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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. Nate

    Stop it. Seriously. This is not a Christian nation and never has been (Inspect the diverse viewpoints of our forefathers; that diversity existed before modern science.). My country will always come before your religion. That sentiment is on the rise. Deal with it.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  2. God's Oldest Dreamer

    Nothing is a Foreverness and Matter, in its' infinitesimally established finiteness, is a materiaized foreverness unobtainable by us, human-like megaliths called mankind. We are all giants too huge and too vast for us to enter in wholeness back into the Kingdoms of God which are our bodies. So many damningly dumb buildings of evolution's ascension into the spatial voids of outward motions sanctioned by the Godly!

    1Corinthians 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building.

    Luke 17:21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.

    Whichever "God-Head" wins the Presindency will be the other's loss. Smoke another joint my friends and do drink up! Pass it on by!

    November 1, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  3. JM

    I can say amen to this article.

    That is the truth.

    Jesus warned people to be on their guard against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and that's what we are seeing.

    Every parable Jesus taught was about love/mercy/forgiveness.

    The crazies on the right are preaching hate and sound more like Jonah and the prodigal son's older brother than they do Christ.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Reverend Wright preaches hate.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • JM

      Many white churches teach racist hate.

      Hello. These people brought us slavery (and then put on their Sunday best and marched to church each Sunday: whited sepulchers).

      November 1, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • Susan X Tarver

      John Tarver posts hate. Repeatedly.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • aj0714

      i awoke one morning to hear: "in their greed, the new Pharisees."

      November 1, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
  4. Gecul

    Billy Graham has always been political in addition to being a racist and antisemitic. You probably are too young to recall his rants revealed on the Nixon tapes.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      I think Obama has offended the powerful New Amsterdam Jews. Romney has abandoned his outdated evolutionist views.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • Susan X Tarver

      John, it is the creationist views that are obviously outdated. By >150 years.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Jo Ann

      I remember. But I also remember that he said he wouldn't get involved in politics again, so what changed? Probably this is really abut his son, Franklin. As a result of this kind of outlandish behavior, I have stopped supporting Samaritan's Purse. Instead of filling Christmas shoeboxes for them, I'll find other charities to support.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
  5. Sly

    Athiests are missing the boat: There are millions of cute teenage virgin chicks in Heaven, and NO LAWS, plus, we all know the Big Guy loves a little voyouerism (see: Adam/Eve).

    I plan on breaking Wilt the Stilts record is about a month.

    Go ahead – don't believe, it's your loss. I don't know too much about Muslim, but if they are only getting 79 virgins each I think they are short-changing themselves.

    NO LIMITS! That's my mantra!

    November 1, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      A virign in the sense of what you are quaoting is a pre-menstral female and so the idea is even sicker than you may have previously believed.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • Susan X Tarver

      The whole set of ideas constituting Christianity is just plain sick.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Wow, biblegod sure was a sick fvcker, then, telling the Hebrews to slaughter all of a certain ethnic group except for the virgins which they were to then use as wifely breeders for more Hebrews.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
    • Sly

      John, with all due respect, the teenage virgin chicks in Heaven that I was referring to are much more attractive in the 17, 18 and 19 year age bracket, and they were well past puberty when they died.

      Heavens! Did you think for one moment I was talking about 13 year old teenage virgins? No no no ... that would not be fun, and perhaps you are right, that would be sick.

      Rest assured I will also expand my scope to include virgins in their 20's, and heck, maybe some in their 30's.

      Come on, if we are going to live forever in some beautiful place without any TV, then by all means 'taste the fruits' of the gorgeous chicks up there. It's beautiful, an appreciation of the female body, and it's FUN!

      See ya Wilt – another record falls!

