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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. chimpo

    A Christian stance?? Mormons are not Christians. It is blasphemous to say so. Mormonism was founded by a con artist with multiple arrests That is a fact. Do a wiki search on Parley P. Pratt, Mitt Romney's great grandfather. See why he was killed by a jealous husband. Oh yeah. He also had 12 wives. some friggin' Christian.

    November 4, 2012 at 5:34 pm |
    • truth be told

      It is not what Mormons do that exclude them from Christianity but rather what they believe. A vote for a Mormon is a vote for an anti- Christ

      November 4, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
    • Shadesofgray

      You should take your own advice about false prophets. 'the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God or religion; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, affirming that he is God. Remember ye not, that when I was with you, I used to tell you these things? And now ye know what detaineth, that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work; only he who now hinders must hinder, until he be taken out of the way. Usually these rebukes about the Anti-Christ referred to the "Empire" (government), through the centuries a few individuals (even Pope's) were named. Oh, and God uses the worst among us, like Saul, who became Paul (was he the Anti-Christ too?)

      November 4, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • Sonya

      "Mormons are not Christians." I find it profoundly ironic that the likes of Chimpo would claim to know anything at all about Christians. Clearly he does not. Nor does he possess any wisdom in regards to this election or any other consequential topics.

      November 4, 2012 at 8:33 pm |
  2. FRANK

    And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed:

    12 And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned. ISIAH 29/11

    November 4, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
    • FRANK

      This book mentoioned in Isaiah 29/11 is the book of mormon

      November 4, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • Kris

      Your interpretation is wrong. God is speaking of prophets and seers and the spirit of "deep sleep" that God has put on those in Israel. He says, this is LIKE giving someone a sealed book to read, but they cannot read it because it sealed or they are unlearned and unable to read. Even so, the prophets and rulers had no ability to "see" because God had "closed their eyes" to the truth and visions He may have given to an obedient people. You must read the Bible in its context.

      November 4, 2012 at 5:40 pm |
    • truth be told

      A Mormon is not a Christian and has no mention in the Bible other than in the warnings concerning false teaching. A vote for a Mormon is a vote for an Anti – Christ.

      November 4, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
  3. P. Leonard

    So...you are encouraging BIGOTRY?...is this a Christian Stance?

    So much for the "tolerance" of the left....

    A more hypocritical post cannot be found anywhere on the freaking planet!

    November 4, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
    • chimpo

      From the left? I am a white Christian evangelical. Mitt Romney is a cult member, pure and simple. I am merely defending true Christians. My Bible says that whoever changes the words of the Bible is a blasphemer. The Book of Mormon sure does that, doesn't it? Beware false prophets.

      November 4, 2012 at 5:38 pm |
    • Shadesofgray

      Chimpo – You should take your own advice about false prophets. 'the son of perdition, who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God or religion; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, affirming that he is God. Remember ye not, that when I was with you, I used to tell you these things? And now ye know what detaineth, that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work; only he who now hinders must hinder, until he be taken out of the way. Usually these rebukes about the Anti-Christ referred to the "Empire" (government), through the centuries a few individuals (even Pope's) were named. Oh, and God uses the worst among us, like Saul, who became Paul (was he the Anti-Christ too? You suggest we research, I suggest the same to you.

      November 4, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  4. FRANK

    16 Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one astick, and bwrite upon it, For cJudah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick, and dwrite upon it, For eJoseph, the fstick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions:

    17 And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become aone in thine hand.

    November 4, 2012 at 5:25 pm |
    • FRANK

      the 1st stick is the bible–the 2nd stick is the book of mormon–EZIEKIEL 37/16

      November 4, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  5. Kris

    @Chimpoo
    I hope you're not espousing to be a Christian yourself. If so, spouting out names and insults does no more give credit to yourself than to the one you're insulting. The Bible says to let your words be seasoned with grace. Obama may or may not be a Muslim, but he's certainly not a Christian either.

    November 4, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
    • Sonya

      Obama is a Marxist. As to his spiritual beliefs, they are quite universalist. Obama is no more a Christian than Romney. Although, Romney is a patriot American who believes in our free republic. Obama does not. He is a profoundly dangerous man who is making good on his promise to fundamentally transform America.

      VOTE AGAINST OBAMA if you care about your future and the future of this country!

      November 4, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  6. chimpo

    When Romney is defeated, what do we do with this Kooky right wing filth? I got it. Let's build a big fence around Utah, dump them all in and let them legitimately r-pe each other. Because nothing says women's rights like a religion based on polygamy.

    November 4, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • FRANK

      chimpo..were you in that tarzan flick?

      November 4, 2012 at 5:21 pm |
    • Sonya

      Guess this means that Chimpo approves of Jeremiah Wright and his kook-fringe HATE church in Chicago.

      November 4, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  7. FRANK

    Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? {JOHN 10/34} 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? who is this author?

    November 4, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • FRANK

      Never let facts get in the way of a perfectly good delusion.

