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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. Southerner01

    Trying to say that Stumping for Romney is putting politics ahead of religion only works if you don't look hard at the other candidate.

    Mormons consider themselves Christians. Some other Christians don't. However, MOST Christians I have spoken to don't consider Jeremiah Wright and his Trinity United Church a Christian Church either. Their doctrine of hate is not even close to Christian values. So, given that choice, between the Mormon and the Hate Churcher, it seems obvious that the Mormon is the better choice.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:19 am |
  2. Calypso

    Interesting the Mr. Prothero chose to write this article, rather than one extolling the Christian virtues of Barack Obama.

    Why didn't he do that? Well, the answer is obvious. POTUS (shutter!) Obama displays no serious Christian virtues. He is instead the most anti-Christian POTUS we have ever had. Of course, what else can we expect from a Marxist? They can always be trusted to oppose freedom - especially religious freedom - and advocate the redistribution of wealth to ensure the eventual misery of all people equally, that is except the small few sitting atop the Plutocracratic dictatorship they control.

    Why would we want this, Stephen? Why would you expect us to support such an evil man? And, yes, we believe him to be evil. Can you comprehend that? Our support of Governor Romney represents our basic desire to survive as a free Republic.

    November 4, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • vethusbandfather

      To any Christian Obama supporters that disagree with Calypso look up Cathleen Falsani's interview on religion with Obama. It was eye-opening for me.

      November 4, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  3. David

    I'll take the Mormon over the Moron any day.

    November 4, 2012 at 8:29 am |
  4. betterjobbootcamp

    That might have been the most ignorant article I've ever read on CNN. Which is saying much! You write a book called, "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," and then you author a post like this? Incredible.

    To insinuate that an individual is a 'shill' for the GOP simply because they chose to endorse a candidate that MOST aligns with their beliefs, values and dreams for our country.... is simply.... retarded. And yes... I use that word intentionally.

    There is a reason we have a separation of church and state. One of those is so that religious oppression as it pertains to our republic never rises to the fervor that it did when our Fathers left England for the same reason. And here you are suggesting that an individual must choose which hat he or she is wearing when they endorse a candidate for the highest service office in this country. Why is it wrong sir for someone to make the best informed political decision, even if it doesn't line up 100% with their religious ideology. This country was founded on principles like FREEDOM of religion, and here you are – using your words to draw lines that separate and divide. Which is the entire problem. Yes.. you are the problem Stephen Prothero. You.

    And to draw a comparison between the supposed religious discrimination between Muslims after 9/11, and the early Mormons has taken your ignorant and illiterate blog post to an entirely new low.

    This is the problem with education. You go to school, develop a narrows and bias focus, without the ability to hold conflicting ideas any longer.. and then someone like CNN gives you, of all people, a voice. To continue to spew your personal brand of hatred.

    I'll bet someday that you change the way you view the world, when you finally realize that unless we stand together, we fall. That when we continue to divide, we fail. And when we deliver messages of hate, instead of love... we already live in Hell.

    November 4, 2012 at 8:26 am |
    • Earle Moreland

      This poor deluded liberal (Prothero) is apparently incapable of understanding that Romney's life and actions are far more consistent with Christian beliefs than Obama's, regardless of the phony Christian image that our imperial president tries so hard to convey.

      November 4, 2012 at 8:39 am |
    • stillthrill1

      "To insinuate that an individual is a 'shill' for the GOP simply because they chose to endorse a candidate that MOST aligns with their beliefs, values and dreams for our country.... is simply.... retarded. And yes... I use that word intentionally."

      I will intentionally use the word retard... and call you one. Because you fail to understand what Prothero is saying. He never insinuated that Graham and Reed were shills he explicitly stated it. Furthermore, the reason they are shills is because they shift positions.

      "This is the problem with education. You go to school, develop a narrows and bias focus, without the ability to hold conflicting ideas any longer.. "

      Part of this is true. Education makes you narrow your focus and makes you biased towards consistency. All Prothero is railing against is inconsistency, which he sees in spades.