      November 1, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  6. dave

    if you condemn religious right for using God to promote politics you should condemn the religious left for doing so as well. Actually President Obama is also guilty of using God to promote his policies. Politicians left right and center are all the same, they put politics first.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
  7. Frank in Pensacola, FL

    Well...where to begin? Too many choices. I guess it boils down to manipulating people's faith and belief for political gain. The GOP has not been beneath routinely using various "hints" that question Obama's faith...UNTIL they opted for a Mormon candidate. Folks, I've been there. Been married to someone who grew up in Idaho and Utah and let me tell you, they're covering up the truth about Mormonism. They want you to buy that it's inclusive and kind. But nothing could be farther from the truth. It's male-dominated (makes catholics look tame); anti-women (unless they're into makin' babies); anti-black/brown/tan; and very, VERY controlling. Sure, there are good Mormons and bad Mormons. But all you need to know is wrapped up in all the lies and distortions that RMoney has conveniently adopted and repeated for the past year... add political expediency to the list of his sins and all the crazy belief systems and phobias of Mormonism...

    Funny, nobody's questioning him being a Mormon. Guess when the GOP said "anybody but Obama" they really, really meant it. Even if he lies to his own party (Tea Party Promises, Centric GOP promises, pretending to be like Obama to win the undecided...).

    I wonder what it would be like for the Mormon Church to have someone as president...eeeeeeek!

    November 1, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • foolishpursuit

      If I was to choose between a muslim and a mormon...I will take the mormon; at least they don't blow up people to go to paradise! and their holy book does not tell them to deceive and kill in order to make the whole world follow them...

      huh! easy choice yeh?

      November 1, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Yep. Mormon over Muslim, but since Obama is a Christian, it should be "christian over mormon" for the christian folks.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
  8. Dyslexic doG

    the upcoming election will prove two points.
    (a) that christians are believers according to convenience, and
    (b) that republican christians are republicans first and christians second

    Romney is a mormon which is a religion that, as well as co-optingsome parts and characters from the bible word for word, also contradicts and makes a mockery of so many key christian religious beliefs that it should be a bigger issue to christians than gay marriage and abortion. But ... the same way as christians always pick and choose which parts of the bible to loudly proclaim and which parts of the bible to pretend don't exist ... they will ignore all these issues and vote for Romney anyway.

    What do you think God/Jesus will think of you if you give your vote to a man who truly believes that he will one day be a God? Or a man who truly believes that Joseph Smith, a 19th century reknowned con-man, is an equal of Jesus?

    Go on christans, pretend you never read this post. Find some obscure bible quote that will justify you supporting a cult. What a joke!

    November 1, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Do you honestly expect anyone to believe Obama is a Christian?

      November 1, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • Susan X Tarver

      Why would you expect anyone to believe the entire Christian fairy tale?

      November 1, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      Obama is a christian as much as anyone can be--that is, he claims to be one. It's not like your personal faith shows up in a blood test.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • JM

      Obama's a Christian; many of these nuts on the right aren't.

      13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. [14] [b]

      15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
    • fred

      I think God would be more interested in the state of our hearts when we vote. I can vote for either party with the ways of Christ in my heart and it will be just fine. I can vote with a head full of nonsense which is a waste of time and vote. I can vote with hate in my heart for one or the other and that is sin. Either way God always allows us to the choose the leaders we deserve.
      I say deserve because most voters are looking out for themselves few are looking out for their neighbors and some even vote for fat pensions today knowing others grandchildren will pay the penalty for our personal greed.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  9. nelsonleonard

    Ryan's head must be smoking at times as he has such strong abortion beliefs and he has had to ignore them to run as VP with Romney.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Romney was an evolutionist who believed the fetus evolved in the womb, but once Romney understood that DNA proves that life begins at conception, he changed his story.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • Susan X Tarver

      John, DNA is merely a set of assembly information. It says nothing about the criteria for at what stage life begins, you ignorant fool.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      What kind of fvcking moron believe that "the fetus evolves in the womb?" That's absurdly stupid. Evolution occurs at the cellular, genetic level over eons, not in one individual during one time frame. How retarded.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
    • Kenneth

      John P. Tarver, you should write a book.
      You could call it, "My Delusions, A Journey"

      November 1, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Tarver,

      your intellectual dishonesty is appalling. If any of the claims you have made here about yourself are true, you know that this statement:

      an evolutionist who believed the fetus evolved in the womb is a deliberate prevarication.

      Evolutionists don't believe the embyos evolve in the womb. They develop.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  10. The Mighty Paw of Dog

    Yeah. How did you mess up the thriving economy and surplus that you inherited?

