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. us_1776


    The Sky Fairy does not exist.

    Get over it.


    November 1, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      The first amendment does exist, but thanks for playing.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @John P.

      Yes the first amendment does exist, which means you can't legislate your doctrines on to anyone else either.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Congress does in fact Legislate based on the beliefs of the People we elect and any other assertion is divergent from reality. What you are claiming is that the left has a right to impose their socialist values while the religios do not; the opposite of seperation of church and state.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:08 pm |
    • mama k

      The 1st Amendment sure does exist JPT.


      During his presidency, James Madison vetoed two bills that he believed would violate the separation of church and state. He also came to oppose the long-established practice of employing chaplains at public expense in the House of Representatives and Senate on the grounds that it violated the separation of church and state and the principles of religious freedom**. Starting from their anger over feuding Christian sects in their home state, until the end of their lives, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson were fierce promoters of the separation of church and state.

      Who was James Madison? He was the 4th President of the United States and the chief architect of the U.S. Constitution.

      ** Library of Congress – James Madison Papers – Detached memorandum, ca. 1823.

      The 1st Amendment, of course, guarantees freedom of religion, but there are also guarantees for freedom from religion with respect to religious involvement in government (the latter handled by the Establishment Clause). An example of the Establishment Clause having been applied was in 1963 when mandated Bible readings in public schools was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @John P.

      What part of "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" don't you understand? There needs to be non-religious justification for a law for it to be constitutional.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:17 pm |
  2. Randy

    If white evangelicals are shills for the Republicans, then what does that make black evangelicals who will overwhelmingly support a man who opposes their religious convictions? There is hypocrisy on both sides, but of course a liberal "christian" such as this author would not address such an issue.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • Brad

      The difference is one side is actively trying to impose their beliefs on others where the other is not.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:59 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      The left uses the entire Government to indoctrinate the people into doing and thinking the way they want.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  3. svann

    Jesus said "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's". That means he understood that government and politics are separate from religion.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Christ was refering to taxes. (ie money)

      November 1, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      @John P. Tarver

      Romans 13: 1
      Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • Dave

      He also commanded his enforcers/gay harem to commit mass murder. What's your point?

      November 1, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • svann

      @john it wasnt just taxes, it was the idea of who money belongs to. Whether people owe it to God or to Caesar (government). Money belongs to Caesar. As well, all government decisionmaking also belongs to Caesar.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Hawaii-And then they cut off Paul's head.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      What's your point? Any Christian that does not obey the laws of the land go against the bible. Just another hypocrisy (one of many) I suppose.

      November 1, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
  4. LOL

    I liked that article. Usually the fluff around CNN and religion is unbearable, but that's a well written article calling out the shenanigans of the religious. The church stands for one thing...money (and maybe pedophiles, polygamy, or misogyny depending on your denomination and/or flavor of God).

    November 1, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
  5. Bob

    There is no place for religion in today's society. If people want to believe a myth, be my guest, but keep it out of politics and schools.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Why do you tell others what to think Bob?

      November 1, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  6. Brett

    The author is correct, but the column is unfair in that he does not also criticize the other end of the spectrum.

    There are those on the left who will vote for the D's no matter what. One need only look at the Al Sharptons and the jesse Jacksons who operate as pure died-in-the-wool D's. All D, only D, 100%D, stump for D's – yet no criticism from this author.


    November 1, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      I think it's because they both invoke the god thing all the time. "God's punishing us for not outlawing this and that and this and that." Graham especially and Paterson are famous for that kind of idiocy.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:55 pm |
    • Barzoo42

      The Dems that vote for Dems do so for politcal reasons only. There is no "religious left." There is only a religious right and they are the ones warping their views for politcal reasons. How I long for the days when religion was a personal matter and was generally kept out of politics. Go back and look at the election of 1960 to see the backlash that Kennedy got for fear religion would rule his presidency.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:01 pm |
  7. bp

    “My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter." – Adolf Hitler

    November 1, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Hitler and Obama are both socialists and evolutionists.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:56 pm |
    • bp

      Tarver – try reading the post you're replying to next time. Hitler was a devout Catholic and he did not believe in evolution. He was a fascist, not a socialist. Nice try.

      “I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator.” – Adolf Hitler

      November 1, 2012 at 7:03 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Hitler was a fascist.

      Despite the name of the Nazi party, they were not socialists.

      The American Taliban has more in common with Hitler and his fascists than our President.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:04 pm |
    • Dave

      Hitler was a devout "christian". Just read his writings. He used that evil spellbook called the fraudulently called the "bible" to justify all of his actions.

