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. Kevin Briden

    Well what do ya know someone Now thinks its wrong for someone to vote for the best candidate regardless of their faith. Who's the non tolerating ones now? The battle cry from the left all these years has always been just because our guy isn't a born again Christian doesn't mean you shouldn't vote for him. Somehow now that its a republican its all wrong. Hum..

    November 3, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  2. Mormons are Not Christians


    November 3, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  3. Believer

    Mr Prothero,

    As long as YOU sir admit you're nothing but a shill for the DNC you're allowed to have whatever opinion comes into your vapid little head. Incorrect as it may (and has already been proven by other news outlets to) be.

    November 3, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Jim

      Sir or Madam,

      Prothero is nowhere near a man who is empty-headed. His work is almost always excellent in outcome due to careful study. Unfortunately, Mr. Prothero is either lying or is appallingly ignorant about the subject and the CC and needs to utter "revoco."

      But, your ad hominum attack is not called for, accurate or what the Lord approves of.

      November 3, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  4. Mormons are Not Christians


    November 3, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  5. Mormons are Not Christians


    November 3, 2012 at 5:17 pm |
  6. Mormons are Not Christians


    November 3, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
  7. sarah

    How about this AmeriTard – instead of attacking religion – why not speak to more important issues like LYING to voters?

    Romney – the great flip-flopper and the great LIAR.

    November 3, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
    • Ameri2010

      Lying to voters? Let me get our my Obama book of lies. I guess lefties conveniently ignore Obama's while repeating lies of the leftist media.

      November 3, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      What "lies"? Are you going to pull out the silly crap again? Like "my Muslim faith"? Don't bother, fvckwit. If you're that desperate, you must be pretty sure Obama's going to win.

      November 3, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  8. Harrison

    Look Ameri2010, if you are Christian and you vote for a non-Christian, cuiltist to be the President, that is the ultimate sin. Would you elect a Republicn Muslim over a Christian Democrat?

    November 3, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
  9. Jonathan Turner

    Who are you to tell anyone that they are putting politics ahead of G_d? Only G_d can judge the heart of a man. Only he knows why any one of us has cast their vote for whom they will. I'm sure that Rev. Graham weighed the two candidates, and decided who had the more godly platform for himself, and took the actions he took, I'm sure after much prayer.

    November 3, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • Mormons are Christians?

      The only thing that hell bound Billy weighed was his wallet.

      November 3, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Harrison

      Heresy is Heresy. The word of God can not be ignored just because we like or don't like candidates for an election. Come on. Graham would never have done that if he were in his right mind.

      November 3, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  10. Ameri2010


    November 3, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  11. Art ellingson

    You don't really understand Christianity do you? The bible is pretty silent on politics. Nowhere in the bible are we taught that we must/ elect Christian leaders. David remained loyal to Saul even after God rejected him as a leader. Daniel and Joseph remained loyal, and even served faithfully, in secular and pages governments. The secular media complains when Christians puts to much stock in our christianity when voting in elections. Now they complain when we don't put enough stock in our Christianity? Catch-22? Next it will be blacks who vote for Obama are racist for choosing him because of scin color, while the blacks who choose Romny are not being loyal to their race? What about the Jews and the Irish? Why can't everyone remain true to ny stereotype? It sure would make my understanding of the world a whole lot easier.

    November 3, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  12. Ameri2010


    November 3, 2012 at 5:10 pm |
    • sarah

      AmeriTard lacks imagination – same video – same piece by some other Christian calling another Christian not a Christian – in this country you hear people say that every other minute about each other – LAME!

      November 3, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
    • Ameri2010

      Sara is the typical lefty who enjoys making up elementary schoolyard names for others. Talk about a lack of imagination!

      By the way, before you make statements that make you look foolish, perhaps you should first watch the videos. Scared you may learn something? Each video has been different. Had you watched, you would've known that.

      November 3, 2012 at 5:16 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      I suspect that the scrawny little Ameriturd was beaten up by the big boys who stole his lunch money and pulled down his pants to reveal his diapers.

      November 3, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
    • Appliance Removal Louisville Guy8

      I would like to talk about jobs. When Obama 1st took office I was making over 88K per year. Now I am lucky if I get half of that. We really need to do something this election. I actually just run a small recycling shop now. We are located in Louisville and our web site is http://www.LouisvilleRecycler.com
      I really liked your blog and I hope you will visit my blog as well.

      November 3, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  13. Mormons are Christians?

    Evangelicals aren't even Christian anymore. You fight for unborn children but yell "let him die" when asked about the uninsured.

    November 3, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
    • Ameri2010

      Leftist lies are no longer taken seriously. Everybody knows that no Christian or conservative has ever yelled to let somebody die. To the contrary it is Christian who have given to the poor more than any single group out there.


