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. Dave

    Let's get the facts straight. Ralph Reed abandoned Christianity and sold out for politics over a decade ago. This is nothing new for Ralph Reed. What Billy Graham did was disappointing. In fact, this might be the last major political decision of Graham's life here on earth. It would be very sad that such a long honorable career as a minister would be capped with something like this.

    November 4, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  2. Jerry Lemieux

    Anyone who supports abortion has forfeited their right to claim to be a Christian. You, on the other hand, have cemented your position has an ignorant, hate filled, insignificant troll.

    November 4, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  3. Voting for President or Calling a Pastor?

    In this election, we are voting for extremes in direction, which include redefining marriage, life, and religious liberty. One candidate (regardless of denomination) lines up with my beliefs. That is the candidate I'm voting for. We are not calling a Pastor, we are voting for a President.

    November 4, 2012 at 12:58 pm |
  4. James

    Another black Pastor speaking the truth!


    November 4, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  5. Ebenezer

    My problem is if Obama wins what will remain of Billy Graham now that he has taken the bull by the horn, To be neutral means see no evil, do no evil and hear no evil, but in this case somebody is smelling rat. God Loves us all but the work of God is annointment to some, so whoever you are, be you what ( God Loves You).

    November 4, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
    • James

      God will decide who wins this election. And good always triumphs over evil.

      We know who took God out of their party platform in North Carolina.

      November 4, 2012 at 12:20 pm |
    • midwest rail

      The American people will decide this election – as always.

      November 4, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
    • Sally J

      It is clear that Stephen Prothero and Obama supporters have for years completely kicked out any consideration of God in politics. It doesn't necessarily take an evangelical Christian to promote policies that more readily support First Amendment freedom of religion for all Americans. I would rather have an atheist surgeon who knows how to cut, vs. a Christian surgeon with mediocre technique.

      November 4, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  6. chet

    Go to YouTube and search "Banned Mormon cartoon" You will not believe it.

    November 4, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
  7. James

    Obama is going to lose in a LANDSLIDE!


    November 4, 2012 at 11:51 am |
    • chimpo

      I'm pretty sure that America's blacks are more concerned about voting of a Mormon. Why? Until 1978, official Mormon doctrine stated that Black people were the devil's spawn. Literally. How's the weather in Cult Lake City?

      November 4, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  8. chet

    Because nothing says women's rights like a religion based on polygamy. Or a political party that endorses legitimate r-pe.

    November 4, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Landolini

      You have absolutely no knowledge or understanding of the Mormon religion. Instead of watching your biased news and letting them make the decisions for you go read a book to learn more about what you are trying to say.

      November 4, 2012 at 11:47 am |
    • post

      OK i'll read a book -
      how about i read the Mormon book of Doctrine and Covenants 132:61-62?
      "[I]f any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another,and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified; he cannot commit adultery for they are given unto him; for he cannot commit adultery with that that belongeth unto him and to no one else. And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified."

      mormons were chased out of new england and settled in salt lake for the sake of heresies like this.

      November 4, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
    • YoureWelcome

      The context of those scriptures is God explaining the law of polygamy he gave to *many* of His prophets throughout time. Check out many of your Old Testament prophets who were given this law. Joseph Smith was given it and few in the LDS Church were asked to follow it. Women were permitted to choose their involvement. It's been over a hundred years since all polygamy was ceased by God in the LDS Church. Today the LDS Church has the *largest* women's organization in the world, the Relief Society, which does tremendous humanitarian work. Some of the brightest women in the world participate in that–there is no subjugation of women in the LDS Church. If that were the case, millions of clear-headed, intelligent, educated and successful women would have left decades ago. Instead, they see the opportunity to serve the people on this earth en masse by participating in the Relief Society as part of the LDS Church.

      November 4, 2012 at 1:43 pm |
    • Landolini

      You are a typical liberal, everything is read out of context. Anyhow, I like to focus on what is really important, like out economy and our national security. Ever heard of those?

      November 4, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
  9. Landolini

    Someone needs to get this guy a job. If he has this much time to bash those who hold good values and to throw mud in their face, he should be punished....He is another example and product of the Obama era. Failure.

