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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. xcopper6

    Jesus was a liberal!

    November 1, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  2. Seyedibar

    Perhaps people should simply refrain from believing in gods just because not one out of a thousand of them has ever been proven to exist? Religion doesn't mix with politics because fairy tales don't mix with reality.

    November 1, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • wisdom4u2

      What a fool. Even Jesus knew better. "15 Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.

      16 And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.

      17 Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar (the government), or not?

      18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?

      19 Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.

      20 And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?

      21 They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.

      22 When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way."

      You could stand to learn before yapping...

      November 1, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
    • Seyedibar

      Jesus never knew anything because he didn't exist. He's fictional, like Heracles or Batman.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:50 pm |
  3. Tim

    How about, don't let religion influence voting? To be clear, I mean when a politician or particular party claim to be more moral, family oriented or Godly. Any politician or party that panders to and exploits people's faiths should offend people, not convince them to vote for them. We all know that politicians say anything to get elected and lie, so why allow them to so easily sway your vote by exploiting your faith, especially using fear and preying on the ignorant?

    November 1, 2012 at 7:39 pm |
    • rhondajo3

      A presidential candidate who is moral due to his belief in God and belief in the Word of God, makes him a preferred choice for many simply because they prefer someone who will most likely not be corrupt and evil. Hellooooo!

      November 1, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • Russell's Teapot

      You really shouldn't be attempting to claim that by virtue of belief in a higher power that one must then be moral

      November 1, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @rhondajo3

      A person can only be "moral" through their actions – not by claiming a belief in God.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:03 pm |
  4. Robert Austin

    The christian right wing churches are not christians. Christians follow the teachings of Christ, the New Testament. Right wing christian groups follow the old testament in a perverted manner.Christ's teaching in the sermon on the mount are directly opposed to the teachings of the christian right.

    November 1, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • Fallacy Spotting 101

      Post by 'Robert Austin' is an instance of the No True Scotsmen fallacy.

      http://www.fallacyfiles.org/glossary.html

      November 1, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • mama k

      Christians are experts at telling other Christians that they are not really Christian. They can't help it. It is built into the religion. For political purposes, they can take any side of any argument and argue it from their book of fable regardless of how it the position they take weighs against the simple teachings of their primary character – Jesus. Of course they use this tool of deception against non-Christians as well.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:46 pm |
  5. Carla

    I completely disagree with Robert regarding Obama - Obama supports the care of the sick, the needy, the hungry, the homeless and the elderly - this is absolutely the doctrine preached in Matthew the 25th chapter, in which we are told that inasmuch as we fail to do these things for others, we fail to do them for Christ. NO REPUBLICAN HAS EVER FOLLOWED MATTHEW 25. Pretty much EVERY DEMOCRAT elected to the Presidency HAS - from FDR who created Social Security, a PUblic Works system to put people to work in the Depression (without which my grandparents and mother would have starved), and later, in the creation of Medicare. Republicans fight Matthew 25 and its precepts at every turn. Yet they hide behind fundamentalist religions. It's so pathetic that none of these fundamentalists have ever called them out on it. As to abortion - Obama makes that a matter of conscience for a woman to decide, and in doing so, he saves millions who might die from illegal abortions - abortion was not legal when I was young, and it stopped no one from getting one - many becoming infected by butchers and dying. Ultimately, you can't legislate things like abortion anymore than you can legislate liquor or marijuana. Those things are matters of personal conscience.

    November 1, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • Tim

      People are ignorant, crazy fools. They actually believe that Democrats are "evil" and less faith based than GOP candidates, so don't expect anyone with an education or intellect to see that Obama isn't any worse than a GOP candidate, just because he's a Democrat. Those people already have their minds made up, regardless of and in spite of what the GOP candidate says or does (even if they prove to be more evil or worse for the country). Some voters are mindless. I'm not saying everyone for the GOP is an idiot or mindless, but a lot of people's crazy anti-Obama rants clearly show they are and they just vote for their party (the one that exploits their faith the most) and that's all there is to it. No reason to discuss or debate with people like that. People voting for reasons due to insight and research and common sense, those are the people worthy of discussion. Also, to be fair, I know mindlessness goes both ways for both parties.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
    • rhondajo3

      You're saying that no Republican has ever given to the poor? I think you might need to get your head out of the sand....

      November 1, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  6. md22mdrx

    The jesus freaks need to learn more about Mithras, Osiris, etc ....