      November 4, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  8. Palerider1957

    Hey Stephen and CNN YOU BIGOTS!
    I notice quite a few derogatory and inflamatory comments. But I'll keep it simple for you racist bigots.
    1) Mormon is a cult to most Christians.
    But, as you say "WHITE evangelical Christians are going for Romney. Well, considering our other choice is a muslim the choice isn't so hard, is it?
    And don't give my that "pResident Soetoro is a Christain garbage either. He is a muslim. His actions and words over the last 4 years prove unequivocally that he is muslim. But for you mindless dolts who only say what you are told to say by the Demon-ratws, just look at his wedding band. Is says: There is only one God, allah."
    There is not one single Christian who would ever say or even think that, let alone have it emblazoned on their wedding ring.

    Now, I also notice your RACIST comment of "WHITE evangelicals" voting for Romney. It seems that you have forgotten about the BLACK evangelical Christians" that have also left the plantation and are voting or encouraging the congregations to also vote for Romney. Now how and why would you miss such a huge turn around from BLACK Christians? Could it be to inflect RACISM into the article? Nah, couldn't be that. Just an over site, right?
    No, it isn't. It is about the only mantra left to pResident Soetoro and the Demon-rats. "It's racist, it's racist".
    Wonder why all the true BLACK Christians are also fleeing the muslim in chief? Since they are black themselves, it can't be racism, could it? I guess it's that they are a bunch of "Uncle Toms"??
    Or is it possible that they also see the destruction of America and the rapidly growing CHRISTIAN PERSECUTION from our government, liberals and dolts like you in the MSM?
    or is it his (pResidnet Soeotro's) STATED policies?

    November 4, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
    • Gina

      point well taken. Palerider. CNN treats their viewers as sheeple. What do you expect? They pray to Obama their messiah. MSNBC and CBS and ABS are the same. I don't know if I'm watching Entertainment Tonight or News anymore. News should be fair and balanced, not biased. I have never heard anyone say 'idiotic' like a 5 year old except for the liberal media. I believe in freedom of speech but this is way too far and inappropriate.

      November 4, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Steve

      This is so simple...I trust Mitt Romney to not allow his personal faith to influence federal policies that affect us all. I do not so trust Barack Obama. As long as he claims to be a "Christian" but has not repudiated any faith in Islam, he is in my opinion still professing the Muslim religion of his upbringing. His claim to Christianity is but convenience. When all is said and done I trust Romney, Mormon as he may be, more than I trust Obama.

      November 4, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • KimG

      It has been verified that the ring in question does NOT mention Allah or even any words at all.

      November 4, 2012 at 9:35 pm |
  9. Shadesofgray

    Religious bigotry at its finest. I am sure God is very disappointed.

    November 4, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
    • chimpo

      Actually, God just called and thanked me for warning America about electing a diaper wearing cult member. Something about beware false prophets. And what is this nonsense about Obama being a Muslim? That's an outright lie, you disgusting filth. But Romney really is a diaper wearing cult member. Do some research. It matters.

      November 4, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Shadesofgray

      I'm sure God has your number. There is only one God, yet many religions based on the Interpretation of humankind. People will believe what fits their personal philosophy. For it is written many times throughout the bible that we don't have the authority to change Gods word, one of the strongest of these is Revelation 22:18-19 says, "For I testify unto everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book, if anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; And if anyone takes away from the words of this book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, and from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book." Unless you can read Aramaic, Hebrew or Greek I suggest you may have been lead astray.

      November 4, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
    • Sonya

      Chimpo, I've done plenty of research. And Obama is a Marxist with deep Muslim sympathies.

      And what are you? You call people you disagree with disgusting filth. Here's a suggestion, hold up a mirror and say that loudly and with conviction... now you're talking. Hypocrite!

      November 4, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
  10. Gigi

    I am one of those conservative Christians voting for Romney. Trust me...it is really difficult voting for Romney but I would rather have a mormon over a muslim any day of the week.

    November 4, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
    • chimpo

      Wow. Betray your faith for politics? God has a special place in hell for you.

      November 4, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • Mickey1313

      Anyone who thinks obama is muslem is absolutely f_ing stupid.

      November 4, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
    • hirschlaw

      Another anti-Christian blog written by an intellectual elitist, who is truly neither. Christians support Romney not because they excuse the theological error of that faith, but because they subscribe to the moral code they both share. I doubt this fellow genuinely believes his argument but rather saw an opportunity to create a straw man to serve his own political purposes.

      What a creative blend of ignorance and manipulation.

      By the way, people (Mormons) who would join in protecting others (Muslims) simply because they, too, were at one time persecuted would be demonstrating a greater allegiance to the commonality of victimhood than to their religious doctrine. Again, ignorance and manipulation create a thinly veiled and bigoted assault on Christians and Mormons for political purposes.

      And he's accusing me of being a hypocrite?

