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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 • Evangelical • Mitt Romney • Mormonism • My Take • Politics • Uncategorized • United States

soundoff (2,430 Responses)
  1. Krezz

    Romney has shown himself to be a liar, a cheat, and a power hungry manipulator. THIS is the candidate your religion compels you to support?! Jesus didn't disparage 47% of the population. Romney isn't a Mormon, he worships money and power. Poor (and likely not of sound mind) Billy Graham was swindled by his son and Roms. Don't let yourself be swindled as well.

    November 4, 2012 at 3:11 am |
    • David A.

      Kress, why are you saying so many untrue things? Have you actually listened to the UNEDITED version of the video, or are you content to just parrot the DNC's bullet points? What he ACTUALLY said to that gathering was that given that 47% of the voters don't PAY Federal taxes, you're hardly going to get their support when you promise them that you are going to lower the income tax rates. He continued to (correctly) say that the Republicans need to find a better way to help those voters.

      Of course the "Legacy Media" edits videos to support whatever their cause is that day. That's why they are loosing all of their viewers and/or subscribers. The public has grown weary of being mislead by the former "Main Stream Media" (judging by the Neilsen Ratings and WWW pagehits, it is Fox News and the Internet that are the new preferred source of info (the Legacy news outlets are all going out of business).

      November 4, 2012 at 5:12 am |
  2. Pastor Steven Andrew

    I have asked Billy Graham and others not preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to repent. Sadly, they have gone astray.

    See: http://www.usachristianministries.com/2012/11/02/billy-graham-asked-to-repent-of-the-mormon-cult-and-from-leading-christians-astray/

    God has answers for the USA to recover. God says Americans are to:

    1) Ask God for mercy for our sins, crying out: “spare Your people” (Joel 2:17, Judges 3:9),

    2) Re-affirm covenant: The Lord is the God of the USA and Americans are His people (2 Kings 15, 2 Chronicles 34), and

    3) Turn from our wicked ways-including helping those with false gods (2 Chronicles 7:13-14)

    God loves you.

    November 4, 2012 at 2:04 am |
  3. shansien

    Look, I'm an evangelical, and not Mormon. I'm voting for a President, not a pastor. I'm not voting from Romney based on his theology but on his Judeo-Christian values. I share much more in common with Mitt Romney's values than Obama's. Simple as that. A vote for Romney isn't an endorsement for the Mormon church any more than voting for JFK was an endorsement of the Catholic church.

    November 4, 2012 at 1:55 am |
  4. Janice Moss

    It shouldn't surprise me that a professor who teaches "Religion", would blast Christians who will vote for Romney, but it does sadden me. Mr. O likes to say that he is a "Christian", I just don't know which Bible he purports to read as it can't possibly be the Holy Bible. He, like so many are "cafeteria Christians" pulling out what they DON'T like in the Bible. You are correct in stating that Mormonism is a cult, but I know, from my own experiences, that Mr. Romney will be shown the truth of that if he truly loves Jesus. God is always faithful, and He will see that those caught up in false religions but that don't realize it's false, and truly have a heart for Jesus, will be called out of the false churches. Surely you don't think that Mr. Obama is a Christian! I don't. But that doesn't stop me from praying for him and his family. So tired of seeing Christians slammed, but the Word states that it will only get worse as the time of the end nears.

    November 4, 2012 at 1:53 am |
    • Sam

      Janice, I'm curious as to why you refuse to accept Obama's testimony that he has found faith in Christ. If we can't his testimony, why should we accept yours?

      November 4, 2012 at 4:39 am |
  5. Doug Lynn

    The writer is 100% wrong. Christians are voting for Romney precisely because their religious beliefs demand that they vote for the person that leads the most by Christian values. More of Obama's values are anti-Christian than Romney's by far. Anyone that thinks otherwise is sadly ignorant of what Christian values are and are guilty of confusing Hedonism with Christianity .

    November 4, 2012 at 1:23 am |
    • Sam

      I disagree Doug. I think that the Christians are so full of hate for Obama that they are willing to compromise the foundational tenets of the gospel. Joel Osteen, for example, calling Mormonism christian. His dad is rolling over in his grave. And now Billy Graham is no longer willing to tell the truth about mormonism being a cult. Dr. Walter Martin is rolling over in his grave. I never would have thought that so-called bible believing christians would sell out their savior simply because of the hatred that they have for Barack Obama. It's an absolute disgrace.

      November 4, 2012 at 1:56 am |
  6. Mormons are Christians?

    Mormons believe Jesus and Satan were brothers. Their religion was created by a con artist.
    Billy has sold his sold to the devil based on his own words.

    November 4, 2012 at 1:57 am |
  7. Mike

    Wow Stephen Prothero, really has no idea what write about....

    November 4, 2012 at 1:54 am |
  8. Tim Callahan

    Wow, I see no mention of abortion in Stephen's article. That issue alone says everything I need to know about Barack Obama, who calls himself a Christian. And although Mormonism is a false doctrine, I'm not voting for the Pastor of the United States; I'm voting for the President of the United States.

