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. Science

    Free speech helps educate the masses................POLITICIANS too !

    Where do morals come from?

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    No god(s) needed or required to graduate from public schools in the US

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  2. poisonousroot

    Among many of us their are those who are addicted to God-crack. They are intolerant, boring and forever gossiping about their true realm of spiritual spheres. Jesus...give me hell and I will be born free of political duplicity in the church for eternity.

    February 17, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  3. I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

    Jon Stewart asked MIke Huckabee about the ad to vote anti-gay and anti-abortion on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on 11/12/12.

    It's not one of Jon's best interviews but he makes an effort to highlight Huckabee's 'vote GOP or burn in hell' commercial.


    November 14, 2012 at 8:07 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Part 2 of the interview has the discussion of the ad.

      November 14, 2012 at 8:21 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Mike Huckabee tries to turn this issue, but there's no way around this statement:

      "Your vote will affect the future and be recorded in eternity. Will you vote the values that will stand the test of fire? This is Mike Huckabee asking you to join me November 6th and vote based on values that will stand the test of fire."

      This is 'vote GOP or burn'.

      November 14, 2012 at 8:28 pm |
  4. Mike D

    Gosh, you don't say...Ralph Reed, a shameless and amoral opportunist who uses Christianity as a blatant power-and-money grab. Clutch the pearls.

    November 14, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  5. beyond mobile blog

    Magnificent points altogether, you just received a new reader. What may you suggest about your post that you made some days in the past? Any positive?

    November 12, 2012 at 10:45 pm |
  6. David Crosby

    I have a great idea..Have Billy Graham bring Jesus with him on his next crusade..Or have him shut up forever..!

    November 8, 2012 at 5:32 pm |
  7. Linda Carol Wickham-Young

    Jesus said to the Moneychangers that they are making the house of prayer a den of thieves.

    November 8, 2012 at 11:55 am |
  8. Scott

    As Romans 13 instructs, the powers that be are ordained of God, rulers are ministers of God, and those who resist those rulers resist the ordinance of God. Accordingly, we need to stand behind Barack Obama and pray for him as our President. God spoke tonight and he remains in charge.

    November 7, 2012 at 3:48 am |
    • LiberalsSux

      Obama is not authority.

      November 8, 2012 at 8:51 am |
    • LiberalsSux

      The first commandment is: Thou shalt have no other gods before me. (Other "gods" can include possessions, power or prominence.)

      November 8, 2012 at 8:56 am |
  9. donner

    Go to Google and search "20 Truths about Mormonism" Not only will I not vote for Romney, I want Utah kicked out of the Union

    November 6, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • Samantha

      And we all know if it is on the internet then it has to be true. Boy are you gullible. Think I will head down to the Chevy dealer to learn about Ford trucks.

      November 8, 2012 at 3:30 pm |
  10. Cameron

    Anyone who supports Barack Obama is putting politics before God.

    November 6, 2012 at 10:34 am |
    • sam stone

      Like Billy Boy Graham and his son, ventriloquist Franklin taking Mormonism off a list of cults?

      November 6, 2012 at 4:35 pm |
    • sam stone

      Also, we are voting for president, not "god".

      November 6, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  11. Scott

    Eric, you obviously know nothing about Mormonism and its satanic roots. You are also more concerned about politics than losing souls to hell. Don't you realize Romney is a Mormon high priest? An atheist in the White House is better than an anti Christ.

    November 6, 2012 at 7:55 am |
    • nope


      November 6, 2012 at 7:57 am |
    • Scott

      On judgment day, I don't want to try to rationalize why I voted for a cult member who caused souls to be damned, by feebly explaining that I was more concerned about repealing Obamacare, preventing a redistribution of wealth, preventing abortion (those lives are in heaven), preventing gay marriage, and restoring individual liberties. With Obama, we know where he stands, and while you might disagree with his politics, he is the better choice where souls and eternal salvation are concerned.

      November 6, 2012 at 8:13 am |
    • Sonya

      Scott, Obama is a Marxist with deep sympathies for Islamic/Sharia Law. Observe his support for the Muslim Brotherhood and obvious dislike of Israel. Romney wants the US to be a friend of Israel. Obama has no use for it - none - it's obvious by his treatment of Israel vs. his treatment of the Muslim Brotherhood, etc.

      Furthermore, Obama has been running up our debt by $1Trillion per year. He will bankrupt us soon if we re-elect him.

      November 6, 2012 at 8:24 am |
    • donner

      Sonya, I'd like to thank you for providing a real life example of what Mormons call " Lying for the Lord" Google it. You won't believe it.

      November 6, 2012 at 8:59 am |
    • Sonya

      Donner, I do not lie. And I am not a Mormon. What in the world are you?!?! Are you a supporter of Barack Hussein Obama? Are you unwilling to do any research into his background to understand what he is? Do you have your head in the sand refusing to see his actions as POTUS?

      Are you denying that Obama has been running up our debt by $1Trillion per year?

      It seems that you are the liar, sir.

      November 6, 2012 at 9:17 am |
  12. Sheila

    You seek a new world order of peace for all the nations; that is good and noble. The differences between the LDS and what Billy Graham used to preach had eternal consequences. The LDS were considered heretical for their additional texts; their view on God the Father, Son, and Spirit; Christ's visit to the ancient Americans after his resurrection as translated by their prophet Joseph Smith; and so on. With heaven at stake and traditional doctrine in mind, the distinctions are significant.

    Progressing in thought to "all paths lead to heaven" is counter to what Jesus presented in Holy Scripture. You seem to be pointing to the development of new Christian doctrine, which we may be witnessing.

    November 6, 2012 at 7:47 am |
    • MCR

      Sort of Hinduization of Christianity – possibly a good thing.

      November 6, 2012 at 7:58 am |
  13. justice for all

    Hey all you people out there saying that christians are hypocritical for voting Romney – you are so out of it. I am voting for Romney and I am Christian. Neither men are practicing Christians so religion has no bearing on my vote. I do agree that Romney is the closest thing to it so there you have it. No putting politics above religion. That is a feeble argument positioned by the author of this article to try and shame those that are voting for Romney. Nice try but you are off base.

    November 6, 2012 at 1:43 am |
    • Eric

      justice for all, I agree with that completely! So transparent!

      November 6, 2012 at 6:19 am |
  14. Scott

    Wake up Christians! Souls are at stake here. We cannot allow the POTUS to be used as a platform to spread the satanic cult of Mormonism. Do not disobey the Lord by placing politics over God and His teachings. A vote for Romney is a vote for satan.

    November 5, 2012 at 9:21 pm |
    • Joe

      Scott, I've researched Mormonism going on 13 years, and while I can't quantify nor qualify "Satan", they are no Christian organization. Christians are called to accommodate. Mormons are called to manipulate. To think Mormons think a high-end shopping Mall is charity is tip of the iceberg in point. Thanks very much to Stephen Prothero for sticking his neck out for truth. You sir, are a hero in my eyes.

      November 5, 2012 at 9:33 pm |
    • Eric

      The truth is, if we don't vote for Romney the devil will have 4 more years running America. Romney may not be a Saint (most people aren't) but Obama fights against everything we believe in. Don't be foolish!

      November 6, 2012 at 6:22 am |
    • Sonya

      You are correct, Eric. If we re-elect Obama we will cease to be a Free Republic. Heck, we'll go off the financial cliff and likely rise again under an oppressive, Marxist-inspired dictatorship. It will be hell... and we won't be enjoying religious freedom.

      November 6, 2012 at 8:32 am |
    • elb1999

      uhhhh...Put the crack pipe down people

      November 6, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
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About this blog

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.