    November 1, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      What would you call members of the Church of Mithras of Latter-day Saints ?

      November 1, 2012 at 7:58 pm |
  7. lerianis

    No such thing as 'god' so yes, we should put politics and what is best for this nation and the REAL WORLD first.

    November 1, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  8. Concerned Minister

    He is right, and I am a minister. Removing Mormonism off of the website one day after his visit was nothing less than a political move that had nothing to do with God. What could Romney have said that caused him to change his views about an entire religious organization overnight? Shame on you man of God!

    November 1, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • Stan

      CM, shame back on you, you vile propagator of god frauds.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:41 pm |
    • NoTags

      Billy Graham left Christianity a number of years ago when he accepted 'new age religion' theology.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:49 pm |
  9. elephantix

    Don't sit out this election just because Romney is a Mormon. Do some hard thinking and wrestling with the issues. You gotta vote for someone or else you're just free-loading.

    November 1, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
  10. Alive55

    Neither candidate is perfect, and neither political party is perfect. I doubt Billy Graham and Ralph Reed agree completely with every view of any politician. I doubt anyone reading this completely agrees with every view of any politician. Even a politician reading this would disagree with his or her own opinion of something at an earlier time – people do change their minds from time to time. Especially politicians.

    That said, most people have fewer disagreements, or disagreements of a less serious nature, with one politician vs. another. And it is quite possible to endorse someone's political opinions and policies without agreeing with all of their religious views. It may be better (politically) to have someone with very different religious views in a particular office.

    I don't think that either Romney or Obama would agree with all of my religious views. Obama is certainly closer. I don't think either Romney or Obama would agree with all of my political views. Romney is probably closer, and his party is certainly closer than Obama's party. Sometimes the party matters more than the individual, as it significantly affects what legislation can or cannot get through.

    If I endorse someone for office, it doesn't mean I agree with all of their politics, much less their theology. If I endorse someone for a position in a church, I had better agree with most of their theology, though our politics could be further apart. My politics are informed by my theology, and I hope the reverse is not true. Ultimate reality is not found in the political arena.

    I wish that there was a different GOP nominee. I don't particularly trust Romney's Mormonism. I hope that his office, should he be elected, would not provide him an opportunity to spread it. I think that his being elected is more likely to decrease the number of unborn children murdered in this country than re-electing Obama, and that is my primary reason for voting for him. I don't think either one will result in a huge decrease in abortions, though. The President has some power, but it is very limited.

    I care about the poor. But I think private charitable organizations are more effective than government programs, in general. So while I agree with many of the goals of the democrats, we differ in our methods. The welfare state is a trap and needs to be avoided.

    I don't much like taxes – who does? I think our tax code could be greatly simplified. I am not opposed to tax increases so long as the increase is modest, fair, and simpler. This could result in higher taxes on the wealthy. Not a very Republican position, I admit. But I would not tax the rich just because I am upset with them for being rich, as some Democrats seem to be.

    I think there will be plenty of partisan bickering no matter who is elected, so in the end it may not matter much whether Romney or Obama wins. Gridlock will probably continue in most things. That is probably safer than giving either party the power to carry out its full agenda. I am probably more scared by the Democrats than the Republicans, but neither has a complete set of policies I can agree with.

    Democracy – the worst form of government, except for the alternatives (paraphrase of Churchill).

    This is a long way of saying that we should not be too harsh on people who endorse Romney while disagreeing with his theological views. They are endorsing him for political office, not for preacher. There really is a difference.

    November 1, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • rhondajo3

      WOW, this is a GREAT comment! I think you have just expressed a very moderate view that very many hold, including me! Thank you!

      November 1, 2012 at 7:47 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      You wrote that you think Romney would not agree with all your political views. That is incorrect. If you look up his record and his public statements, he's agreed with every position on every issue under the sun at some point.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
  11. James

    Anti-Muslim sentiments are not religiously based, more likely racially based as witnessed by the attacks on non-muslims people like South Asians and Sikhs. This shows how ill-informed Americans are about other religions or even different Christian sects.

    November 1, 2012 at 7:35 pm |
    • lerianis

      No, they are not racially based nor religious based. They are based on people saying "Christians and Jews wouldn't do that!" when history says different.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  12. Dan

    I find it ironic that the so-called "religious" people are voting for the man that is against the government helping the poor. JC would be a democrat.