    November 4, 2012 at 1:24 am |
  9. Hussein in the membrain

    Fox gave this too much credit! a liberal spewing religion is like a pig inventing kosher food

    November 4, 2012 at 1:16 am |
  10. chet

    After Romney loses, we should invade Utah and restore democracy.

    November 4, 2012 at 1:08 am |
  11. Syung

    I am shocked to read so many posts...I don't read these often at all. As a bystander I notice a lot of contention and anger towards each others comments...isn't that the cause of great unrest in this world? Yes it is small on the "harmful" scale here on a public blog...but all things start small. I can't believe how many people over analyse tiny little doctrines in the Mormon religion just to discredit it. This doesn't get us anywhere...probably even closer to the dark ages than we think. I assure you every religion could be picked apart piece by piece and dissected to reveal many hard to understand doctrines.
    Jesus teaches us "you will know them by their fruits" what better answer could we have than this? I am sure that if we all do this and seek those by their good fruits and not condemn others by their trivial beliefs we could find some common ground to stand on. I think this is what the Christian world is doing...things do change, people improve, nations unite! This Blogger Stephen Prothero is nay-saying something that could be leaps and bounds in the Christian world and in the Religious world altogether.

    November 4, 2012 at 1:07 am |
    • chet

      I will answer honestly. My religion warns us of false prophets. I have read a great deal about the Mormon church. They believe Jesus walked in America hundreds of years ago. I believe that is blasphemous. I believe the Mormon church was started by a con artist. Anyone who has looked into it believes the same. sorry, just the truth.

      November 4, 2012 at 1:12 am |
    • Steve

      To me,certain beliefs a man has,are not trivial,not when they are blasphemous.That trumps all other beliefs.
      Although,you do make some good points.

      November 4, 2012 at 1:19 am |
    • Syung

      Correct "trivial" was probably not the best choice of words, but I don't think blasphemous is a good choice of words either. Any body can read the anti-Mormon literature and be swayed, I have seen much and heard much of it, there is a side to every story...God's truth is always presented in a way that will not infringe on our ability to choose, it is never proven right before our eyes with absolute correctness. All I know is that all this could not have been produced by a con-artist, my life has been completely changed 100% for the better by finally converting to the gospel of Jesus Christ as contained in the LDS church. I believe! and my belief has been confirmed by the influence of the Holy Ghost, and my whole outlook on life has slowly changed by this same influence as I have continued to study the doctrine of our church. Please don't believe the lies of those who seek to contend with us, please don't think we are blasphemous just because the Book of Mormon has teachings that are not in the Bible, try to see the good in us.

      November 4, 2012 at 1:03 am |
  12. chet

    Now can someone explain how one week before endorsing Romney, Billy Graham's website called Mormons the devil's spawn??

    November 4, 2012 at 12:59 am |
    • Steve

      Ha,that is exactly what it is,and alot of "christians" are getting ready to vote for a man that believes it,and teaches it !

      November 4, 2012 at 1:04 am |
    • Syung

      It does sound politically driven...and it may be to some extent, but could it be that Mormons and other Christians are coming closer together? Could it be that people do change for the better? Could it be that this race no matter what the outcome has still helped unite religions and helped eliminate long over due prejudices? Could it all be for the better??? Look to the bright side Chet your "finger pointing" and cynical outlook is blocking your positive view in some of the most crucial matters of society.

      November 4, 2012 at 1:21 am |
  13. Steve

    I would never speak for Jesus,but do you really think it pleases him when we vote for a man who belives and teaches what Romney does.My Bible teaches me , NO ! Christians cannot support an admitted blasphemer,no matter the issues or "rightiousness" we may perceive.The time has come to make a very important decision.It is really simple.What would Jesus do,what would He have us do ??I would suggest christians,real christians,look at the 3rd and 4th parties.It is a much better choice,and not a wasted vote.I will not have to face my savior and justify why I supported a man that teaches that SATAN is the brother of Jesus.Please,dont put politics before your faith,or before Jesus.May God have mercy on the U.S.A.

    November 4, 2012 at 12:57 am |
    • Syung

      We do not believe Satan is or was a brother to Jesus Christ, we believe that to be a brother or sister in any way one must take on a mortal life and be born on this earth in flesh and blood. Satan was denied this right by his evil choices before coming to this earth (see the war in heaven in the bible). Satan became a "fallen angel" forever void of the opportunity to live in this world with a mortal body. He is left with only his spirit to afflict and torment man in whatever spiritual way he can. This makes him an enemy of God and Jesus Christ. There is nowhere in our teachings that ever refer to satan as a brother...naysayers have eluded to this by using these simple teachings of how satan came to be into him being a brother, it is scary and somewhat offensive to make this accusation.

      November 4, 2012 at 1:33 am |
  14. David

    The Pharisee vs the unrepentant publican... what a choice. At least the Pharisee will work for us while he is trying to work his way into heaven.
    CNN, if you want to write an article with a Christian perspective, please at least get a real Christian to write it.
    There are as many real Christians on the democrat/republican presidential tickets this year as there are military vets.
    That happens to be the same amount of real Christians that contributed to your article.

