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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. fred smith

    How dumb can you be? Obama is a communist muslim and wants to destroy America for revenge of his father. You are the one that is not being true to God if you support him.

    November 5, 2012 at 7:18 am |
    • Scott

      Fred, when was the last time you prayed for the POTUS as the Bible instructs?

      November 5, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  2. carol

    nice try you "religious" liberals. we would love a Christian president, but libs like you would never let him be elected. you allowed romney because you thought you could persuade evangelicals not to vote for him. obama is pushing our culture into a sewer. christians had better vote for romney or we'll see the gay culture take over our churches and close them down.

    November 5, 2012 at 6:57 am |
    • MCR

      You guys got Romney because you've blocked ranked balloting initiatives at every turn. You want a system that elects nobody's choice, you got it.

      November 5, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  3. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    November 5, 2012 at 6:33 am |
  4. Doug Lynn

    Obama is a wicked man regardless of the faith he claims to possess. His policies are Marxist, not Christian.

    November 5, 2012 at 6:05 am |
    • Scott

      Doug, your questioning God over who He put in the White House (and the consequences) is directly addressed in Romans 13:2.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:52 am |
  5. Liz Williams

    If any of you are concerned about the next President of the United States being of Mormon faith, you need to see this:

    http://vimeo.com/52163082?action=share. David Jeremiah says it all so well. Please watch.

    November 5, 2012 at 4:29 am |
    • Sheila

      Heavenly Father,

      Tomorrow I will be voting for a man who does not believe in you as you have taught us in your Word. He believes Holy Scripture is full of error and incomplete. He believes you were once man, but that you have been exalted to a celestial planet as a flesh and bone being. He does not believe in the Holy Trinity, which makes a mockery of the sacrifice of your son. He would never wear a cross or hang one in his home or place of worship. He would never sing Amazing Grace. He does not believe your son, Jesus Christ, is enough. He believes he will one day be an exalted being like you.

      Although his religion does not teach the truth of salvation, it is the fastest growing in 26 states and the world. But I can't worry about Biblical truths and the commands of Christ right now. We have biblical principles at stake. Billy Graham said so . . . in a released statement. I hope you understand MY priorities. In Jesus' Holy Name. Amen.

      November 5, 2012 at 6:29 am |
  6. Patrick

    Scholar apparently is now synonomous with moron. In an election, you make a chioice. And in our system it is one or the other. People will always choose someone who is more in line with their collective of views then someone who is not. What in the world gives this out-of-touch expert the right to single religion out of the mix? Because he is a "scholar"?

    Isn't it convenient when things don't go well for liberals that they choose slander and bigotry, the very thing they profess to detest in the rest of us. The only person putting politics ahead of God is Obama byn Lyin, the Anti-Christ himself: witness Obamacare. Crawl back in your hole Steve. You wreak of desperation.

    November 5, 2012 at 1:45 am |
    • Romnesia

      Are you saying that Obama has called mormonism a cult for decades but now changed that position for political reasons?
      I think you've totally misunderstood.

      November 5, 2012 at 2:01 am |
  7. donner

    google "20 truths about Mormonism" You won't believe it.

    November 5, 2012 at 1:21 am |
    • Jake

      Donner- Mormon.org has the official church doctrines. Polyanna said it best "If you look for the bad in people you will surely find it". Maybe you should look more into all the good the Mormon church does before you condemn it.

      November 5, 2012 at 2:13 am |
    • Mittology

      Jake, Didn't Reagan say trust but verify? So it makes sense to read other information about mormonism? It's a bit like the religious types who only read the bible but no history of the bible or history of religion or science, but consider themselves informed. Righteously informed.

      November 5, 2012 at 2:27 am |
  8. Helen Warner

    Well for a religious scholar, you certainly don't understand Christianity. Christians are not electing a pastor or a pope; we are electing a political leader. We would love our President to be a Christian, but since our only choices are between a Morman with the same kind of values as Christians and a President who says he is a Christian but belongs to a party that routinely stands against Christian values, we will take the Morman. Democrats have become increasingly hostile toward Christianity and in their quest to become the most tolerant and politically correct party, they have become militantly intollerant of Christianity and have accused Christians of being uncaring, biggoted, hypocrits for defending our values. The President claims to be Christian but has not shown himself to be one nor has he stood for family or christian values. I'm choosing Mitt Romney not because he is or isn't a Christian, its because I feel he and his party will defend my rights to practice my religion.

    November 4, 2012 at 11:57 pm |
    • donner

      So Helen, you will vote for a party that endorses legitimate r-pe? That says you will give birth to the child of a r-pist, or risk going to jail?? Are you sick in the head?? This is a Christian country with Christian values. Mormons are not Christians. They are cultists. Jesus will have a special place in hell for you if you vote for Romney. Think. Please?

