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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. Ritti

    This is very true; they are complete and utter sell-outs to their faith and have reduced themselves to pawns of the GOP. The GOP puts on this big dog and pony show to the religious right and in the end it will be one of the major unraveling of the Republican Party. They have to “stick to their guns” on every issue the religious people in this country feel is important to them. Removing the freedoms they preach so in favor of when it suits their agenda. The youth in America knows better, is less religious and votes Democratic by a large margin. It would be best if we could all agree, as the founders of our country did, that antidisestablishmentarianism is what is best for our country.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Globalization would bring the changes you're looking for.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Not a liberal when you are 20 you have no heart, not a consrvative by 30 you have no brain.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      John P has neither.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Dave

      @ John – The only thing keeping me from being a conservative, is the fact that I'm not religious, and I don't hate women or gays. Know why I'm not religious and don't hate women or gays? Because I have a brain.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
  2. Jennifer Olney

    I'm sorry, did the author of this hit piece forget to mention Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson....both "Reverends" and last time I checked put politics over God every change they get...

    November 1, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • S!N

      That's pretty much been going on so long that it doesn't really surprise anyone any more.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      They are delusional as well.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
      • Jennifer Olney

        Very much so but they use their pulpit to preach the word of Obama. Let's not forget the DNC – three times NO to God...a nation will not forgot that...and neither will God

        November 1, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      True. Why is he picking on the big money churches?

      November 1, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • Dave

      I say we revoke the tax-exempt status of Graham's organization, and Sharpton's, and Jackson's, and of James Dobson's for good measure...and issue them a bill for all the taxes they should have been paying for decades of using their "churches" to interfere in politics.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
      • Jennifer Olney

        Can we just takeaway the ability to have Sharpton and Jackson refer to themselves as Reverends – the jig is up

        November 1, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      Jennifer did it ever occur to you that you're a religious nut job?

      November 1, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • Dave

      @ Jennifer – Not unless we revoke that status from Graham and Dobson, as well.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • the AnViL

      "Dave

      I say we revoke the tax-exempt status of Graham's organization, and Sharpton's, and Jackson's, and of James Dobson's for good measure...and issue them a bill for all the taxes they should have been paying for decades of using their "churches" to interfere in politics."

      don't disc. riminate, dave.

      this should apply to ALL religious organizations.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • Dave

      Not discriminating, anvil. Just naming the worst offenders. I don't mind letting churches that limit their political activism to "Remember to vote", keep their tax-exempt status. My problem lies with those that blatantly violate the terms of their tax exemption by telling their flocks of sheeple HOW to vote.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
      • Jennifer Olney

        It's not discriminating, however, let's just not pick and choose who gets called on the carpet for their use of politics and religion

        November 1, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
  3. Mohammad A Dar

    five more days and people will ask Billy who?

    November 1, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  4. Logic n LA

    No Christian would put politics above God and faith. But no true Christian would let religion form their opinion of how goverment should be run either. The teachings of Christ separate the two.
    Hypocrites on the other hand, including Billy Graham, mix the two and call those unlike them immoral.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
    • the AnViL

      quite the contrary... there is a massive body politic of xians who feel compelled to insinuate their idiotic religious ignorance into public discourse. they work overtime to find creative new ways to secularize their ignorant religious idiocy.

      they are driven to restrict the equality, rights, freedoms and liberties of others – and as a result they deserve NO equality, NO rights, NO freedoms and NO liberties.

      tolerance of religious idiocy has got to end.

      enough is enough.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  5. the AnViL

    there is no evidence of gods.
    there is compelling evidence that there are no gods.

    those who believe in imaginary men in the sky are truly delusional. they should never be allowed to vote, hold public office, purchase firearms or teach public school.

    every one of you who professes any belief in any gods should literally be ashamed to be so ignorant in the 21st century... and none of you should be allowed to be a part of any decision making process for the general public..... ever.

    tolerance of religious idiocy has to end.

    enough is enough.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
  6. Dave

    Keep your "god" out of politics, and we'll all be better off.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  7. zietergist

    Billy graham got bought.. LDS is a cult. Shame on Billy for changing.. but he will answer and his time will come.
    Obama 2012
    money never sleeps

    November 1, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Money is speech

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

      The only difference between a cult and an established religion, is the number of fools who buy into it. Every religion starts as a cult, and exists for the sole reason of exploiting the uneducated.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  8. bp

    This article highlights the fact that so-called "people of faith" are no more likely to act according to the tenets of the faith than anyone else. The only difference is that they claim their god justifies their actions, hence their holier-than-thou pretensions and the bigotry they display towards others not of the same faith.