      And you should not have the ability to hold conflicting ideas... it's called cognitive dissonance. If what you really meant to say was that you cannot "evaluate conflicting ideas objectively" then I disagree.

      You're completely retarded.

      November 4, 2012 at 8:40 am |
  5. JPolk84

    Obama was the only Dem. Senator to defend an Illinois hospitals practice of inducing labor and letting the baby die outside the womb under the pretense of "abortion." Also, if the Obama Administration had won Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC a minister fired for denouncing the existence of God could sue for being fired. I cannot see Romney advocating either of these. This is why Christians at the least shouldn't vote for Obama.

    November 4, 2012 at 8:23 am |
  6. Phil J

    And to think, I thought Stephen had already hit the bottom. Oh well, keep the faith!

    November 4, 2012 at 8:12 am |
  7. Tim

    Methinks Stephen Protero hasn't spent much time with evangelical Christians. If he had then he'd know all of the reasons why evangelical Christians support Romney. It amazes me that the same camp that screams racism because we won't vote for Obama then encourages us to be bigots based on Romney's religion. Sad part is, while 4% of Americans won't vote for a black man, 18% won't vote for a Mormon.

    Sad thing is, to call Obama a Christian is a stretch. No, he's not Muslim. He's not anything. Obama worships Obama. His public life certainly doesn't bear any fruit of a Christian life. In the absence of either candidate having a true relationship with Christ, I'm left with having to choose which one models biblical teachings more. That candidate is hands down Mitt Romney.

    November 4, 2012 at 7:54 am |
  8. Eric

    Amazing. A liberal has the chutzpah to accuse Christians of being irreligious. Is there no low to which you people won't sink? One thing is consistent, though: Liberals have always been, and will always be, fueled by hate.

    November 4, 2012 at 7:52 am |
    • stillthrill1

      "One thing is consistent, though: Liberals have always been, and will always be, fueled by hate."

      One thing is consistent regarding the comments here... is that they never actually make any meaningful criticism of the blog post or discuss what Prothero is really talking about... (which is the inconsistency of Graham and Reed... hello?).

      November 4, 2012 at 8:46 am |
  9. Calypso

    I am an evangelical Christian who voted early for Romney, and am also campaigning for him. WHY? Because supporting a patriot American MORMON, who believes in freedom, is far superior to supporting a Post-American/Internationalist, Islamic/Sharia supporting, neo-Marxist agitator.

    Mr. Prothero, I have been researching Obama heavily since 2007. I know who/what he is, and my guess is that you don't have the slightest clue.

    Obama is the worst "leader" we could possibly re-elect. That is, of course, if we don't want to descend into Totalitarianism.

    Oh, and Mr. Prothero, chew on this one for a while... "There are no so blind as those who will not see." That, sir, describes YOU and your ilk.

    November 4, 2012 at 7:33 am |
    • Eric

      He knows exactly who Obama is. That's why he's working for CNN, masquerading as a "Christian."

      November 4, 2012 at 7:53 am |
    • stillthrill1

      Maybe if you read the article a couple of times then you will finally understand what Prothero is actually saying... until then... keep trying...

      November 4, 2012 at 8:49 am |
  10. Carri

    I'm not voting for a Pastor-in-chief, I'm voting for a Commander-in-chief. I'm voting for Romney, not because he is a Mormon, but because he is conservitive. If we (Christians) followed your thinkimg, sir, we would not be voting at all. "Don't vote for Romney because Mormanism is a cult" but then we also can not vote for Obama because he is pro-abortion and not for traditional family. So, I guess that would be one way for Obama to win this election, guilt Christians into not voting at all!

    November 4, 2012 at 7:12 am |
  11. milopup09

    Some one finally called out the HYPOCRISY of the Christians supporting Mitt Romney. Dumping their long held beliefs that the Mormon religion is more cult-like than Christian. But all of this goes with the myth that the Republican Party is the"God" party and the Democrats are a bunch of Godless atheists. Droves of Christians flock to the Republican camp lured by the empty promises of the Republican party to end abortion, often voting against their own economic self interests as a result.

