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. Thoughtful Voter

    We are electing a commander in chief not a preacher/minister/priest in chief. I'm voting for Romney because I know he will do a better job than Obama. If we did vote blindly just based on if someone says they are a Christian or not, how do we really know Obama is an actual Christian? Has he been baptized to wash away his sins and accept Jesus Christ? I'm sorry but Obama can call himself a Christian all he wants but he's not a true one. I'm not saying he's a Muslim, but if he is a Christian his views are not very Christian like. The vast majority of true Christians are not for abortion, gay marriage or many of his other views. I don't believe that those that edit out verses of the bible because they don't agree with them to be true Christians. If you want to do that, that's fine, just call yourself something else, not Christians.

    November 3, 2012 at 11:45 am |
    • truth be told

      A vote for Romney is a vote for an anti – Christ.

      November 3, 2012 at 11:52 am |
    • Ameri2010

      truth be told: If any candidate displays the nature of the antichrist, it's Obama. If you don't know the characteristics of a sinful man, according to the Bible, then perhaps you shouldn't speak about the Bible.

      November 3, 2012 at 11:56 am |
    • Romnesia

      Which bible verses say those things. What makes Obama less of a christian than the majority of christians? Very little difference really.
      tbt and Ameri. Neither are the anti-christ.

      November 3, 2012 at 12:00 pm |
    • Ameri2010

      Romnesia: First of all, I'd like to comment on your screen name; which reflects an extreme leftist stance of bullying. That's the problems with lefties and the leftist media – they enjoy bullying others by calling names and making immature nicknames for people they disagree with.

      Secondly, I never said Obama was the antichrist. I was responding to a poster who suggested Romney was. Therefore, I suggested that if he didn't know his Bible, then perhaps he shouldn't make foolish comments because if anybody displayed a nature that was closer to the antichrist, it would be Obama. Obama, nor Romney for that matter, cannot be the antichrist because they come from the wrong lineage. That's why lefties who don't know their Bible should not debate it. They look dumb.

      Finally, I suggest that you blow the dust off of your Bible and read it if you want to know what it says. I'm not going to spend my time pulling Bible versus for you when you can simply go online and research them.

      If you don't believe the Bible is the infallible Word of God, that's certainly your choice. I take issue with CNN and lefties who think it's fun to poke fun at Christians who do. And lefties are supposed to be the party of tolerance? I think not!

      November 3, 2012 at 12:10 pm |
    • truth be told

      Anti -Christ refers to anyone who teaches a Jesus Christ other than that presented in the Bible. As the Bible says "many" anti -Christs have already gone out, Mormons are an anti – Christ not "the" anti – Christ. Work on your reading comprehension would be advised.

      November 3, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
    • Romnesia

      tbt. So Obama doesn't fit your model. Big deal. Cite bible verses to support your position. Then prove that the bible with all its contradictions doesn't say the opposite somewhere else.

      November 3, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • Romnesia

      tbt. I don't need advice from a moron like you.

      November 3, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • truth be told

      I was referring to your ignorance regarding my original statement not biblical contradictions, but no the Bible does not contradict on the passage cited, nor anywhere else that is not easily shown to be misinterpretation.

      November 3, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  2. Ameri2010

    Busting on Billy Graham – a faithful servant of God – just because he "dared" to speak his piece as a Christian? Is CNN so gullible that they think Christians, including Graham, would actually rally behind Obama who voted for partial birth ab*ortions and has "evolved" into support for gay marriage? This is just another opportunity for CNN to persecute Christians for sport.

    Obama is NOT a Christian, let alone a born-again Christian as CNN is suggesting and ALL true Christians know that. Even lukewarm, non-churchgoing people know that Obama is not a Christian. Obama and CNN pay lip service to Obama being a Christian, but his actions speak louder than false words.

    A man who fears God will not support k*lling God's babies who He has created. A man who fears God will not support the unbiblical view of gay marriage.

    We aren't voting for a pastor. If Christian waited to vote for a man who was perfect, then Christians could never vote, which I'm sure please leftists to no end. However: Romney, regardless of his church membership, at least fears God and doesn't shake his fist in God's face like a rebellious child. Romney is the only choice when it comes to Christians voting.

    November 3, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • Romnesia

      The old true scotsman fallacy. Good to see bigotry alive and well.
      What is your opinion on god killing "god's babies" – it happens to thousands daily.
      Graham denounced mormonism as a cult until it was politically expedient – that is hypocrisy and many would argue not christian.

      November 3, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  3. TK

    So, let me get this straight. When religious conservatives vote for a Christian, they get slammed by the lefties because they're too ideological and supposedly trying to make the US into a Christian version of sharia law. And then when they vote for someone who is not a Christian but holds conservative values, they are putting politics before religion.

    Just tell the truth liberals: you have no interest in either God or freedom. The "compassion" you show just chains the people you think you're helping into total dependence upon your regime.