    “I am now as before a Catholic and will always remain so.” – Adolf Hitler, 1941

    November 1, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @bp,

      do you have a source for the Hitler quote? It would come in handy around here.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • bp

      Regarding the Hitler quote: it was from a letter he wrote to General Gerhard Engel. He made many references to his faith throughout his life, such as this one:

      “I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator. By warding off the Jews I am fighting for the Lord’s work.” – from a Hitler speech delivered at the Reichstag in 1936

      November 1, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  9. Debby

    When the Southern Baptist Convention realized that the Mormons were growing more quickly than they were, they designated the LDS a cult and then held their annual meeting in Salt Lake City just to rub salt in the wound. There's no theology; just jealousy. Billy & Franklin Graham, Ralph Reed, James Dobson are con men. Will Evangelicals ever wake up? Probably not. I just watched Mike Huckabee's ad warning against voting for Obama and it finally dawned on me that Evangelicals are so abused they can't think for themselves.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • bp

      To be an evangelical requires that one be simple-minded and unquestioning, otherwise they wouldn't be that gullible.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

      November 1, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  10. sybaris

    The best way to control people and take their money is through:

    A) Religion
    B) Politics
    C) All of the above

    November 1, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Socialism is the best way to rob people of their money.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • Eli Cabelly

      Capitalism is the best way to rob people of their money.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • bp

      Agreed, which is why there is nothing more dangerous in human society than when people justify their politics by citing their religious beliefs.

      “I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator.” – Adolf Hitler

      November 1, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      It's always better when you can get people to give it up willingly.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      bp-Hitler was head of the National Socialist Democrat Party.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
    • sybaris

      and bp wins the Godwins Law Award!!!

      November 1, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • S!N

      Like most Socialist party leaders, he had absolutely no idea how to implement a socialist system. While you're at it, make sure you don't support any of those socialist programs like public education, Social Security, Medicare, unemployment benefits, police, or fire/rescue.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @S!N

      don't be misled by the name. National Socialism (the Nazis) were fascists, not socialists. The two concepts are opposites.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
  11. MellowYellow

    This article looks and sounds like more of democratic attack ad, going after the conservatives – No big surprise there. Hate mongering is what they do best. Questioning the faith of a man and life long preacher of the gospel like Billy Graham because he is voting for one candidate over the other is wrong. Graham met with both Obama and Romney, and I would bet that over his 90+ years in the ministry, he is probably a pretty good judge of character. So Him endorsing Romney, a family man, very involved in his faith, a life time of giving as apposed to Obama says a lot about both candidates. It's pretty clear to most bible-believing Christians that, although he claims to be Christian, based on his words and his actions, Obama hasn't got a clue the Christian faith. Going to Jeremiah Wright's church for 20 years explains a lot about Obama's skewed view of Christianity.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
    • Debby

      Graham is such a good judge of character that he believed in Nixon.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • Jo Ann

      Graham also backed Nixon, later regretted it, and vowed he would never again get involved in politics. Now he baks Romney, saying that he stands for Christian values, although Romney has lied repeatedly (especially in recent ads) – is that Chrisitian behavior? Obama passed the ACA, guaranteeing access to health care for children and adults with preexisting health conditions; Romney vows to repeal it and has no plan to replace it – is it Christian to allow people to go without health care? God is not a Republican or a Democrat.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:40 pm |
  12. The Mighty Paw of Dog

    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.

    So he makes decisions on the important topics based on nothing? Sounds like mitt. He's like a chameleon. He changes everyday.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Romney was brought up in the Mormon Church to beleive in evolution and it was only about 10 years ago that Romney updated his science. Just because the left needs century outdated science to be true is not a reason for the rest us to believe.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      John P. Tarver I'm done talking to you. You are just too stupid.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • Mohammad A Dar

      what is so important about what Romney believed yesterday, or what he believes today, or what he will believe tomorrow? He can't changed the world in four years, no matter what he believes!

      November 1, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
  13. Mary

    I used to think that politics and god were separate..
    But the truth is. It is not..
    We know that The republicans want to have wars.. That they want to cut programs for the poor..Cut out medical insurance through obamacare.. We know they want to make the rich richer.. Hurting the poor , the old and the sick even further..
    God does play a part in politics..
    Imagine if people had of NOT chosen Hitler as their leader??? Look what happened because they did?
    So I think you must try to do the best you can and vote for the person you truly believe is wanting this job to help people.. NOT for power and wealth..

    November 1, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Once obamacre is challenged as a tax the entire fee reimbursement system will be at risk and I expect only those with a credit cared will be able to get healthcare in 2015. A Tax must originate in the House, not in a Senate reconciliation committee.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
  14. JM

    Romney could be the antichrist for all you know.

