are voting against Romney simply because he is wealthhy. This is ignorant. And, I think the President is promoting this view, which is unbiblical. It is obvious that the President doesn't even know the Ten Commandments, (i.e. number nine or ten depending on the Catechism (which cites the Scripture)) you study. At his age, he is responsible for knowing the basics of the faith he espouses.

    Regarding money and evil, make sure you read it right . . . it is the love of money that is the source of all evil.

    As for this author, please remember he is a religion scholar (oxymoron) and doesn't claim to be a Christian. He plays a lawyer in this blog, which I suppose is not a problem in most religions.

    November 3, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • Bill K

      Whatever, I agree with most of your comment. Just to point out however, Love of money is the root of all "kinds" of evil not "all" evil. There is lust of the flesh and pride of life which equally are the root of all kinds of evil. Abraham was a wealthy man, Jacob was a wealthy man, King David was a wealthy man, Solomon was a wealthy man, all men of God who sought Him and took care of His sheep. They did not fleece the sheep to their detriment as the current establishment.

      November 3, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • Romnesia

      So you think someone who obtains his wealth primarily by shafting working people then hides his wealth in offshore tax shelters does not love money?

      November 3, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
    • Bill K

      Romnesia, ask him yourself. Do you have a 401k. I'm sure if you do then you also have foreign stocks. If you collect a paycheck do you love money. How much of your money do you give to charity. If your answer is you can't afford it then what is wrong with making more to give more. Does O have stock in Solindra? Is he making millions with his book sales? Does he love money? Your point is moot. The argument here is why would a Christian vote for a Mormon.

      November 3, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
    • Whatever

      Bill K, Yes. You're right in terms of all kinds of evil.

      November 3, 2012 at 10:29 pm |
    • Whatever

      Romnesia
      So you think someone who obtains his wealth primarily by shafting working people then hides his wealth in offshore tax shelters does not love money?

      "Primarily by shafting working people" is overly broad. Take a look at the big bank stocks in the last year versus the other stocks and tell me that we are on a footing that benefits the average American. We have not begun to deal with the structure that keeps the poor, poor. Redistribution, sometimes known as "fair share," is bait.

      The dismantling and such is legal. The tax structures are legal. And, the President has had four years to take care of them if they troubled his conscience. If you don't want it to be legal, change it. I remember people thinking John Edwards paid too little taxes, but he didn't get this attention. Thus, I am attributing it to wealth. When Edwards ran, experts said, "If you were wealthy, you would use these strategies, too."

      I think the characterization of the wealthy as uncaring is simplistic and probably false. Stereotypes are usually false. Unfortunately, this characterization doesn't meet the threshold for political incorrectness.

      November 3, 2012 at 11:55 pm |
  6. Clay

    Christian Values vote is not about religion. It is about 'Right to Life" and maintaining the traditional definition of "Marriage". It is also about returning to the principles of the founding fathers who made a covenant with God concerning this nation.

    November 3, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • Romnesia

      The founding fathers did not make a covenant with god concerning this nation

      November 3, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
  7. JC

    We are electing a president, not a pastor!!!

    November 3, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  8. FRANK

    While most religions believe in God, the LDS religion believes in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit as separate beings. YES...THEY ARE SEPARATE BEINGS FOOL WHO CALLS HERSELF MORMONS ARE CHRISTIANS?!!!

    November 3, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
    • FRANK

      who was jesus praying to in the garden...himself???????????

      November 3, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
    • Ted

      What does that even mean?

      November 3, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
  9. BJ

    This article is just a bunch of the author's own misunderstanding (as a nice way to put it) rolled all into one.

    I am a Christian who is voting for Romney NOT because of his religion but because of his politics. I am more closely aligned with his politics than I am of Obama's. 4 years ago many people proved that this country can vote for an African American, this year we may be proving we can vote for someone who doesn't claim to be Christian or Catholic. It is, after all, 2012.

    November 3, 2012 at 9:23 pm |
    • Steph

      If you are a Christian should you not vote on your beliefs? What about God? Where is He at in your decision?

      November 3, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • Romnesia

      catholics are christians as are mormons. I don't see your point.

      November 3, 2012 at 9:36 pm |
    • Angie

      Steph –
      Mark 9:38-42 "'Teacher,' said John, 'we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he wasn't one of us.' 'Do not stop him,' Jesus said, 'No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward."

      The Christian belief is to glorify God.

      November 3, 2012 at 9:40 pm |
    • Bob

      Angie, if you are going to dump bible quotes on us, then we had better have a closer look at some of the real horrors from nasty Christian god in the Christian book of nasty AKA the bible:

      Numbers 31:17-18
      17 Now kiII all the boys. And kiII every woman who has slept with a man,
      18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.

