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. Greg

    A Mormon president is far less dangerous than one who is Muslim. At least Mitt Romney believes in the biblical principles that this country was founded on. Until Christ returns, you'll never find the perfect leader.No matter who's in the white house, God is still on His throne.

    November 4, 2012 at 12:03 am |
    • chet

      Your problem, princess, is this. Obama is not a Muslim. But Romney is a Mormon. Game , set, match.

      November 4, 2012 at 1:05 am |
  2. Dan D.

    I thought that we were voting for the candidate that most closely represents our point of view. As a Christian, why would I support a candidate that beleives in killing children as a result of a botched abortion or a party that needs three runs at putting God and Isreal back into their platform?

    November 4, 2012 at 12:02 am |
  3. ace8842

    Mormon values line up more with evangelical values. Pro-life, traditional marriage, anti-lawyer, small government, and most of all religious freedom. Obama has infringed on the freedom of the Catholic church by forcing them to do things to their own private insurance against their beliefs. Why would Christians vote for Obama who makes fun of those who "cling to their religion and guns."

    November 4, 2012 at 12:01 am |
  4. chet

    To you people claiming Mormons are Christian. Mormons believe they are descended from space travellers from the planet Kolob. Literally. It is in the Book of Mormon. Google it. Is planet Kolob in your Bible?? Will you betray your Christian faith for politics?? Research the Mormon church. Take 10 minutes. You will not vote for Romney.

    November 3, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
    • TM

      You're way off; I think you're a bit confused by mixing our beliefs with those of Scientology. Trust me, not everything you read on the internet is true. If you want to know what we as Mormons believe in, look at mormon.org

      November 3, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
    • chet

      Ok. Honest question. Explain planet Kolob to us. It is in the Book of Mormon. No one has ever tried to explain this to us. Take your best shot.

      November 4, 2012 at 12:03 am |
  5. I_Switched_From_Diversity_to_A_Real_President_on_Nov_6

    Evolution is a theory contrived by agnostics as a self-deluded "time out" to run from God.

    November 3, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Why would anyone need to run from something they are not convinced exists?

      November 3, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
    • hal 9001

      I'm sorry, "I_Switched_From_Diversity_to_A_Real_President_on_Nov_6", but now that you've upgraded from MS-DOS, it is no longer necessary to use an underscore instead of a space within identifiers and file names.

      November 3, 2012 at 11:46 pm |
  6. I_Switched_From_Diversity_to_A_Real_President_on_Nov_6

    4: a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

    Atheists ARE religious!

    November 3, 2012 at 11:33 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      What system?

      November 3, 2012 at 11:35 pm |
  7. I_Switched_From_Diversity_to_A_Real_President_on_Nov_6


    November 3, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
  8. 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."


    November 3, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
    • I_Switched_From_Diversity_to_A_Real_President_on_Nov_6

      That's AWESOME! I just love capitalism, don't you?! It's what made this country great.


      November 3, 2012 at 11:21 pm |
  9. TC

    Why is it that the apparent Christians commenting on this junk are respectful, while those who disagree resort to third grade name calling?

    November 3, 2012 at 11:11 pm |
    • midwest rail

      You've obviously never read the comments section after any story relating to gay people.

      November 3, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
    • Dan D.

      No, gay people leave nasty comments too...

      November 4, 2012 at 12:09 am |
  10. jbejar86

    As a Mormon, I believe in God, and put him first; however, it saddens me to think that we as a nation our so devise. We all stood together after September 11, 2001. We as a nation now stand together to vote as brothers and sisters. I believe that all religions deserve respect, including Islam; however, Mormons are Christians, and have much in common with Evangelicals and both believe in the Bible.

    November 3, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
    • Shana

      Mormonism denies very basic tenets of Christianity, such as the Trinity. You also believe that there is more than one god – that there are millions of them, actually. Jesus is the brother of Lucifer according to Mormon theology. Mormon men believe that they will become gods of their own worlds upon death. Mormons do not believe that the Bible is the one true word of God. In Scripture (Revelations), we are specifically directed to never add to the Word of God – the book of Mormon is an example of breaking this command. If you truly, truly believe that Mormonism = Christianity, I exhort you to pick up Walter Martin's "Kingdom of the Cults" and "The Maze of Mormonism".

      November 3, 2012 at 11:40 pm |
  11. vintagegem

    because I would rather vote for a Mormon than a Musllim.

    November 3, 2012 at 11:06 pm |
    • chet

      I had someone say something similar to me in the bar the other night. They bounced when they hit the ground. And then just laid there and whimpered. Your day is coming, prissy.

      November 3, 2012 at 11:56 pm |
    • Dan D.

      I just heard that the other day for the first time. Shoe seems to fit...

      November 4, 2012 at 12:07 am |
  12. Bill K

    I am preparing for whoever God allows to be placed in power of this great nation. I believe in my heart that Romney is the correct choice as he aligns with my values and political views. Though spiritually we obviously are not on the same page or possibly the same book, I believe his social values are the same as mine for the most part. I am not looking to him for spiritual guidance but sound leadership. I believe he will better right our country financially, and perhaps the wrath of God will be staved for a little longer. If Obama is elected then I fear that our time on earth as believers is limited. If that is the case I want to take as many as I can with me to His Bema seat of rewards. For those who don't know, the Bema seat is like a judges seat at the olympics scoring a dive and giving out victory crowns. He wishes that none should perish but have everlasting life. Even those that call Him a sky-fairy will one day bow before him. If he does not exist you are off the hook. If He does exist why are you taking a chance at eternal damnation. If you don't like what is in his book then obviously you are blind to his bigger picture. As for sacrifice...this was written to the Jews and in the temple only before the Holy of Holy's. Unless there is a third Jewish temple built and you are Jewish there is no need for a sacrificial knife. In explanation of the sacrificial system it is a foreshadow of the perfect sacrifice, Christ's on the cross. As for the future sacrificial system it is to point back at the cross in remembrance. I don't like the thought of sacrifice either but God is God and I am not.