      November 5, 2012 at 12:18 am |
    • Scott

      Hi Helen, I might not understand your brand of Christianity but if you read Romans 13 then you'll see my point. The POTUS is a minister of God in the sense that he is placed in power to do good. But as between choosing between politics and God, Christians must not place politics before God. Knowing that WMR worships a satanic cult and voting for him because he suits your political agenda is wrong, according to the Bible.

      November 5, 2012 at 12:25 am |
    • Helen Warner

      ONE person (Troy Akins) said that; good grief, if I looked at the words of ONE person and let them speak for the whole democratic party, I'm sure I could find something equally heinous that a democrat has said. That is a ridiculous argument and if it is all that you can come up with then Republicans must be the better choice. Who are you to tell me where Jesus will send me? How dare you. Jesus lived in a time when Roman pagans ruled Israel and yet he said to respect and pray for Ceasar and to pay your taxes. It is not as important what religion Romney is. Mormons share many values with us. Nobody knows what religion Obama is. He has not proven himself to be Christian and does not have Christian values. Jesus will love me whichever candidate I vote for, the Bible says so. Salvation is NOT based upon elections. It is based upon Christ's dying for our sins and in our willingness to believe that and to live for him.

      November 5, 2012 at 12:31 am |
    • Helen Warner

      Scott, How is voting for Obama any different? I don't know what religion he is. He hs not supported any of my Christin values. What if neither candidate was a Christian? Do I not vote. Somethimes it comes down to the lesser of two evils. I am not voting politacally, I am voting as a Christian and I believe that republicans defend the Christian faith and our right to practice it. I fear that the longer the democrats are in power, the more freedoms we will loose until we are hiding in people's houses just to read one copy of the Bible. Wake-up and see what is happening to Christianity in more liberal countries. I feel I am making the right choice for Christians.

      November 5, 2012 at 12:38 am |
    • Scott

      Actually, not voting at all is preferable than casting a ballot for a satanic cultist. Souls are at stake here, not Obamacare, etc. Many of you forget that the POTUS does not enact laws, Congress does. If BHO is re elected, he will be unable to take away our liberties as many have claimed. In fact, he has been shut down from passing any of his proposals by a Republican controlled Congress. The country will survive Obama but if Romney is elected souls will be lost to hell and for that reason alone I could not vote for him.

      November 5, 2012 at 1:04 am |
    • Helen Warner

      Scott by the way Romans 13 was written at a time when pagan Romans were in control of Israel and Christians were being persecuted. Still Paul told us to honor and respect those that God had put in control. That alone shows that our leaders don't have to be Christian in order for God to use them. Do you think he put Hitler in control for his Christian beliefs? No, God has a plan that is WAY bigger than you and me and he is WAY more in control than you or me. God puts people in control and authority because he has a plan and although we may not understand it now, we will in the end. Did people flock to Christian churches when Obama came in office? I don't think so. I don't think Mitt Romney will be holding the Mormon equivalent of Billy Graham Crusades on the White House Lawn either so I am not too worried about a mass move to Mormonism. As Christians we should worry about our ability to spread the gospel not another religion's ability to spread theirs. If we concentrate on spreading the gospel, the Mormon's message will be drowned out. Can we spread the gospel under the republicans–Yes. Can we spread the gospel in a liberal environment?–Not so much.

      November 5, 2012 at 1:28 am |
    • Scott

      Helen, by voting for a Mormon high priest you are certainly not "drowning out Mormonism" but empowering it and allowing the White House to be used as a platform to spread the satanic cult. WMR is a Mormon high priest, not some uninvolved or disinterested lay person. I'd rather have fewer freedoms than risk losing one soul to hell. A Mormon presidency will only strengthen the cult and is something of which I want no part, especially in the afterlife when I'm judged.

      November 5, 2012 at 2:05 am |
    • Romnesia

      Helen, the GOP platform is no abortion no exceptions. Several GOP candidate have made comments like that – Akin, Mourdock. Ryan has backed the platform. Then you have the reality – Scott DesJarlais publicly says he's anti-abortion but pressured his girl-friend to have one.

      November 5, 2012 at 2:07 am |
    • itsallaloadofbollocks

      Helen.You say Obama does not follow christian values. Then you say god has a plan. Don't you see the disconnect? By your logic, god's plan must be for Obama to be president.