    November 4, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • midwest rail

      Prothero is a product of the Obama era ? You are delusional.

      November 4, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
    • post

      people will go on being confused and godless no matter who is president =\

      November 4, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  10. chet

    Go to YouTube and search "Banned Mormon Cartoon" it is an accurate depiction of what Mormons believe. If you can watch this and still vote for Romney, America is doomed. Watch it, then tell a friend.

    November 4, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Carl

      Better a Mormon in the White House than a false Christian and a closet Muslim.

      November 4, 2012 at 11:40 am |
    • chet

      Do a Google search on "Lying for the Lord" It's a patented Mormon technique. And wow, is it all over this board. How's the weather in Cult Lake City today, guys?

      November 4, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • Moby Schtick

      Mormonism is no more ridiculous than christianity–talking snakes and donkeys and zombies and whatnot.

      November 4, 2012 at 11:44 am |
  11. Pete

    First of all. How is this article even news. Secondly, a Christian does not judge. Politics and religion are different things.

    November 4, 2012 at 11:22 am |
    • chet

      Mormons aren't Christians.

      November 4, 2012 at 11:35 am |
    • post

      maybe you should read the bible before you go on making statements about what a Christian does or doesn't do.
      1 Corinthians 6:3 -
      "Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!"
      John 7:24 -
      "Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.”
      .. and maybe we should read the whole context of the particular saying you're probably pulling out and confusing -
      Matthew 7:1-5 -
      "“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
      Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."

      we should judge ourselves before we judge others, but this doesn't mean a christian does not judge at all – the scripture here doesn't say "remove the plank from your own eye and then ignore the speck in your brother's eye" - it puts a primacy in place, not a preclusion.

      or should we just stick with verse 6 in this passage? read on -
      Matthew 7:6 -
      “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces."

      my guess is that that last passage is an accurate prophesy of comments to follow.

      November 4, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  12. ikenelson

    Translation of Mr. Prothero's column:

    I predicted that evangelicals would be so narrow minded that they could never vote for a Mormon and Romney would never get a substantial evangelical vote. Since this clearly not the case, it must be that evangelicals are being hypocrites. It can't possibly be that I didn't know what I was talking about, and that I don't really understand the people I claim to be analysing.

    November 4, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • Sheila

      Translation of article: BGEA throws Jesus Christ under the GOP bus foresaking the call to Christians to share the Good News for the sake of wealth and greed in the USA. BGEA had listed the LDS as a church that Christians should avoid all contact, but they scrubbed their website of any mention of Mormon being a cult. The question that begs to be answered is why?
      Why are Christians passionate for a candidate who believes God was once man and remains a flesh and blood creation; who believes Holy Scripture is incomplete and full of error (Adam and Eve is an "idle tale"); who believes the Holy Trinity does not exist and is a false teaching; who is a leader of an organization who believes it is their purpose to restore the true church to the world; who believes Jesus Christ, after the Resurrection, visited the Americas to teach to the lost tribes of Israel; who believes that all but a very few go to heaven, but he goes to a better one than most?
      The question is why are Christians who believe their primary goal in life is to share the Good News of the gospel so passionate about a candidate whose faith would lead them straight to hell according to historical doctrine?

      November 4, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  13. jan

    who will get my vote?
    I will vote for the most pro-life candidate, because God hates the shedding of innocent blood. Proverbs 6:17

    I will vote for the most pro-Israel candidate, because God blesses those who bless Israel and curses those who don’t. Genesis 12:3

    I will vote for the most pro-debt reduction candidate, because the borrower is servant to the lender. Proverbs 22:7

    I will vote for
    the most pro-work candidate, because God says: If a man does not work, let him not eat. II Thessalonians 3:10

    I will vote for the most pro-marriage candidate, because God is for marriage as defined in Genesis 2:24.