    November 3, 2012 at 10:55 pm |
    • What IF

      Bill K,
      " If he does not exist you are off the hook. If He does exist why are you taking a chance at eternal damnation."

      This is another tired repeti.tion of Pascal's Wager - thoroughly refuted since the 17th century.

      - What if the real "God" is Allah, or Vishnu, or Zeus, or Quetzalcoatl, or any of the other of thousands which have been dreamed up over the centuries? Some of them are very jealous and vengeful and will relegate you to nasty places for not worshiping them. You'd better cover your butt by believing in ALL of them and fulfill their wishes and demands.

      - What if the real "God" prefers those who use logic and reason and punishes you as a silly sycophant?

      - What if the real "God" detests those who believe something just to cover their butts in eternity?

      November 3, 2012 at 11:14 pm |
    • Bill K

      Whatif, I agree. What if. Put down your computer and research every religion cover to cover and get back to us in about 100 years or follow all religions now. Or pray to the God you don't know and ask Him to reveal Himself to you. He will if you set aside your arrogant pride and honestly seek Him. I'm not attacking you but you obviously are lost and He will not force Himself into your life. He tells us "seek and you shall find, knock and the door shall be opened". I just prayed for you.... the rest is up to you.

      November 3, 2012 at 11:37 pm |
    • Shana

      Our time on earth as believers IS LIMITED – Praise God for that!! I'm not sure why this is something to be feared. The end goal of being a Christian is eternal life with Jesus and what an incredible life that will be. So, I say – bring it!!

      November 3, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
    • What IF

      Bill K,
      "pray to the God you don't know and ask Him to reveal Himself to you."

      I did just that for nearly 50 years. What I discovered is that there is no-one there. If you think that there is, it is in your imagination. You are talking to (and hearing) yourself.

      Allah will "reveal" himself to you too, if you fantasize hard enough, and so will The Leprechaun King.


      "...eternal life with Jesus and what an incredible life that will be."

      Any verified evidence that this is a fact?

      November 4, 2012 at 12:09 am |
  13. Hon Hak

    Apparently Stephen is so smart he is stupid as well when it comes to "religion" – I guess to say that others are shills when it suits his boxed belief is convenient. Her's what's going to rub you Stephen – maybe you should question your own belief system – the mormon God is the Christian God – that is of Abraham, Isac and Jacob. They belief in Jesus Christ as their Savior. So, to say that Bill Graham or Ralph Reed are somehow comrpomising their own belief is just plain wrong.

    November 3, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
  14. Iqbal Khan

    Libya Mission Was CIA Operation: Report

    By AAP

    Of the 30 American officials evacuated from Benghazi following the assault, just seven worked for the State Department.

    November 3, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
  15. Iqbal Khan

    Two Party Dictatorship: Ralph Nader:


    Both Parties, Two Heads of Same Corporate Beast.

    November 3, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
  16. Rick Zacher

    It would be great if you did the same kind of analysis of Barack Husein Obama's beliefs. This is just pathetic! Christians oy have 2 choices this election, a morman who believes in Jesus and a Muslim sympathizer who has no religion! Obviously the Christians will be siding w Romney!!!

    November 3, 2012 at 10:24 pm |
    • MCR

      Thereare currently two stories just in the opinion section specifically on Obama's beliefs.

      November 3, 2012 at 10:26 pm |
    • Jack

      Yes MCR, because two WHOLE articles on BHO's religious views cancel out the dozens of smear jobs...er, "articles" I've seen on CNN about Romney's faith. Are you friggin serious dude? Get a clue!

      November 3, 2012 at 10:30 pm |
    • chet

      No you disgusting filth, real Christians would never vote for a cult member. Or a party who believes in legitimate r-pe. Because nothing says women's rights like a religion based on polygamy.

      November 4, 2012 at 12:00 am |
  17. Jack

    "Because politics matters more to them than religion"....well GEEZ...I would hope so! It's called a theocracy, something the US is not. So why would religion matter? It's about who is best for the job, not what religious faction you belong to. You want to see what aligning with religious factions has done? Just ask the Sunni and Shia. You, sir, are an idiot.

    November 3, 2012 at 10:23 pm |
  18. steven

    It's called separation of church and state for a reason!

    November 3, 2012 at 10:17 pm |
  19. TC

    This doesn't mean that evangelicals are putting politics before religion. It simply means that a Mormon candidate more closely represents the evangelical Christians convictions than the man who is currently destroying this country..... And for what it's worth cnn, I came to this biased junk from a link on Fox's site. The blatant biased liberal slant of cnn should not be tolerated as news.

    November 3, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
  20. Buddy

    Mitt Romney is for real and has the love of Jesus in his heart! Mitt Romney speaks with grace, wisdom, love and understanding that only comes from the Lord God. It is the Lord God of life and truth that weighs the hearts. The Lord chooses who he will. God Bless Will Mitt Romney and God Bless the United States of America!

    November 3, 2012 at 10:14 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.