      November 5, 2012 at 2:10 am |
    • Nii

      Helen
      What Christian values are you talking about. Yes indeed as Christians we shouldn't have abortions and gay marriage in our midst. However the Bhuddhists, etc don't have to bow to our moral code too. This is what Obama says and it is backed by St Paul when he tells us not to be hard on non-believers for their sins but excommunicate Christians who do.
      He does not say that Christians should abort their babies

      November 5, 2012 at 5:26 am |
    • Audria

      even in the womb I knew you

      November 5, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  9. Scott

    I'm a born again Christian and I just cast my absentee ballot for Barack Obama. I believe Mormonism is a satanic cult, and that a vote for Romney would legitimize Mormonism and cause more souls to be lost to hell. At least Obama is not a cultist. I can sleep with a clear conscience that I did not try to put a Mormon bishop in the White House. The Bible also commands that we follow those that God places in charge of us as our leaders. His commandment includes praying for the President of the United States, including Obama. Christians should pray daily the president is given the wisdom and proper judgement to make the right decisions for all of us. The Lord also instructs that we cannot place politics about God. True Christians have lost sight of this and wrongly believe that Romney would have absolutely no impact on the spread of Mormonism throughout the world. A vote for Romney is a vote for Mormonism, period.

    November 4, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
    • Athy

      Prayer does nothing but make your knees sore. And waste your time.

      November 5, 2012 at 12:09 am |
    • Southern Man

      I voted for the candidate most likely to protect my right to worship freely as an evangelical Christian. Time and again Obama has proven not to be that candidate. That's one of the reasons - one of many - why I voted for Romney. We don't live in a theocracy, but a Democratic Republic, thank God for that. The timing of this piece smacks of electioneering, making you a hypocrite cloaked in piety. As if CNN ever respected my beliefs, starting with Ted Turner. Candy Crowley must not have closed the deal.

      November 5, 2012 at 12:19 am |
    • Scott

      I used to say nasty things about BHO until I started going to church again and my pastor gave a sermon on what the Bible says about our political leaders, including that we should pray for them. When was the last time each of us actually prayed for BHO, that he would make the right decisions, etc? Perhaps if we Christians prayed more for our leaders we would not find ourselves in such a mess politically or economically.

      November 5, 2012 at 1:27 am |
    • Biodun Bakare

      Scott, i still don't know why or what has Mormonism done that you sort of hate them with much passion.
      Can you pls tell me why Mormon are cults?

      November 5, 2012 at 1:29 am |
    • Dippy

      Scott; why the hell do you think prayer does anything? It's time or you to grow up and see the truth.

      November 5, 2012 at 1:53 am |
    • Jake

      Scott-

      This election is not about religion. It is about the economy. The majority of people are not better off than they were 4 years ago. Mr. Prothero is "making mountains out of mole hills" with his argument that good people like Billy Graham would choose politics over religion. Religion is thier livelyhood! The REAL question Mr. Prothero should have been asking is why would they openly support a Mormon knowing they disagree on certain doctrines and not support a self described christian like Obama? I would argue it is simply that the latter is a much greater threat to thier faith\livelyhood than the other... Think about it...

      November 5, 2012 at 1:55 am |
  10. donner

    So if a diaper wearing non Christian cult member is presidential material, what's next? Devil worshippers? For people who claim to have values, you don't seem to have any.

    November 4, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
  11. Steve McDonald

    First you criticize for being "Christian" by claiming all of us are "right wing", then you label all of us as Rebulicans, then you claim religion should stay of out politics. I guess you are the one bringing religion into politics. I support Romney, and it has nothing to do with his religion, or mine, or the fact that he is a Republican. It is just the right choice.
    And you should stop pretending to be a journalist. Bigotry in all its forms does not belong in politics. Get another job.

    November 4, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
    • donner

      hey Steve. Mitt Romney believes that when he dies he will be whisked away to planet Kolob. Do you find that to be a little odd? Or are you a Mormon?

      November 4, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
  12. donner

    Do a Google search on "Twenty truths about Mormonism" The chimp speaks the truth.

    November 4, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
  13. chimpo

    are you all working in the same Mormon call center in Cult Lake City? Can you see the temple from your window? Listen you perverted filth. this is a Christian country. Mormons aren't Christians. Will you betray you christian values and vote for a cult member?? Wake the f-ck up.

    November 4, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
    • Carl

      Your language betrays you. You might think that Mormonism is a cult but I am not sure how faithful a Christ follower you are.

      November 4, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • chimpo

      Faithful enough to know a diaper wearing cult member when I see one. Care to explain planet Kolob to everyone?

      November 4, 2012 at 10:58 pm |
    • Carl

      Chimpo, Me thinks you think you are related to the chimpanzee.