    November 3, 2012 at 11:43 am |
    • Pam D

      Well said, TK. The tolerance of the far left extends to about the same length as the tolerance of, say, the Westboro church members. Unfortunately, it seems that a majority of those far left folks are in media of some sort. I can't say they're journalists, because that would be too large of a stretch.

      November 3, 2012 at 11:57 am |
  4. Ken

    I HONESTLY wonder how many black Christians will vote for Obama? You know the guy who is trying to force Catholics to deny their faith and beliefs by Obamacare and contraceptives? Or the guy who supports gay marriage? Or the Jews who will vote for Obama even tho he h ates Israel? Or the important question is, how many will stay home?

    November 3, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • MCR

      Don't forget how he restricts the Wahabis from controling their wives and how he forces kids to learn to read even if its against their parents religion. No matter who is in the White House, religions will not ever be allowed to run wild and do whatever they want. We will always have limited freedoms to express religion within socially accepted limits. We will always define limits on marriage (age, number etc.) and we will always make judgements on birth control, for or against. Certainly we want to allow some variety so the marketplace of ideas can flourish, but it is not, and never will be, a free-for-all.

      November 3, 2012 at 11:48 am |
    • Ameri2010

      If I was an African American, Christian or not, I surely would be looking at the unemployment rates for my race and asking what Obama has done for African Americans the last four years other than use us for a vote.

      November 3, 2012 at 11:59 am |
    • Romnesia

      Ken, you know that is total bullshit.

      November 3, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  5. Tr1Xen

    Fox News was right.... BIAS ALERT!!!!

    November 3, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • Bob Mccoy

      I was baptized as Mormon and attended a very wide variety of Christian churches. When I was a child we also often attended the Methodist church. I got to celebrate Mass with Pope John Paul 2 and 500,000 other people at Cherry Creek State Park in Denver. Now, I'm a Baha'i. I believe all true religion comes from the same one and only Almighty God. As far as the American cultural scene goes. Like it or not America was founded by Christians. It was Christians who established freedom of religion in the first place. Jesus Christ Himself revealed the separation of church and state when He said "give to Me what belongs to Me, give to Ceasor what belongs to Ceasor," God is sovereign in every human heart who voluntarily surrenders to Him. Islam, submission, is the inner essence of every religion. Jihad is our inner struggle to love and obey God, instead of following our own selfish ambition, our own animal passion. The superficial stories that we use to teach that spiritual reality are the divine education in every language and culture. Peace be with you all.

      November 3, 2012 at 11:48 am |
  6. I am a christian and I voI ate Romney/ Ryan 2012. and God bless America we want our country back! I love and admire Billy Graham, God have mercy on you cnn for speaking against him he has put God first all his life just because he does not support liberal

    I am a christian and I vote Romney/ Ryan 2012. God bless America we want our country back! I love and admire Billy Graham, God have mercy on you cnn for speaking against him he has put God first all his life just because he does not support liberal medias choice of president you try to speak iii of him. God is Love! not hate.... Your candidate has people to vote for him out of revenge.... Romney asks for votes,for love of country! Wake up America today and don't let your rights be taken away from you! Main stream media is a joke they think that the Americans are too stupid to make a educated decesion... We are not stupid we have trusted the news to bring us the people the facts. We no longer can trust this to be true. Now media twists the facts to represent their own views Shame on you!

    November 3, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  7. James

    I am a conservative born-again Christian. I live my life EVERY DAY based on my relationship with Christ and the principles in His Word. (i.e. Christianity is not my 'religion' it's my life.) I will be voting for Mitt Romney. I was ready to give you a whole list of why this blog is wrong on every level. However, you are so irrelevant to the conversation that I won't waste my time. EOM

    November 3, 2012 at 11:23 am |
  8. Alan Loewen

    Mr. Prothero, I am an evangelical Christian and an ordained member of the clergy for a small Protestant denomination. I am well aware that Mormonism and evangelical Christianity share no common ground when it comes to theological points.

    Yet, on Tuesday, November 6th, I will be voting for Romney and doing so with a clear conscience because I am voting for the President of the United States and not a religious leader.

    So, yes. Romney and I are at loggerheads over theological issues. If he was running for Bishop of my denomination, I would not vote for him. However, we have an affiliation over moral, social, and political issues and I have far more in common with Romney than I do with Obama.

    Sorry, but your attempt at labeling me and other evangelicals as hypocrites for voting for a Mormon for President comes across simply as a desperate attempt at reverse-psychology. On Tuesday, evangelicals like me will take our religion and our conscience into the voting booth on Tuesday and we will do the right thing.

    November 3, 2012 at 11:21 am |
  9. Ameri2010

    I'm sending this attack on Christians to my very large Christian email group. I hope it offends them as much as it offended me. Attacking Christians and questioning their beliefs when Obama supports ab*ortion and gay marriage? How low can one go.

    November 3, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  10. Mobeetie

    At least a Mormon believes in God, Obama thinks he is God!