    November 1, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      The stock market crash of March 2000 canceled the projected surplus.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      So 8 years wasn't enough to fix it?

      November 1, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
  11. MrMynor

    I think this is an excellent piece that illuminates a long-time political strategy of the GOP. The republicans have long tried to align themselves with the religious right to lock down the evangelical voting bloc, but much of the time, they are simply talking a big game. Many politicians have run on their christian values and won, only to leave Washington a few years later under the dark cloud of scandals that nobody who truly held the beliefs they espouse would stumble into. Ralph Reed is the epitome of the politician marauding as a God-fearing christian, and anyone who says otherwise would do well to look further into Reed's connections to Jack Abramoff.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @MrMynor,

      yes it is well established that Ralph Reeds' Faith and Freedom Coalition took money from Jack Abramoff. (Let's use Indian Casino money to promote legislation preventing lotteries, because 'gambling is so sinful'.)

      The 'Faith And Freedom Coalition' lobbies voters in much the same way as the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  12. John P. Tarver

    Obama's economic incompetence will continue to harm the poor for many years to come.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • Kenneth

      So, was it Limbaugh's or Hannity's behind you got that idea from?

      November 1, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • Susan X Tarver

      John pulls most of his ideas out of his own behind. He doesn't even know what Romney stands for, but neither does Romney.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • woman of faith

      I believe BENGHAZI will follow him for a long, long time!

      November 3, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
  13. Sam

    Many people are, just voting because of Romney social views. I am surprise they support a candidate that has been telling LIES and giving voters mis information for a year. At this late hour, Romney is filling the TV screens with outright LIES.
    I thought Christians was honest and truthful, but that is not the way it is happening. It an outright Conservative push with all LIES to get Romney elected.
    Voters are smarter than Romney and the Conservatives think we are. Vote Democratic and in the Senate and House tooo.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Crowley lied for Obama, giving him his only debate victory.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • Kenneth

      John P. Tarver lives in a fact-free world, obviously.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • Susan X Tarver

      John also apparently lies without remorse.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  14. ob@ma 2012

    All these "evengelicals" voting for Mitt is putting politics and race above everything else, and then goes to church on weekends to preach about God. I'm not buying it no more...

    November 1, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  15. immaannoid

    You fail to understand that Billy Graham is not really religious, but are right that it was politically expedient for his business, er ministry to back Romney. In fact, his puppeteers (note that Graham isn't running anything much anymore) removed the negative views on Mormonism from their website just prior to "his" support being announced.

    What you further fail to understand is that there really is no god, and that all organized religion is about money.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:12 pm |
  16. Sane Person

    Religious people are mostly religious because they were raised to be, or are following society, or they found religion in a time of weakness.. not because they thought about it rationally and decided their religion was true.

    "Nobody ever converted to Christianity because they lost the argument"

    November 1, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  17. wolfpackbob

    It is still The Economy, Mr. President. Your Economy, Mr. President. You built that.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      It's in a hell of a lot better shape than the way "W" left it.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:16 pm |
    • Harry

      Yes, it always amazes me how, for many in the GOP, the US economy and history started in 2009 .

      November 1, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
    • Puzzled

      Not so. The inconvenient truth is that the past administration put a wrecking ball to the economy, and the present one is putting it back together brick by brick. Rant as you wish, and dream as much as you want, It will take much longer to put this inherited Humpy Dumpy situation together again.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Ollie

      You have nothing but your anger and hate to feed on, do you?
      Any historical perspective in there? 4 years to undo the atrocities of 8 years, two wars and the unmitigated disaster of deregulation of Wall Street? Do your really want to put business and corporate raiders in charge of your future or your children and grandchildren's? You know that we'll end up with nothing, and they will simply bask in their profits, and tell us that markets are like that.
      Oh, and what about their sterling plans to Privatize Education, Social Security and Medicare? Seriously? Those people are who you want to control the country? They want to get their hands in your pocket, to profit on our backs and all you see is a man of color in the White House.
      And finally – What have You built on your own? Are your a small business owner? If so, GOOD for YOU – and I am sincere in that. I am the product of an agricultural family so I understand the challenges – and the pride – in that work. But both of us – You and me – We were educated in schools, drive the streets and highways, maybe even ship goods across the country using trucks, trains, and air freight, all of which owes much of its system to assistance from government. We relax in city, state and federal parks, maybe even benefit from public transportation. You and I didn't build any of it. Our parents and grandparents, neighbors, friends, family have been building this country in bits and pieces for over 250 years. Lives have been lived and lost in this country providing you – and me – with resources and infrastructures that help us be successful, and to keep paying it forward to those who are coming in our footsteps.
      We are all in this together, BOB.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • Sharon

      Actually there is a large portion of it that he INHERITED. From a Republican administration that spent billions on two wars.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • md22mdrx

      Yes ... he DID.