      November 4, 2012 at 11:01 pm |
    • chimpo

      Even a chimpanzee wouldn't be caught dead in a magical Mormon diaper. are they snug and absorbent, Carl?

      November 4, 2012 at 11:05 pm |
    • Helen Warner

      I can tell from your comments and responses in general that you lack knowledge on the subject and just enjoy taunting and bullying people like a school-yard brute. Its not impressive. It will not sway anyone's opinion in your favor. It is annoying and makes you look like a foolish bigot. Mormonism is a cult, but the best way to stop a cult is to show them that your religion is the true one. You are not doing a good job of representing Christians so please don't speak for us anymore.

      November 5, 2012 at 12:19 am |
  14. Zoe

    I don't understand how a Christian could vote for a democrat based on just one issue, abortion! I believe that Mitt Romney will make an excellent president. He is very smart, kind, inspirational, honest and values life. This Roman Catholic who lives in Ohio has voted early for Romney/Ryan! Don't take this wrong but Obama does not value the unborn child and his liberal agenda is more important to him than the future of this country. Obama is negative with his remarks and continues to blame everyone else for his failure to lead this country. He had his chance, time for change!

    November 4, 2012 at 10:41 pm |
    • chimpo

      so Zoe, as a woman you will vote for a party that endorses legitimate r=pe?? Earth to Zoe, earth to Zoe, are you still with us??

      November 4, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
    • Biodun Bakare

      May be if Obama mum had aborted him, we won't be passing through this now. But his mum gave him a chance to live but he has now refused to allow any unborn to live.

      November 5, 2012 at 1:34 am |
  15. Carl

    Better the good Mormon than the false Christian and closet muslim.

    November 4, 2012 at 10:38 pm |
    • chimpo

      Lying for the Lord, Carl?

      November 4, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • Carl

      Chimpo, What Lord are you following. Your language betrays you.

      November 4, 2012 at 10:59 pm |
  16. mark vuchetich

    With neither candidate being a Christian, why wouldn't we vote for the man who has more biblical and moral principals that Obama?

    November 4, 2012 at 10:37 pm |
    • chimpo

      Because Romney is a diaper wearing cult member. Is this a trick question?

      November 4, 2012 at 10:56 pm |
  17. Sheila

    The BGEA has officially changed their position on an organized religion they once considered heretical. The LDS have not changed. Without repeating the tired "president not pastor" argument, can one Romney-supporting Christian, thinking outside of the election, explain why this action should not cause concern for the faithful? No matter the political season, the acceptance of Mormonism by a bastion of traditional Christian doctrine should questioned.

    November 4, 2012 at 10:28 pm |
  18. chimpo

    Just keep talking, princess. Perverted kooks like you will seal an Obama win. You really are sick, aren't you??

    November 4, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
    • G. Johnson

      WOW Dude...you need to get a life and some common decency.All the name calling is coming from you Mr. Chimpo!!

      November 5, 2012 at 1:10 am |
  19. Concerned in Cleveland.

    Obama was raised by Muslims and ex-patriots, and educated by communists.
    I will never trust him.
    I have no idea if I can trust Romney or not,
    But the devil that I know, has to Go.

    November 4, 2012 at 10:07 pm |
    • Concerned in Cleveland.

      Furthermore, I can say firmly, as a Christian
      that I would vote for the Devil himself, over Obama
      I have a pretty firm belief that the Devil believes in Christ.
      I'd take the Devil over a pseudo-Muslim any day.

      November 4, 2012 at 10:09 pm |
    • chimpo

      I didn't know there was a Cleveland, Utah

      November 4, 2012 at 10:14 pm |
    • Pam

      I agree with you completely. For many years Obama attended a church in which the pastor on a regular basis thundered, "G -d the United States!" It is obvious Obama agreed or he would have found a new church. It is readily apparent to anyone who will study the facts that our sitting president hates this country. Now why would I want our leader to be someone who hates our nation? Furthermore, Obama favors dividing Israel. I urge all Christians to reacquaint themselves with Scripture found at Joel 3:2. Yeah, I'll vote for the Mormon over the US hating Muslim any day.

      November 5, 2012 at 5:03 am |
  20. Kevin

    And, another thing. I am a Christian and do not believe in theocracy. It does not work. The United States was founded on freedom of religion, not from religion, but free of religious offices having ruling authority. Some people may believe religious person may be better, but history proves them wrong. I've never been in a church in America who said vote for this person because they are Christian. It's always been values, not belief systems. And I've been around all kinds of Christians for 40 years. Why you, Mr. Prothero, PhD of religion, think otherwise is beyond me. Maybe your are putting politics above reason.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:59 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.