      Deuteronomy 13:6 – “If your brother, your mother’s son or your son or daughter, or the wife you cherish, or your friend who is as your own soul entice you secretly, saying, let us go and serve other gods … you shall surely kill him; your hand shall be first against him to put him to death”

      Revelations 2:23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.

      Note that the bible is also very clear that you should sacrifice and burn an animal today because the smell makes sicko Christian sky fairy happy. No, you don't get to use the parts for food. You burn them, a complete waste of the poor animal.

      Yes, the bible really says that, everyone. Yes, it's in Leviticus, look it up. Yes, Jesus purportedly said that the OT commands still apply. No exceptions. But even if you think the OT was god's mistaken first go around, you have to ask why a perfect, loving enti-ty would ever put such horrid instructions in there. If you think rationally at all, that is.

      And then, if you disagree with my interpretation, ask yourself how it is that your "god" couldn't come up with a better way to communicate than a book that is so readily subject to so many interpretations and to being taken "out of context", and has so many mistakes in it. Pretty pathetic god that you've made for yourself.

      So get out your sacrificial knife or your nasty sky creature will torture you eternally. Or just take a closer look at your foolish supersti-tions, understand that they are just silly, and toss them into the dustbin with all the rest of the gods that man has created.

      Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement. Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.

      http://whywontgodhealamputees.com/

      November 3, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
    • Angie

      Steph asked a legitimate question and I offered a legitimate answer. God is not nasty and you are not alone in not being well informed. Animals are not required as sacrifice. Jesus Christ was sent as the ultimate sacrifice. On the surface, it doesn't sound good. You need to actually know it to understand the glory and love of God. There were a lot of things in Old Testament law (the Torah) that were rectified by Jesus Christ.

      November 3, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
  10. Mormons are Christians?

    Frank.

    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 9:21 pm |
    • FRANK

      4 Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are all gods? JOHN 10 VERSE34

      November 3, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • FRANK

      YES GOD AND JESUS ARE SEPARATE PEOPLE. OR ELSE WHO WAS JESUS PRAYING TO IN THE garden of gesthaname????????????????

      November 3, 2012 at 9:28 pm |
    • redblue23

      Is that after he smoked weed with the talking snake and got reborn again from a reconstituted virgin?

      November 3, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
  11. Robby

    Mr. Prothero, it seems that you as most Americans never saw bowing of President Obama to Kiss the ring of Saudi King and you definitely don't know what it really means. CHRISTIANS pay attention; although I believe in separation of Church and State, you need to PUT RELIGION FIRST as Mr. Prothero is asking you. President Obama bowed and kissed the Saudi King Ring on his FIRST visit overseas shortly after he met British Queen and gave her an iPod and a slight nod of the head. This wasn’t the case with bowing to Saudi King (75 degrees bow). All Americans should see the photo not only Christians. And all African Americans, and mainly African American women who exemplify powerful will, independence and high self-esteem, need to think about the RING of the KING that our President is kissing!
    • With all respect to Saudi King, no judgment here and he can do whatever he sees fit in his Kingdom, BUT our President who claims to defend women and cares about them could have served their cause better by discussing Saudi women’s right to vote or even simply right to drive!
    • President bowing and kissing the RING of the KING, successor who takes care of Muslims on earth (with no comparison and with full respect to all religions) as Pope is to Catholics! True Believers in America and world-wide know that service should be to God Almighty, the King in Heaven. Yes, Mr. Prothero, Christians should put religion before politics; they should never vote for someone who bows and serves the King of Saudi Arabia.

    November 3, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
  12. FRANK

    The book of mormon is referenced many times in the bible...you people who call mormons a cult are fools...your words will turn on your own head...and by the way...you now have a mormon president...get used to it

    November 3, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • Romnesia

      It may be in the mormon bible but is it in the other bibles? Joe Smith didn't invent the religion until the bible was largely static in content, or did he name some of his characters based on bible content?

      November 3, 2012 at 9:43 pm |
  13. Angie

    Christians will be voting for the man most likely to protect their Christian rights. The Obama administration has not exhibited much interest in protecting Christian rights. This administration is more likely to diminish Christian rights in order to expand the rights of other religions and non-religions. So because there isn't a "Christian" candidate, the logical choice is the man who will protect Christians.

    November 3, 2012 at 9:08 pm |
  14. Steph

    I was sadden to see that Billy Graham had removed the word cult from Mormonism. You cannot believe something for many years just to change it for political reasons. I am a Christian that is sadden by this whole election. I cannot vote for Obama and and I cannot vote for Romney. Voting the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil. I cannot believe all the Christians I see and know actually voting for Romney. They know that it is not right, but they hate Obama so much that they are willing to compromise their beliefs to vote for someone who you know follows a false religion. I am not taking up for Obama, but he proclaims he is a Christian and we are not to judge whether he truly is or not. Do you vote for someone who claims to be a christian or for someone who says he is a mormon? Really people? It is not that hard to see what needs to be done. There are many Christians out there that are not voting for Obama or Romney. They are voting for a third party candidate, Virgil Goode. He is a conservative that wants to get America back on track. We are accountable for what we choose and we should choose wisely.