    November 4, 2012 at 12:42 am |
  15. ATDM

    The author of this blog is a bigotted idiot... In his worship to Obama the messiah, he completely lost objectivity and became just another obama apologist without a trace of rational and coherent thought... What a disgrace!

    November 4, 2012 at 12:33 am |
    • stillthrill1

      Great rebuttal to this post... only that it wasn't.

      If you want to say something meaningful about how Prothero's post was incorrect, then by all means do so (and provide evidence). Until then you only become a hypocrite for becoming exactly what you are accusing Prothero of.

      November 4, 2012 at 12:41 am |
    • Stan Howard

      I see. Christians need to follow pagans like Obama verses pagans like Rommney. What the heck does Barry have in common with Christian beliefs? He is a phony, fraud....and just as much of a cult as Rommney. So, our choice is to vote for no one...I think not. We need to look at how they handle the issues. How they manage. Because on the cult thing there is a tie going on and it is totally disingenous to say that Obama is the true Chrisitian in this election.

      November 4, 2012 at 12:56 am |
  16. Chris_C

    We are standing behind Romney due to the fact that Obama has failed as President and is leading us down the road to nowhere with a Godless platform, scandals, corruption, and treason.

    THAT my friends is the reason we are behind Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

    November 4, 2012 at 12:27 am |
    • chet

      So Obama is the great divider? Mitt Romney calls half of America idiots, and Obama is the divider?? How much crack do you people smoke?

      November 4, 2012 at 12:56 am |
  17. jmm

    Romney's ahead among Independents in every poll and the Republicans are more enthusiastic than the Democrats this year. So, landslide for Romney coming on Nov. 6 !!

    November 4, 2012 at 12:26 am |
    • Steve

      Google......(Five Thirty EIGHT). Spend a few minutes there...get a grip

      November 4, 2012 at 1:00 am |
    • chet

      Obama will be your president again. You will buy his insurance. and you will like it.

      November 4, 2012 at 1:01 am |
  18. Syung

    I quote Stephen Prothero: "The purpose of the religious right is to use the Christian God for political purposes" Is not true..BUT we do believe in having a government that is based off of Christian beliefs in that like God gives us the freedom to choose and "captalize" on righteousness, our government likewise should be the same. Government leadership is there only to protect us from threats of this God given freedom and assure the same freedoms secure our liberty as citizens of this country. You can call it "political purposes" but in reality its just freedom...God given freedom. Hopefully Stephen can respect and support this same cause. Maybe if not for "God given freedom" at least for freedom!

    November 4, 2012 at 12:13 am |
  19. Chris

    Actually you have it wrong Mr.Stephen Prothero. You see they are Actually putting God first by standing behind a man that has Gods best interest in mind. What you don't understand is that they do not rely on "the arm of the flesh" or put their trust in man, like you do with Mr. Obama. These individuals or Christians have most likely prayed to their God for guidance. You know, God, the Omnipotent and Omniscient,the all knowing, the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth. He (God) doesn't seek for people to vote out of "Revenge" like Mr. Obama tried to pursaude his followers to do. He (God) seeks for men to do what's right for Him (God) first, then country. If you rely on Him (God) first, then all things will fall into place. These men aren't cowards, they are leaders. Sometimes it takes a "real" leader to admit when they have been wrong about things in the past. It's about bringing America together, Not dividing asunder as Obama has the last 4 years. These are men of Faith that do not need approval of man. They seek divine approval and in doing so, in doing the right thing by God, they secure for themselves an Eternal place in Heaven to dwell with God our Heavenly Father, His Son, our Savior Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost. You completely and ignorantly miss the whole point at what really drives Christians. It's not the scorn from man, yet it's the Approval of their God, which is Eternal.

    November 4, 2012 at 12:07 am |
    • stillthrill1

      "You completely and ignorantly miss the whole point at what really drives Christians. It's not the scorn from man, yet it's the Approval of their God, which is Eternal."

      You completely and ignorantly miss the whole point at what Prothero is getting at.... He's not debating what drives Christians!!! Why no mention something relevant to the blog post???

      November 4, 2012 at 12:45 am |
  20. chet

    Wow. The Mormon war room is up late tonight. Explain planet Kolob to us. It's in the Book of Mormon. But it's not in my Bible. Just tell us about it. C'mon!

    November 4, 2012 at 12:05 am |
    • Syung

      Hi Chet, it is not in the Book of Mormon but in a book called the "Pearl of Great Price". Kolob was a name of a star near the kingdom of God somewhere in the universe, we have no idea where. The "reckoning" of time on Kolob was that of God's time...much different than ours...possibly "time stands still" there thus making eternity possible...we do not know. These words were given by revelation to Joseph Smith in the early days of the church. It is talked about very little in our church...I think its main purpose was to reveal to us man's understanding of time and how it differs from God's and that God truly masters the universe and it is all His creation. Other than that this teaching is quite insignificant in all of our scriptures and daily lives

      November 4, 2012 at 12:37 am |
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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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.