      November 3, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      You do realize that not a single poster here thinks you're anything but a complete idiot, don't you, Ameriturd?

      November 3, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  14. Rummy Pirate Times-Dispatch

    "In Greed We Trust"

    In 1994, Bain invested $27 million as part of a deal with other firms to acquire Dade International, a medical-diagnostics-equipment firm, from its parent company, Baxter International. Bain ultimately made nearly 10 times its money, getting back $230 million. But Dade wound up laying off more than 1,600 people and filed for bankruptcy protection in 2002, amid crushing debt and rising interest rates. The company, with Bain in charge, had borrowed heavily to do acquisitions, accumulating $1.6 billion in debt by 2000. The company cut benefits for some workers at the acquired firms and laid off others. When it merged with Behring Diagnostics, a German company, Dade shut down three U.S. plants. At the same time, Dade paid out $421 million to Bain Capital’s investors and investing partners.

    For 15 years, Romney had been in the business of creative destruction and wealth creation. But what about his claims of job creation? Though Bain Capital surely helped expand some companies that had created jobs, the layoffs and closures at other firms would lead Romney’s political opponents to say that he had amassed a fortune in part by putting people out of work. The lucrative deals that made Romney wealthy could exact a cost. Maximizing financial return to investors could mean slashing jobs, closing plants, and moving production overseas. It could also mean clashing with union workers, serving on the board of a company that ran afoul of federal laws, and loading up already struggling companies with debt.

    Marc Wolpow, a former Bain partner who worked with Romney on many deals, said the discussion at buyout companies typically does not focus on whether jobs will be created. “It’s the opposite—what jobs we can cut,” Wolpow said. “Because you had to document how you were going to create value. Eliminating redundancy, or the elimination of people, is a very valid way."

    A couple of examples (it's pretty easy to find more):

    Bain closed GST Steel plant in 2001 laying off 750 workers.

    Controlling share owner Bain Capital closes BRP plant (Southern Illinois) so the 340 jobs there could be outsourced to Mexico.

    Also, this is disconcerting:



    November 3, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
  15. WestThoughts

    This is just a guess but as being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints I have found that this election has turned the light on to many as to what the LDS faith is about. I don't mean to say that they have converted they have just been able to better distill myth from fact. There as still some myths that are perpetuated. Like this reporter saying we believe in more than one God. That simply isn't true. We have one God, our Heavenly Father, and Jesus Christ is His son.
    I have had conversations with several people who have made several claims about my church that are flat out wrong. In defense of them they have simply heard it from someone else and not looked for the truth of it. As I have been able to talk with others of different religions I have been able to compare the differences but I have also been able to align that we have much in common. I don't believe, and I hope, that others do not forsake their religion for politics but that instead they have a change of heart. They realize that we don't have to believe the exact same things to get along. We just have to have a common goal. Like right now. Our goal for a better and brighter American. Where we really do believe in freedom of religion and don't persecute one another because of our beliefs. If this is the reason for these leaders uniting together then I believe it is a step in the right direction.

    November 3, 2012 at 5:07 pm |
    • Mormons are Christians?

      You lie like most Mormons. Why not be truthful? Why are Mormons hiding their true beliefs?

      November 3, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  16. Ameri2010

    Obama a Christian? Biggest joke of the ELECTION year!!

    Obama is running on a platform that chose to leave any mention of God out. When people across America were outraged, they moved to put God back in at the Democratic National Convention, and when they did so, lefties booed.

    November 3, 2012 at 5:06 pm |
  17. Ameri2010


    November 3, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • sarah

      I love it when someone brings out OLD videos of things to support their argument. Just outdated crap.

      November 3, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  18. Montana Joe

    And which party took "God" out of its platform and booed when it was put back in?? Tell me again who is putting politics ahead of God.

    November 3, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  19. Ameri2010


    November 3, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
    • sarah

      Christians love to fight with one another. This is why we have a secular Constitution – because of bullshit like Ameri2010.

      November 3, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  20. Dbroskie

    As an evangelical believer, there is no conflict of interest in voting for Romney over Obama. First, we are electing a leader for our country, not a pastor. Second, my preference is to vote for a moral pagan over a pagan pagan! At least Romney's moral and social stances are biblical regardless of his theology.

    November 3, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
    • oprahjr

      "First, we are electing a leader for our country, not a pastor."

      It's inconsistent for an evangelical try to separate church and state like you did with this statement. Your words make it seem like you would have no problem with taking "under God" out of the pledge or "In God We Trust" off of our currency. Afterall, it's a pledge to our country, not to God, right? Spending money doesn't mean I trust in God, right? We're electing a leader for our country, not a pastor, right? These are things we "godless" liberals say. A final point, Romney has changed his moral and social stances frequently. Abortion, gay rights, etc. Does the Bible change every time you open it?

      November 3, 2012 at 5:29 pm |
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