    November 1, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  13. peter

    I am sure there are plenty of republicans like myself who will be sitting out the gen election than vote for a mormon.

    November 1, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
    • Joe Shmoe

      PEOPLE ARE JUST TIRED OF OBAMA....and thats why "white evangelicals" will vote for Romney!

      November 1, 2012 at 7:36 pm |
    • Harrry Baxter

      Now that you've revealed that you're prejudiced against Mormons, please tell us why you won't vote for Obama.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
    • 'bama

      Why thanks, pete.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
    • md22mdrx

      Not really .... Obama has been pretty centrist actually.
      Most people voting against Obama are voting along falsehoods (communist) or religious(muslim)/racial(black) lines. Whenever you hear a republican rant about Obama .... put the word in there instead of Obama (if they haven't already .... some fully admit it). You'll find out in a hurry how they REALLY feel.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:43 pm |
  14. mama k

    Christians are experts at bickering with one another and with non-Christians. It's always been like that – especially when it comes to politics.

    Before and during the founding of the U.S., different Christian sects were feuding and persecuting each other in several states (or soon-to-be states). Anglicans were persecuting Baptists in Virginia; Quakers were being hung in Massachusetts, and much more. Because this feuding between these sects annoyed the key founders so greatly, they made it a top priority to establish guidelines for the separation of church and state (and to make it Amendment #1 to our Constitution). This is also reflected in what they had to say on the matter:

    James Madison (our 4th President, was the chief architect of the U.S. Constitution):

    During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.

    (A Memorial and Remonstrance, addressed to the Virginia General Assembly, 1785)

    and then ten years later:

    Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?

    (A Memorial and Remonstrance, addressed to the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of VA, 1795)

    Thomas Jefferson (our 3rd President, was the key author of the Declaration of Independence)

    Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person's life, freedom of religion affects every individual. State churches that use government power to support themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of the church tends to make the clergy unresponsive to the people and leads to corruption within religion. Erecting the "wall of separation between church and state," therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.

    (Letter (as POTUS) to the Virginia Baptists (1808))

    and then of course we have clarifying moments in history such as:

    President John Adams and the U.S. Senate on behalf of the U.S.

    As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion;

    (from Article 11 of the U.S. treaty ratified with Tripoli in 1797)

    Senator John F Kennedy said on Sept. 12, 1960, just prior to his winning the Presidential election:

    I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.

    ======================================

    DID YOU KNOW?

    During his presidency, James Madison vetoed two bills that he believed would violate the separation of church and state. He also came to oppose the long-established practice of employing chaplains at public expense in the House of Representatives and Senate on the grounds that it violated the separation of church and state and the principles of religious freedom**. Starting from their anger over feuding Christian sects in their home state, until the end of their lives, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson were America's fiercest promoters of the separation of church and state.

    Who was James Madison? He was the 4th President of the United States and the chief architect of the U.S. Constitution.

    ** Library of Congress – James Madison Papers – Detached memorandum, ca. 1823.

    November 1, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
  15. James Ison

    The real question is why is god anywhere near the running of this country. It should be obvious to any dimwit with a 4th grade civics education that you cannot govern a country of differing religious moral and cultural differences as an egalitarian republic by inserting your personal religious beliefs into government. The idea of religious liberty simply will not allow it. It becomes liberty only for the religion making the rules. THIS is why the founding fathers attempted to set up a firewall between the church and the state.

    November 1, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Somehow I doubt that we'll see an atheist president any time in the near future... for that matter, I doubt we'll see an atheist congressperson, senator, or governor either... there are just too many brainwashed people out there....

      November 1, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
  16. alpg49

    Christians should be the first to promote separation of church and state. See John 18:36, Matthew 22:21, 4:8-10, Luke 4-5-9. The passage from Luke is most instructive. Satan claims political power as his own domain.

    November 1, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • Ken

      How come your uber powerful god can't overpower satan yet???