      He inherited an economy on one of the worst economic downswings in our nation's history from W and the republicans. Since then, we have slowly, but steadily been increasing our jobs and economic outlook. This is DESPITE a CONSTANT republican obstruction since day 1.

      So ... yes, Obama DID build that .... without any help from the republicans either.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  18. Jonathan

    Stephen Prothero,

    Better check your eye for that log before you try and pluck out the splinter in someone else's. The Christian Right is voting for Romney and throwing their weigh behind him for one very simple reason. We can NOT vote for Obama. It is imperative to get him out of the office.

    Sure, there are politics at play but they are not at the for-front. We of the Christian Right are value voters and Obama offends the vast majority of us by what he promotes. We choose not to vote for him because he does not represent our values and that is our right.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:10 pm |
    • Sam

      Conservatives are VALUE voters? Wow. They are out to control this nation and the american people. Most are EVIL.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:15 pm |
    • Kenneth

      Every time you people on the 'Christian Right' invoke the term 'values' it makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit. Heal the sick, feed the poor, house the homeless; all things both Jesus and Democrats espouse and people on the right hate.
      So, for the sake of my lunch, please shut the f up.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Scott

      You call yourself a values voter, but methinks you're very selective of the christian values you choose to promote. Jesus was more concerned about the poor than about gays and abortion. In fact, he never mentioned those issues at all.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
    • scatheist

      You have sh it for values – a bunch of bigoted hating uneducated backward small people.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
    • Jonathan

      @Sam,

      Value voters vote along THEIR values, what is important to them and how it reflects their outlook on life. Before you claim we are evil, please define the guidelines that allow you to compare what is or is not evil.

      @Kenneth:

      Healing the sick, housing the poor and feeding the hungry are important things to Christians. Religious enti-ties donate more time and money towards these ends than any government or non-religious enti-tiy. Claiming that we hate this is obtuse and ill-informed. Forcing us to do things against our will is what will get you the biggest fight, especially when you force us to pay for things we find abhorrent.

      @Scott:

      Jesus never mentioned gays or abortions. That is true. He didn't have a need to. Marriage was and always has been defined (in the Old Testament, which was Law at that time) as between one man and one woman (despite the fact that many people practised polygamy) and man-to-man or female-to-female relations were called abominations. Abortion was not an issue either, since there are biblical passages that speak to God 'knowing' someone before he 'knitted' them together in their mother's womb.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
    • TigersClaw

      You so called Christians forget everything Jesus stood for. He was a champion of the poor, the sick and the despised. All you care about is preserving your lily-white fantasyland.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  19. happyfrenchman

    This guy is half right... he is either willfully or disingenuously ignoring the race factor. "Politics" is one word for it. In this case they are putting "politics" before their religion.... but their religion is still paramount. The Republican party and the evangelical church have been in bed together for years... to the extent they nominate a Mormon, tells you just what kind of deal with the devil they have made... Billy Graham signed it on the dotted line just the other day. Then, if you consider the racial component in religion today.... Forget about it.... White evangelicals would likely vote for anyone but Obama... If the devil was running against Obama, they would probably just not vote. To ignore that is to really do this otherwise interesting topic a disservice.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  20. Mohammad A Dar

    Billy Graham is a dead dog, the real game changer is SANDY.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • Sly

      Correct. Sandy is going to prove to be the difference here. Christie's endorsement, Bloomberg's endorsement – those carry weight and validate the job President Obama is doing.

      Billy Graham, Charlton Heston and Clint Eastwood all died several years ago ...

      November 1, 2012 at 6:15 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.