    As a Christian voting for Obama, in Mitt Romney I see a man who has served his own interests in amassing a personal fortune often at the expense of ruining others lives. But don't believe me, just Google "Sensata" and "Bain Capital". In Barack Obama, I see a decent family man, husband and a President that does have Christian compassion and love in his heart. Traits that are ignored by politically motivated faux Christian Republicans.

    November 4, 2012 at 7:09 am |
    • betterjobbootcamp

      Are you serious? Sensata is your argument? Seriously?? Romney is anti-China, and has said so six thousand times. Holding Romney accountable for Sensata is like holding Lincoln accountable for the number one killer of young black men in America... (black on black violence.. in case you didn't know). Maybe we should hold George Washington responsible.. or just all the Founding Fathers.. since they created the individual liberties that allow someone like Mr. Romeny to succeed.

      Personally, I'm holding Bill Gates and Steve Jobs (RIP) responsible for your ignorant comment, since they created the hardware you probably used to post your 'comment'.

      November 4, 2012 at 8:37 am |
    • cj

      As a Christian, you need to look up Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, where an atheist sued for being fired as a minister of the Lutheran Church.

      If you want your church to be forced to put in place a minister that denies the beliefs of your church, then vote for Obama.

      If you want churches to be forced to do things against their beliefs, such as provide contraception if you don't think it is right, vote for Obama.

      If you want someone who lies, misrepresents, and demonizes his political enemies, vote for Obama.

      If you believe the lies that Romney is evil, vote for Obama.

      November 4, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • JonnyV

      Obama has Christian love in his heart...
      Really? Christian love is for infanticide? Christian love is embracing our enemies at the cost of our friends? Christian love is stealing others resources and repurposing them as I see fit? Christian love is lying continually about your record and blaming everyone else for your failures and current condition? Christian love is about encouraging victimhood so that I can empower myself by those so enslaved?
      If Obama is the representation of Christian Love, you have a tough religion to peddle. It's what a man does with his own resources, how he treats his own friends and neighbors, what kind of principles he personally believes and publicly lives out that represent his heart. Not words, not blame, not legal plundering of others for false charity! Give me a charitable mormon who values life and believes in the founding principles of this nation over a hand wringing narcisisist who believes charity begins at home, my home, your home, but not his home.
      I'll thake Romney.

      November 4, 2012 at 9:35 am |
    • Robert

      IMHO, saying that you are a christian voting for Obama is an oxymoron. I agree that President Obama appears to be a decent family man and husband. He also appears to be a very like-able person that I would enjoy socially. The real problem is what else he appears to be through his actions, background and experience. He came up through the Chicago political machine, attended Black Liberation church, has a Muslim heritage, has not supported Israel to the extent that christians believe he should, supports abortion beyond what even the most liberal christians should. Plus his actions have shown that he has divided this country beyond recognition. He has made it unpopular to be a proud american. We don't know what Mr. Romney can, or will do if elected. I just know that I certainly don't want four more years of President Obama. Whatever Mr. Romney's Mormonism stands for, I know it more closely resembles my beliefs than Mr. Obama's convenient claim to christianity.

      November 4, 2012 at 7:20 pm |
  12. Chris

    Spread the poverty vote Obama – 2012

    Check you facts Matt 19:21. If that is the standard then vote for the guy who has given and done more to the poor? I can only imagine how you would have judged Christ as you witnessed him turn water into wine. Perhaps with your measuring stick he was a Magician? Get over your bigotry and see Romney as God propably see's him. The greatest gift we have is life second unto that is the ability to choose. I do't like the government choosing my lifes path.

    November 4, 2012 at 7:08 am |
  13. kevin

    tell me that blaks aren,t voting for obama because he is half black!

    November 4, 2012 at 6:51 am |
    • Tony

      Are you voting for Mitt because he is white? Sounds like it.