    November 3, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  11. Marc

    What absolute rubbish this article is! The author is either astonishingly ignorant or shockingly dishonest. I won't even bother getting into the issue of how the fire in the Huckabee ad is about those things that will stand the test of fire rather than the fires of damnation except to wonder how someone can even be considered a "religion scholar" and be blogging about religion for a major network like CNN when they aren't even aware of this difference?

    In any case the reason Evangelicals are supporting Romney is very simple. Even though President Obama claims to be a Christian, some of his policies that matter especially to Evangelicals do not reflect that supposed belief. Romney on the other hand, while a member of a church widely considered by Evangelicals to be a cult, shares the core values of many Christians, and it is believed his policies will reflect that. As such, many Evangelicals are voting against Obama's policies by voting for Romney, having realized that if they just sit things out President Obama will be re-elected and his policies will continue. After all, the Bible is full of examples of God using people who are not exactly spiritual role models to accomplish His will. This again is something that someone in the author's job should well be aware of, so we're either dealing with surprising ignorance or flat-out dishonesty.

    I have to wonder whether this isn't a classic case of projection as Mr. Prothero appears to be doing the same thing he is accusing Evangelicals here – using religion for political purposes.

    November 3, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  12. Big Bob

    Simple – I refuse to support a baby killer like Obama; a Marxist crud like Obama; an incompetent narcissist like Obama; a lying political double-talking Democrat weasel like Obama; etc., etc., etc.

    November 3, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  13. TV63

    First of all , Mr. Prothero , It's nobody's damn business who I vote for! Got that!! That's why we are in a booth with a curtain. If I vote based on my bibical beliefs; Again MY BUSINESS!!! You attacking Christians will only make them come out more and exercise their right to vote on their beliefs and again THEIR BUSINESS!!!! Liberals vote based on all party lines, and yes race (oooh no one wants to say that) , abortion and gay marraiage issues and green issues. ANd it's THEIR BUSINESS and you're not attacking them. SO BACK OFF BUB OFF YOUR HIGH HORSE AND IVY TOWER!!

    November 3, 2012 at 11:15 am |
  14. Ameri2010

    CNN has some nerve – What about Obama and his GOD DAMN AMERICA church of over 20 years? Where were the headlines about THAT in 2008? Oh, that's right – it's the biased liberal media who doesn't work for the people and who lies to cover for leftist politicians.

    November 3, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  15. Ameri2010

    Putting politics before God?

    Obama is such a strong believer of ab*rtion, that it's all for allowing babies to die on utility room tables.

    Obama has evolved into taking the unbiblical position of gay marriage.

    Putting politics before God? I think not. More like putting God before politics and those who run on the sin ticket.

    November 3, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  16. Bevis Lee

    So what would you, the writer have us do then, vote for COMRADE Obama and four more years of his crap?

    November 3, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  17. bryan

    This is not about putting politics before God, it,s about getting a guy out of the white house who has leanings towards Islam. Obama is the only President I have ever seen bow to a Saudi king and I mean really bow. I thought he was going to kiss the kings feet. Didn't he have an Islamic prayer day on the steps of the Capital. Obama doesn't want you to live the way you want to, he wants you to live the way he wants you to. For goodness sake....... GET HIM OUT.

    November 3, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  18. Christian Conservative

    As a Christian Conservative, I would rather have a Mormon in the White House than a Liberal Socialist Muslim.

    November 3, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • truth be told

      A vote for a Mormon is the same as a vote for an anti – Christ.

      November 3, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Dan Balbi

      Stephen Prothero – a religious scholar. Who does he think he is preaching to Christians. Hey Steve, I don't hear you condeming Obama for his stance on abortion. How about his stance on gay rights. You have the audacity to tell us Christians that we are wrong for supporting who we believe will help this country, yet you stay silent on Obama and his agreeing with the killing of life. You are a hypocrite and heretic. Go sell you book and pretent that you are some great bibilcal scholar. To me you are Judas!!!

      November 3, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • truth be told

      A nominal Christian with poor values is the flip side of poor choices. A cultist anti -Christ Mormon would be far worse for America.

      November 3, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  19. BallBounces

    "Did Mormons all of a sudden change their theology? Did Graham change his definition of a “cult”? Of course not." Actually, Mormons have been moving towards evangelical orthodoxy and evangelicals' views of Mormonism have been shifting for a number of years now. I would expect a "religion scholar" to know this.

    November 3, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • truth be told

      Mormons are not Christians, that shift has been engineered for an event such as a Mormon presidency fulfilling the vision of Mormons ill conceived founder the liar and false prophet Joe Smith.

      November 3, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  20. Ann

    When a Christian is faced with a choice like we have this year, how can you question the choice for life and Biblical marriage? God can use whomever He wants to promote His agenda.

    November 3, 2012 at 10:44 am |
    • truth be told

      Poor leadership is Gods curse on a country. To submit to Mormonism is the greater curse.

      November 3, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • Ann

      I would rather our country go down the tubes under a Mormon presidency than the one we have. No matter who is president, I know who is King, and as we have seen in the "super storm" He is in charge.

      November 3, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
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