    Your concept of evil apparently means someone who cares about and helps the poor.

    I guess, in your book, Jesus was evil.

    He told his followers to sell all their possessions and give the money to the poor.
    He told his followers to love their neighbors; love their enemies; pray for those who persecute them.
    He told his followers to turn the other cheek (if someone struck them) and forgive 70×7 times.

    Who are you following? The anti-Christ?

    November 1, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
    • JM

      In reply to: K from AZ.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Obama's economic incompetence has harmed the poor.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • JM

      No, Bush's economic incompetence brought us an economic disaster.

      God brought us Obama to clean up Bush's mess. =>

      November 1, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      JM-Obama has failed.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  15. John P. Tarver

    The question of cration vs multi-universe was decided when John Bell proved that Probabilities are not Determnistic. Today science knows that Relativity and Quantum Mechanics require a senient being outside the universe to make the universe real. We also know from Dr. Gould's work and the Global Geological Record that species occur rapidly following a mass extinction, the opposite of evolution.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:30 pm |
    • Moby Schtick

      that's a lot of stupid in just three sentences. congratulations

      November 1, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • camd

      Not where I come from.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • S!N

      John, you're an idiot. Of course probabilities aren't deterministic. They're discrete due to the fact that is impossible to account for every single variable in any experiment. Also, quantum mechanics and relativity do not require the existence of a sentient being. They require quantum mechanics and relativity. How do you possibly achieve such a level of stupidity?

      There is nothing in science that proves the existence of a god for one simple reason. Science only deals with things that can be observed and measured (either directly or indirectly) and attempts to determine the most probable cause based on the available evidence. By definition, matters of faith cannot be tested via the scientific method.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
    • relians

      you are so wrong. the latest science about creation states that the only thing NOT needed was a god. read "a universe from nothing" by lawrence krauss and educate yourself.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  16. K from AZ

    What's wrong with advocating for a God-fearing, law-abiding leader rather than a truely EVIL man such as Comrade Obama?

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

      The last time I looked, Romney had been proved to be a liar and a cheat.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:33 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @K

      "truely EVIL"? (sic)

      You're kidding right?

      November 1, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
    • Toosliq

      The nature of politics requires deceit. Any politician proclaiming to be God-fearing is automatically deceiving you. You cannot be a politician and a truth-teller.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:36 pm |
  17. Booya

    Theology has changed since the beginning of times to accomodate politics. Remember when no one talked about their faith because there were so many denominations of Christianity that if you, as a politician, came out and said 'I'm Baptist!' the Presbyterians, Pentecostals, and Adventists would all discard you as a candidate b/c you weren't of their religion? Times change. Politics changes religious loyalties. Since many denominations felt "under attack" with the passing of Roe v. Wade and the Women's Lib movement, they consolidated. They settled their differences. They formed a "Christian" coalition. Christian meant nothing in the U.S. pre 70s. If you said "I'm a Christian" they would have said, "Pentecostal, Methodist, what?" Politics forced them to coalesce. You notice how both VP candidates are Catholic and it was only some 50 years ago that Kennedy's faith was such a huge part of the election he was almost defeated. Now Santorum says he's Catholic and Protestants go "Meh..." Times change.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:28 pm |
  18. Von

    People of religion should learn how to read. No matter which religion one should read the written text – and take it literally. Every word. Trust yourself and your own mind and intellect. It is a rewarding and exciting endeavor.

    The reader will soon understand that the "god"or "gods" described are much more real than illiterate 'believers" want you to believe. Soon you'll realize that there is no longer any conflict between reason and the urge to comprehend the inexplicable.

    In fact articles like this become kinda ho-hum.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:27 pm |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things.

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

      Prayer: The original slacktivism.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • Rationalintn

      I've prayed and prayed, along with many others that you would stop posting your nonsense here. It hasn't worked, so prayer changes nothing.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
    • camd

      I've been healthy for more than seven decades and have saved other people's lives, too.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • The Mighty Paw of Dog

      Me too. This is John P isn't it.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:38 pm |
    • relians

      prove it.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  20. gorman howell

    The writer has it all wrong: Reed and Graham are putting religion above politics; this is WHY they are voting for Romney, because they somehow think he's a better Christian than Obama, Mormon and all. In fact, most Christians who vote for Republicans seem to do so because they see the GOP as more "on the side of God" than the Democrats. Of course, it's just foolish, since the GOP sells out their jobs to the Chinese, and removes all the safety nets of the poor, so that the God Bless America types can have their God, guns and little government, but live in a sort of Wasteland.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:25 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.