    I will vote for the candidate who most closely believes government’s purpose is to reward the good and punish the evil. Romans 13

    I will vote as closely as I can based on God’s Word. II Timothy 3:16

    Knowing that whoever gets elected, God is the one who puts all men in authority. Daniel 2:21

    November 4, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • Mark

      Very well stated Jan. We are most certainly not "electing" a pastor (if we were we would have no choice), rather we are electing a President, and in doing we should rely on the inspired word of God to guide us as you have so helpfully detailed for us. Thank you, and I join you in praying for a Biblical outcome – but will pray no matter which way it turns out.

      November 4, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  14. Scott

    What a hypocritical article. Maybe Billy Graham and others just disagree with President Obama's policies and performance. Or maybe they have little tolerance for a United Church of Christ preacher who screams "God damn America" during sermons. Did you ever think of that possibility?

    November 4, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • chet

      Go to any search engine you want and search "Lying for the Lord" you won't believe it.

      November 4, 2012 at 11:38 am |
    • Carl

      Better a Mormon in the White House than a false Christian and closet Muslim.

      November 4, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • post

      better a man who worships angels over God than one who has openly proclaimed his acceptance of Jesus as the Christ?

      November 4, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  15. John D

    Or maybe Billy Graham and Ralph Reed realized that Mormons have many more beliefs in common with Evangelicals than differences. And maybe they realize that Mormon beliefs are in accordance with the Bible, although not necessarily in accordance with Creeds developed in a political atmosphere 700 years ago. And yes, Mormons do belive the Bible "in so far as it is translated correctly". Do you prefer to believe the incorrect translations? By the way, there are many, many versions of the Bible, some with significantly different translations. They can't all be correct.

    November 4, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  16. vethusbandfather

    Stephen, you may be a Professor of Religion. But this article makes it clear you know nothing about faith. I've heard both President Obama and Mitt Romney speak about their own personal faith. At best I would say that the President is a secular humanist, go read his interview with Cathleen Falsani if you disagree. Romney on the other hand has made it clear that his has a personal relationship with God, that prayer and worship are a big part of his daily life, and most importantly that he views Jesus Christ as his personal savior. Yes, I believe that the Mormon religion follows some false prophets. However, I'll take a man that has a personal relationship with Christ over a man that believes sin is being out of alignment with his own personal values any day.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:53 am |
  17. Dave Scoven

    Gee. Ya think? Because belief doesn't get you squat unless it comes with a paycheck. This is America, dude. Business is business. It doesn't matter what you believe, or even *if* you believe. All that matters is what you can successfully market. Religion is business. Political religion is big business. Evangelical political religion is a gold mine.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  18. CBI

    1. Dr. Prothero has a theory as to how "born-again Christians" will behave in response to a Mormon sharing many of their values - but not their faith - running for president.
    2. The "born-again Christians" do not react the way he expects.
    3.a. The rational person or scientist will change his theory.
    3.b. The irrational person or ideologue will state that the "born-again Christians" are being hypocrites.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:23 am |
  19. JoTn

    Amazing! If Christians say they're voting for a Christian, they're accused of putting faith ahead of the "good of the nation"...now, some hypocrite from CNN wants to use our faith against us? I just read Billy Graham's ad in the Florida Times-Union. Sorry, Prothero...he doesn't endorse either candidate or party. He tells us to vote for the candidate more likely to find the favor of God, which is what Christians do, anyway. Wow...you shilling for Obama is the only outrageous thing about this article.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:22 am |
  20. tedstrumpet

    "You Can't Vote for Jesus" – http://tedstrumpet.com/?p=146 So how should we vote?

    You can’t vote for Jesus – he’s not on the ballot and writing His name in would be of no effect. He’s the coming King of Kings and won’t need or accept any votes. He’ll rule with a “rod of iron” and He can never be impeached or assassinated.

    Christians should fully realize and accept this as fact – the only good and peaceful government that will ever exist is an absolute Monarchy ruled by none other than Jesus Himself. All other governments fall short, are corrupt and do evil to varying degrees. And, even America’s government is without exception. A perfect government can only exist under perfect leadership and Jesus alone fits that role.

    November 4, 2012 at 9:22 am |
    • Dave Scoven

      If all you associate with the concept of Jesus is a "rod of iron," you have missed the point completely. Do over.

      November 4, 2012 at 9:30 am |
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