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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. FRANK

    By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN-whos this guy...whats he know about the bible?

    November 4, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  2. tsoho

    "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?"

    Simply put. Because of the two choices they have, Mitt Romney more closely represents their views than Obama does.

    Their political views may be colored by their religion, but are not dictated by their religion. And their religion definitely does not demand that they always have to vote for a Christian.

    If a pro-life, small government pagan were running against a pro-choice big government evangelical, Christian conservatives would probably support the pagan. Why? because even evangelical Christians, when they vote for president, are voting for a secular leader, not a religious leader. They are NOT choosing the most religiously correct person, they are choosing the person whose value system most matches that which they think is best for the country.

    You claim that the goal of the Moral Majority was to get Christians elected. I disagree. Their goal was to get legislation passed that matched their Christian values. It was the legislation that mattered, not the religious dogma of the legislator.

    November 4, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
  3. FRANK

    the bible is a witness of the book of mormon///

    November 4, 2012 at 4:02 pm |
  4. FRANK

    Mormons are Christians?

    Mormon have many beliefs that contradict the bible. the bible testifies of the book of mormon

    November 4, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
  5. FRANK

    While most religions believe in God, the LDS religion believes in God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit as separate beings. BY "CRISTIANS ARE MORMONS" JESUS "IS" A SEPERATE BEING FROM THE FATHER====WHO WAS HE PRAYING TO IN THE GARDEN OF GETHSANAME?-THE FATHER THE SON AND THE HOLY GHOST ARE SEPERATE

    November 4, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  6. Craig Bernthal

    The Huckabee ad does not say that a vote for Obama is a vote for your own damnation. Romney's position on abortion
    gives good grounds for evangelical Christians to vote for him rather than Obama. HIs immense charitable giving is an admirable
    example for Christians to follow. There's no hypocrisy involved in voting for Romney, especially given the choice. Your post is depressingly distorted.

    November 4, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
    • MCR

      No, it just says your vote will be "recorded for eternity." Gee, that's not a threat or anything.

      November 4, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  7. cooper

    Does anyone here believe that if Jesus was here that he would actually be politically charged for the left or right, or even vote at all. Remember that when he walked the earth most of his messages word totally contrary to the common consensus, especially to the leader of the church/synagog.

    November 4, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
    • FRANK

      jesus is here

      November 4, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • OTOH

      FRANK
      "jesus is here"

      So is Puff the Magic Dragon.

      November 4, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • cooper

      Frank I think you misunderstood what I said. I said if Jesus was here as in the way he was 2000 years ago.

      November 5, 2012 at 12:41 am |
    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      Jesus IS here. Your lawn will be mowed very soon.

      November 5, 2012 at 12:45 am |
  8. TB

    As a Christian, I am thankful for a man who practices his faith! Unlike the current president who claims it with his words and doesn't live it! I may disagree with the tenants of Mr. Romney's faith, I respect someone who does have lived out faith...he'll get my vote!

    November 4, 2012 at 3:19 pm |
    • Mickey1313

      Faith its a mental disorder. You have just proven how foolish americans are. If you don't make 250k a year, and you vote for mittins, you are an absolute bafoon.

      November 4, 2012 at 3:27 pm |
    • True Believer

      Mickey Mouse, you have that wrong, I think you meant to say Liberalism is a mental disorder. "The universe, which is subject to the law that no energy can be created or destroyed, came from nothing". Yes, I am aware that E^2 = (mc^2)^2, but how then would you account for all the information that was created at the same time? Did that come from nothing too? Way more preposterous than accepting that it was all created. Seriously, think a little deeper.

      November 4, 2012 at 3:46 pm |
  9. Li'l Timmy

    Uhhh, governments are secular as ordained by the Lord himslef ("Render unto Caesar..."), but that doesn't mean we Christians have to vote for the secular candidate. We get to vote for the one that best represents our belief's. Ergo, we break for Romney.
    I guess I could rightfully make the counter argument that black Christians are putting politics ahead of their faith by voting 90+% for Obama in spite of his support for abortion, attacks on the Catholic Church etc, but in the left's eyes that would make me a racist because I dared point out the inconsistency.

    November 4, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
    • Mickey1313

      Faith its a mental disorder. You have just proven how foolish americans are. If you don't make 250k a year, and you vote for mittins, you are an absolute bafoon.

      November 4, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  10. cooper

    Galatians 1:8
    English Standard Version (©2001)
    But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

    Notice that Paul didn't didn't use some demonized person, but he said even if an "angel" or I should preach a different gospel, "let him be accursed." I agree with this article very much so, but it's not just the right. It is the right and left. Pastors are willing to overlook much for Obama and for Romney, though our "citizenship is supposed to be in heaven." In other words our alliance is to God and His word first. However, American Christianity is very corrupted, and it is always amended for convenience. It has been like that in America, used for control, power or money. It is easy to be confused when you judge your walk with God by weighing yourself against other Christians and not Jesus.