    November 3, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • FRANK

      mormons are more christian than christians you fool...shut your mouth now or something may shut it for you..maybe that god you pretend to believe in

      November 3, 2012 at 9:09 pm |
    • FRANK

      i can show you numerous instances of the book of mormon being referenced to in your bible.///watch what you call a cult

      November 3, 2012 at 9:11 pm |
    • Judy

      My take is we are voting for a Commander in Chief that runs the country.. He is not "Preacher in Chief" I want someone who shares many of my moral beliefs.. such as abortion on demand.. Romney does.. He shouldn't be the country's Preacher.
      We are voting for someone who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.. I do too.. Yes.. he has different beliefs on many things that i don't agree with, however, none of those beliefs have anything to do with running a Country..

      November 3, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • Steph

      I am unsure why people putting comments on here are being so nasty. We may have the freedom of speech, but that doesn't mean you need to degrade yourself but saying nasty and threatening things. How did people get so disrespectful! You can have differing opinions without being so rude.

      November 3, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
    • Steph

      Judy doesn't what you believe affect how you run a country and what decisions you make?

      November 3, 2012 at 9:22 pm |
    • tony v

      by default one candidate will win
      Obama is like falling off a spiritual (moral) cliff
      Romney is like falling down a spiritual (moral) hill
      at least you can survive the hill tumble to try again
      4 more years of Obama will be to the point of no return-morally-ushering in the judgment of Almighty God

      November 3, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
  15. Romney Lies so bad about Chrysler, he freaks out Chrysler workers

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgGPVVBKfH0&w=640&h=390]

    November 3, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
    • James

      Bengazi, Fast & Furious! No bigger lies have ever been told by a sitting POTUS! Period!

      End of story!

      November 3, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • Realchange

      Yes, Chrysler will open plants in China, in order to sell those Jeeps to the Chinese. Think about this if you can (Obama supporters may have to consult with a buisness czar to understand this), if they are building the Jeeps in China, the USA will LOSE the EXPORTS of the Jeeps TO CHINA! Thus causing less US produced sales.

      November 3, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
  16. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    November 3, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but your assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. Using my Idiomatic Expression Equivalency module, the expression that best matches the degree to which your assertions may represent truths is: "TOTAL FAIL".

      I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book can help you:

      I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...
      by the Alzheimer's Disease Society

      November 3, 2012 at 9:05 pm |
  17. cherykie

    Are you kidding , Ben? Davis was a man "after God's own heart" , but he sinned blatantly and God punished him by killing his love child with Bathsheba. David was loved by God because he never passed the buck for his own wrongdoing and repeatedly went to God to confess his sins and begged humbly for forgiveness. God forgave him, but he still had to suffer the punishments for his disobedience. His own son Absalom tried to kill him. David's son Solomon, who was the next king, was granted superhuman wisdom because he didn't ask for riches or power from God. As he got older he chose to disregard what God told him and wound up thinking life was total vanity, but that the fear of the Lord and keeping his commandments was the beginning of wisdom.. Later on down the line , when the kings of Israel and Judah forgot to follow God and just assumed He would keep their covenant without his people holding up their end of the deal, he destroyed the whole nation with just a remnant of survivors. The lineage of Davis survived and from that line came the Jesus Christ, the only Jew who never sinned or disappointed his Father....

    November 3, 2012 at 9:01 pm |
    • cherykie

      Sorry...... David

      November 3, 2012 at 9:02 pm |
  18. Jim

    Let's just call it the hypocrisy that it is, and leave it at that. Evangelical religion long ago lost its moral compass and is no different today than any other "big business". With these "endorsements", it might be time to revisit tax exempt status for many of these organizations.

    November 3, 2012 at 8:54 pm |
  19. Jim Rice

    Politics and religion don't necessarily go hand in hand. Since neither candidate is attempting to outlaw abortion, that would mean that Catholics couldn't vote for president. Since neither candidate is perfect, people are just trying to find the person that most closely matches their position on the issues.

    November 3, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      And Romney agrees with everyone on everything.

      November 3, 2012 at 8:56 pm |
  20. Rummy Pirate Times-Dispatch

    http://www.wbur.org/2012/11/02/romney-lies-payne

    (from Boston's NPR News Station)

    November 3, 2012 at 8:49 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.