      November 4, 2012 at 9:42 am |
  14. InOhio

    The Bible plainly states, "if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant". Real simple, look back and you will find that oh yes this nation was founded on an undenying faith in God! Don't believe me? Pull a dollar bill out and read what it says, "In God We Trust". Our soldiers fought and died for our flag, our nation, our freedom,
    and YES, the belief in God that this nation was founded upon!!

    November 4, 2012 at 6:41 am |
  15. Robert

    Contrary to what Mr. Prothero has concluded in his own words, evangelicals and christians do not have a desire to put "christians" in office, shill for the GOP, or even vote based on religion. It's the values that the candidates represent that really matter. President Obama has consistently shown through his actions toward Israel, his black liberation experiences, his muslim heritage, and through the Democrat Platform that he does NOT represent Christian beliefs or values. Although Mr. Romney's Mormonism is contrary to several scriptural doctrines, it is his actions and values that have swayed the evangelical community to support him. This complies with the usual voter decision to go with the lesser of two evils. In addition, contrary to popular belief, christians are not mindless sheep that follow the crowd. Mr. Romney has demonstrated the desire to return the U.S. of A. back to greatness while reforming Washington to a spirit of cooperation. Who knows, maybe under his leadership, Congress can actually get something accomplished in a bi-partisan fashion.

    November 4, 2012 at 6:26 am |
  16. Sam

    CNN amazes me. So, Christians need to stop Islamophobia but need to keep up Mormon-phobia?

    CNN says discrimination against President Obama because of his race is supposedly rampant, and yet discrimination against Romney because of his religion (another protected category, just to remind CNN), is encouraged, and needs to grow?

    Christians need to realize a "blue state Jesus" is reality (even though Jesus said YOU take care of the poor; give to the government that which is theirs, and YOU help your fellow beings, personally, not through abstract government programs that may or may not even end up helping the poor?) I just don't get it.

    CNN, your hypocrisy is showing quite clearly. All of us can learn and grow, but as long as CNN keeps making religion about politics, we're getting nowhere.

    November 4, 2012 at 6:17 am |
  17. Defib

    While Mormonism may, in my opinion, be correctly labeled a cult, I think you are absolutely ignoring the fact that Barack Obama was a member of or attended a church for 20 years that teaches hatred and revenge as the "Christlike" thing to do as a part of Black Liberation Theology. I'd rather vote for the one who displays love and truth and character as his principles than one who believes that hatred and revenge are the way of Christ, who maintains a "hit" list (probably more than one), and who is so wrapped up in his campaigning that he ignores our allies and our Embassy's needs. Additionally, Barack Obama has made a shambles of the economy, he has jumped to conclusions without knowing or exploring the facts (black professor going into home, etc.), he has wrecked our reputation in the world political arena and our bond rating with his plan to spend our way out of debt (brilliant). He has provided a track to tax and beat down the very ones he says he's trying to protect by increasing inflation AND prices (include gasoline, energy, and food since all of us need those), and a track to punish those of us who've worked hard all of our lives and followed the rules because we put our money in which we receive less interest than the rate of inflation, causing us to lose money. And now he wants to raise the taxes on the dividends and capital gains, to punish us even more! Please tell me why you think it makes ANY sense for me to vote for Barack Obama!!!

    November 4, 2012 at 5:16 am |
  18. Bill Cribbs

    Not voting for Romney because he is a Mormon...but because he is not Obama. And he is right on the economy.

    November 4, 2012 at 4:50 am |
  19. Pam

    I am an Evangelical Christian and I will tell you exactly why I am voting against Barack Obama: he has expressed a desire to divide Israel. And sir, if you had read your Bible you would know that the parting of Israel is the event that will precipitate calamitous events. Christians cannot vote for the person who is on the wrong side of that issue.

    November 4, 2012 at 4:30 am |
  20. Rev

    You sir are absolutely correct. How dare you!

    November 4, 2012 at 3:46 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.