    November 4, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • FRANK

      and that gospel which he was preaching is found in the book of mormon

      November 4, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • cooper

      Are kidding? I'm not being sarcastic in my question.
      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-0gnbTREtFo&w=640&h=390]
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03vrQHQuTMo&feature=relmfu
      [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wndhHF4t0Bc&w=640&h=390]
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onlo8bLSTVE&feature=related

      November 5, 2012 at 1:37 am |
  11. NobleHead

    The one thing that I just have to ask is, "Does Stephen Prothero even know, what a Christian is?”

    Christianity is not about competing for elbowroom at the polls or slamming a politician just because they are or are not "Christian." The Bible teaches Christians that those who have rule over us are there by the power of God, not because some "journalist" has found them to be fit for office.

    Be thinking this Mr. Stephen Prothero, Christians vote as they are lead by the Gospel, we will call you if we need you but do not hold your breath...

    November 4, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  12. Cooper

    Galatians 1:8
    English Standard Version (©2001)
    But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

    2 Corinthians 11:4
    English Standard Version (©2001)
    For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.

    Galatians 3:3
    New International Version (©1984)
    Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?

    November 4, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  13. C.K.

    Maybe a Christian would vote for a Mormon because we have seen the path of destruction Obama has done to Christianity. Obama does not respect, embody, or endorse any real aspect of Christianity, but only to use it for a pin on his coat in the hopes of getting a vote. I would be better to have a man that will not hinder Christians than one who will lie to their faces and take their freedom. So you are wrong, they are putting their faith ahead of politics by taking the lesser of two evils.

    November 4, 2012 at 2:46 pm |
  14. queenzile

    we're voting for a PRESIDENT, NOT a Pastor!

    November 4, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • True Believer

      Amen! Testify!!!!

      November 4, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  15. Momof2

    Neither of these men are born again Christians. One of these men is pro-life, pro-marriage and pro-Israel. Only one man to vote for. The other person wants to be a celebrity, not a president.

    November 4, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  16. 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.

    Billy has sold his soul to the devil.

    November 4, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • FRANK

      you've been posting this same short story since yesterday...i can shoot this nonsense so full of holes "you aint seen nothin yet

      November 4, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  17. Chris

    Clearly in the Bible, those who stand against Israel will be judged. A vote for Obama is a vote against Israel.
    Edom was wiped out because they did not back up Israel.

    November 4, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • Mormons are Christians?

      Mormon have many beliefs that contradict the bible.

      November 4, 2012 at 2:35 pm |
    • True Believer

      Edom was wiped out, but Rome went on for another 500 years after wiping them out and flourished. Think about why.

      November 4, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  18. Louis Friend

    So a Christian can't vote for Romney because he is a Mormon? That is the most asinine comment I have ever heard of. Barrack Obama states that he believes there is more than one way to heaven, which clearly means he is not a Christian because Jesus is the only way. You don't have to believe that, but Obama is no more worthy of a Christian's vote than Romney. To suggest that a Christian should vote for someone's faith is like saying a black man should vote for someone's color. Last time I look racism was a problem that is driven by stupid commentaries like yours, so let's get off the high horse and use some common sense if you can find someone in your bubble who has some.

    November 4, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • truth be told

      You can vote for whomever you choose just be warned that a vote for a Mormon is a vote for an anti – Christ. Do not confuse a Republican candidate with righteousness.

      November 4, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    November 4, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  20. Eric

    Good Samaritan parable by Jesus Christ teaches that ones that call themselves religious (in the Bible this story was about Jews passing by a fellow Jew in need) but don't help it are not acting within God's will, while the outsider (the Samaritan) acts out of kindness and compassion as a true believer. Obama calling himself a Christian, but supports the slaughter of innocents while the cultist that protects the children – who exemplifies Christ more?

    November 4, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
    • truth be told

      Obama, the cultist is an anti -Christ as such is not available to Truth. A vote for a Mormon is a vote for an anti- Christ, no gray area there.

      November 4, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • Mormons are Christians?

      A cultist that believes he will become a God. A cult that believes that it will take over the US starting with the white house. And make the US a Mormon nation.
      Wake up.

      November 4, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • True Believer

      So "Truth" be told, who is a Christian to vote for in your world, their pastor? Or perhaps no one, climb a mountain and wait for the Lord? We have a secular government and we are in the world but not of it, you vote for the guy that best represents your beliefs even if neither is a biblical Christian...and that is black and white.

      November 4, 2012 at 3:29 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.