      November 1, 2012 at 7:10 pm |
    • John P. Tarver

      Under Facist socialism the Government controls the means of production
      Under Communist socialism the government owns the means of production
      Obama's bail out of UAW at GM was Communist

      November 1, 2012 at 7:11 pm |
  8. rker321

    The immersion of Religion into Politics, is probably the most dangerous path that I have seen recently in our politics.
    I gues that now lying is OK, the honesty or a politician is really not important.
    And shame on Billy Graham whose posture on this issue will surely put him in the gates of Hades.
    I wonder if he has become too old to really think thru, as to what he is doing.
    As a Christian I will not recognize the so call Christianity of the Mormon Religion, as an american, I couldn't care less what romney's religion happens to be.
    But now they have blurred the lines in such a manner, that now, Mormonism and Christianity are practically the same.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
    • bp

      "I like your Christ. Christians, not so much. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." – M. Gandhi

      November 1, 2012 at 6:57 pm |
    • God's Oldest Dreamer

      The "God-Heads" of all social mannerisms be it the Faiths or be it the Political, may well be upon God's 'chopping blocks' when the axes do fall. Off with their heads all of them!

      November 1, 2012 at 7:02 pm |
  9. 4fred

    75% of white evangelicals will vote for Romney. And 98% African Americans will vote for Pres. Obama. I don't get it. What would have happened if Condolesa Rice had run with Romney? Would that have made folks switch political sides just because she's a black woman??? Sheesh.
    Forget color, forget religion, forget gender; we need to think about what the candidates stand for and how effective as a leader they will be.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:52 pm |
  10. 24HCC

    If you consult the dictionary, here is the first definition of God that you will find:

    "A being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe, the principal object of faith and worship in monotheistic religions.

    Most believers would agree with this definition because they share a remarkably clear and consistent view of God. Yes, there are thousands of minor (and some major) quibbles about religion. Believers express those quibbles in dozens of denominations - Presbyterians, Lutherans, Catholics, Baptists, Episcopalians, Methodists and all faiths. But at the heart of it all, the belief in God aligns on a set of core ideas that everyone accepts.

    What if you were to simply think about what it would mean if there were a perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe? Is it possible for such a being to exist?

    Epicures thought about it in 300 BCE, and he came up with this:

    "The gods can either take away evil from the world and will not, or, being willing to do so, cannot; or they neither can nor will, or lastly, they are both able and willing. If they have the will to remove evil and cannot, then they are not omnipotent. If they can, but will not, than they are not benevolent. If they are neither able nor willing, then they are neither omnipotent nor benevolent. Lastly, if they are both able and willing to annihilate evil, how does it exist?"

    In other words, if you sit and think about who God is supposed to be, you realize that such a being is impossible. Ridiculous, in fact.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • Meatwad

      I like God. His beard is white and fluffy like a bunny.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  11. sybaris

    All religious insti.tutions should be taxed. There is absolutely no reason why they should be exempt anymore

    November 1, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  12. Sheryl Turner

    This is biggest dribble I've read in my life. What a reach, what a ridiculous and benign box of words. Is there ANYTHING, anything at all in all of existence you could have written about? I'm embarrassed as a writer AND a human being. Pass the barf bag, please.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV


      I'm embarassed that you think you are a writer. Surely the word you were looking for was 'drivel', and a 'benign' box of words? I struggle to think you wanted to convey kindly, gentle or harmless.

      I wholeheartedly agree with Prof. Prothero on this article, except that he wasn't direct enough to really call out the American Taliban in its hypocrisy.

      November 1, 2012 at 6:58 pm |
  13. delos

    It's not secret religous people of any ethnic group are the most bigot people on the face of this planet.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  14. calvin porter

    How many Reverends will be hauling their flocks to the polls with instruction to vote for Obama.....before they can collect their $5 or 10 love payment? Don‘t believe me? Then you an innocent lamb....religiously speaking, of course.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  15. Bob

    Who cares? Only those stupid enough to believe in magic and mysticism. Folks like Graham and Reed are con artists, just like talk radio hosts, many business people, and almost all politicians. Science explains the world, while religion promotes intolerance, stupidity, and helplessness. Only a fool or a crook would vote for Romney, or perhaps a crooked fool. A vote for Romney is a vote for bush – and one would have to be entirely lacking in intellectual capacity to fail to appreciate the enormous harm that mass-murdering dope did to this country.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  16. Mary1972

    Don't tell us what we should put first. Don't include God in government.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  17. Jackson

    Gee, no surprise here. I guess Billy Graham and Ralph Reed took a page from Mitt and etch-a-sketched their belief system away.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  18. RichardSRussell

    As an atheist, I am more than happy to place politics — concern for the real problems of real people — way, way, way, WAY ahead of this "God" thing you speak of.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
  19. Farrok

    There was a time when God blessed America. Those days are long past. If you read the newspaper you will quickly find that God is damning America. These natural mishaps are just the beginning of sorrows for Ameirca. America is no longer a "free country" but one that exercises Voter suppression, 1% of the country owns most of America. The rank and file are one at a time losing faith in America. Countless Americans go without food, medical care, clothing and medicine, poor schools, veterans claims that take 20+ years to be honored, etc... America is slowly becoming a has been nation without a future. You can lay the blame at the foot of the Republican Party and its members for America's undoing...............

    November 1, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • holysmokes


      November 1, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
  20. Jason

    I vote for keeping religion out of politics – period.

    November 1, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
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