      November 4, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  11. FRANK

    Gov. Christie is no fool. He knows romney wins election. But the dems believe he switched sides{the media made it into that} Christie just needed help for his state. Christies no fool.//obama controls media...it will be great to get those freaks off from msnbc..most of them will not have jobs after this election.

    November 4, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  12. Dude

    So now Christians are supposed to be religious bigots and NOT vote for Romney just b/c he's a Mormon? How ridiculous! I'm Baptist but I will vote FOR Romney b/c of his politics- not religion. In fact, I NEVER vote/or not vote based on a candidate's religious beliefs. To not vote for Romney or anyone due to their deeply held beliefs is being a bigot and this clown is chiding us for not being bigots. Simply amazing!

    Apparently he is upset b/c so many Christians put country ahead of religion (as it should be). I have read a lot of silly posts but this has to be up there with the top...

    November 4, 2012 at 4:50 pm |
  13. GJH

    Jesus said "pay unto Caesar what is Caesar's" but if given the opportunity to vote on what Caesar could ask for, you can bet how they would vote. Even if it was between two Roman rulers, the one they had and one with seemingly better morals, and wiser with their taxes they would vote for the 'lesser of two evils'. Wouldn't you?

    November 4, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • Kris

      Agreed.

      November 4, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • truth be told

      A vote for a Mormon is a vote for an anti – Christ, no grey areas there. You had best define lesser of two evils carefully.

      November 4, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • Kris

      Truth be told...to NOT vote is a vote for the Anti-Christ. To sit back and do nothing, and to let millions more babies die each year is a vote for the Anti-Christ. To not TRY and change anything is laziness, irresponsibility, and sin. In James it says, "To him who knows what is good and does not do it, to HIM it is sin."

      November 4, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • truth be told

      Mormonism from its founding has been anti – Christ in its teaching and practice. A vote for a Mormon IS a vote for an anti – Christ, historical, biblical fact.

      November 4, 2012 at 5:03 pm |
    • Kris

      I'm not contesting that Mormonism is a false teaching and anti-Christ. But if you're advocating not to vote because the candidate is part a false religion, then voting for any non-Christian is wrong. And I believe, according to the Bible, you have a responsibility to vote for the greater good.

      November 4, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  14. LinCA

    @John W.

    Never let facts get in the way of a perfectly good delusion.

    November 4, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  15. Mike

    @article You think? I've had bible 'conservatives' switch topics with me from their political views straight into talking about how members of my faith should be put to death, complete with supporting bible quotes. Talk about awkward, because I never brought it up. Happened more than once, always while the other person is completely ignorant of my faith. Bunch of lunatics if you ask me. I'm half tempted to support them getting that kind of religious freedom so I can apply for permits to perform blood sacrifices in the old way.

    November 4, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
    • Palerider1957

      You are so full of it. Christians do not talk about killing others. It isn't scriptural, you know it, I know it. The only people who believe what you just posted are just a bunch of dolts, just like you.
      Maybe you should leave that muslim faith of your. They are the ones who actually kill anybody who doesn't agree with them.

      November 4, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  16. Bill

    The author says he is "...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."
    He must be a lot older than he lets on, becuase his memory is playing tricks on him.

    The purpose of the Xian Coalition was never to put born agains into political office. The purpose was to help Christians engage the public culture and to help create a just society.

    The author may not agree with their conception of social justice, but it's important to be honest and avoid inventing motives purposes that never existed.

    November 4, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
  17. FRANK

    Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? {JOHN 10/34} this is to that woman who keeps writing false things concerning religion. I believe her name is "mormons are christians?"

    November 4, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
  18. FRANK

    OBAMA GROUND GAME..THIS AIN'T PRO FOOTBALL//THIS ELECTION IS OVER...THE MEDIA CONROLS BUT THE AMERICAN PEOPLE ARE SMARTER THAN THE OBAMMA GROUND GAME TAKES THEM FOR..OBAMA IS DESPERATE..4 MORE YEARS AND THERE IS A GOOD CHANCE WE'LL HAVE MARSHALL LAW..HE ALREADY CONTROLS THE MEDIA...AND I AM SUPPOSED TO BELIEVE THE MEDIA WHEN THEY SAY OBAMA IS AHEAD?....THIS ELECTION IS.."ROMNEY WINS IN LANDSLIDE!"

    November 4, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
  19. FRANK

    BJ BILL CLINTON CAMPAIGNING FOR 4 MORE YEARS OF PARTYING IN WHITE HOUSE...WE NOW HAVE A MORMON PRESIDENT...GET OVER IT HOLLYWOOD–NO MORE PARTYING IN WHITE HOUSE..THE WHITE HOUSE HAS IT'S INTEGRITY RESORED

    November 4, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
  20. John W.

    What a choice for Christian voters this year. A Muslim and a Mormon. Well, I guess the mormon gets the vote this time and we get a real Christian in 4 more years...

    November 4, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • LinCA

      @John W.

      Never let facts get in the way of a perfectly good delusion.

      November 4, 2012 at 4:39 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.