      November 1, 2012 at 7:44 pm |
  17. Roy

    Ever heard of the harlot and the wild beast bibically, if you haven't its time to get educated. I expect many to line up on this one, but the truth is the politcal system and religious system is about to face off whereby the wild beast as prophesied will committ to an all out assault on the harlot the religious system and take it down. Religion worldwide as we know which is historically dipicted by Babylon the Great which all religions of the world originated and developed numerous other religions during and after Constantine era. There is not one religion in the world today that truly represents the true God, nor is it fulfillling the prophesy as stated in Matt 24:14 and Matt 28:18,19 nor is it in line with the true religion which was the first century Christians (Read Your History) Like I said I expect a line up on this one, but then the Bible clearly states that many would be blinded from the truth and would not accept it. Politics and Religion my friends will collapse and our Creator will establish an eternal government of peace and happiness and life everlasting as stated in Daniel 2:44, John 17:3, Daniel 7: 13, 14 as an example. For those of you who support the religious and political system give the Bible an opportunity to show you what you really are up agaisnt truthfully

    November 1, 2012 at 7:31 pm |
    • holysmokes

      You should humble yourself. You sound very self righteous.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:50 pm |
    • Roy

      Sorry Holysmokes its the Bible that determines what true humility is, It takes both courage and humility to deliver a message as powerful as this. Read Prov 22:4 and meditate on that for a while you will come to grips why the Bible needs to delivered with boldness for many simply have lost a grip on its true value.

      November 1, 2012 at 9:00 pm |
  18. petroskies

    with the revolution of the rainbow party into the whole world, an supported for the salient period of Mr. Obama ,this country are in the hands of pervert sodomite new generation

    November 1, 2012 at 7:30 pm |
  19. Robert

    It's amazing to me how the author of this article has twisted the positions of Billy Graham in a blatent and obvious attempt to confuse religeous voters. I've never heard of such deceit since the time Satan said to eve, "if you eat of its fruit you will not surely die." So, in case you've missed it, I'm saying that the author of this article is speaking the words of Satan. Here's why. It's clear that neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Hussein Obama are Christians. Romney denies it by his doctrine and Obama deneys it by his deeds. (Remember, Jesus said that you will know a tree by its fruit, and NO one who supports the on-going slaughter of children in America's abortion chambers can be a Christian... just ask the Pope.) But Romney supports biblical positions. Therefore, voting for Romney because of his biblical positions on important issues IS putting religious over politics. And as for the author of this article, I will say the same thing that the apostle Paul once said to those who came with lies on another critical issue. "Let him be anathama (i.e., eternally damned).

    November 1, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
    • The Pope

      Another i d i o t i c post from the Radical Repressive Religous Right.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
    • Kris Baker

      Great post! You summed it up well and its is astounding that the author of the article cannot see that!

      November 1, 2012 at 7:40 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @Robert,

      how has Billy Graham's position been twisted?

      Here's the sequence of events. (Most of these can be attributed in articles here on the Belief Blog)

      1. Mark DeMoss (former moral majority guy and Franklin's long-time PR man) sets up a staged meeting.
      2. Mittens meets with the aged and gravely ill Billy and Franklin Graham (there is video but no audio)
      3. (we can assume) SuperPAC money changes hands into BGEA or related coffers
      4. The 'cult' reference on the BGEA website is removed
      5. BGEA runs a an newspaper ad telling voters to vote for the anti-abortion and anti-gay candidate. The BGEA states that this was NOT funded by regular donations to the BGEA, but by "friends" of the ministry
      6. Franklin Graham endorses Mitt in a USA Today editorial and states that there should be a new "moral majority"*

      * Note that Billy refused to join Jerry Falwell's moral majority.

      Join the dots. Like deep throat said "follow the money".

      November 1, 2012 at 7:42 pm |
  20. bostontola

    This writer's argument makes no sense. Support of a political candidate does not show they are putting politics ahead of god.

    November 1, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
    • Arbogast

      The author is saying that Mormonism hasn't changed, so any recent acceptance of a Mormon candidate by the evangelical right can't possibly be due to a change in their views of Mormonism, despite transparent claims to the contrary. If six months ago they believed that Mormons aren't Christians, nothing in Mormonism has changed to make Mormons Christians according to the criteria generally used to define Christianity. So any acceptance of a Mormon candidate must mean that the evangelical right doesn't care whether Romney's a Christian - they just want him to defeat Obama.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:54 pm |
    • bostontola

      Arbo,
      I get the argument, I'm saying that hypocracy doen't mean politics comes before god.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:05 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      @bostonola,

      of course the argument makes sense. The BGEA has sold out on their belief that Mormonism is not Christianity because Franklin wanted to endorse the GOP candidate.

      They likely did so for a generous donation from a Mitt Rmoney SuperPAC.

      Politics before God.

      QED.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:15 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.