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Commentary: Putting Politics before God


CNN Religion News Blog,

(By Stephen Prothero: 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)

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.

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.

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.

The reason for posting this was Stephen Prothero’s sounds, in some ways, a lot like me a few years ago: Someone who woke up one day and began to realize they had been duped, in my case for many years, into believing the movers and shakers within the Christian Right, were solely operating as Christians. I still feel stupid to this day, when admitting just how sincerely I believed that lie. It took a lot, including a war, to wake me up.  

2 comments on “Commentary: Putting Politics before God

  1. Two things began my journey in 1992. First I could not reconcile the caustic and unchristian words of Rush Limbaugh. And when I even broached the subject with other believers I saw a blatant compromise because of conservative politics and nationalism.

    Secondly, my best friend asked me to justify the revolutionary War according to the New Testament teachings. I had never even heard such a question and it led me to reexamine what the New Testament taught and what I really believed. The Lord has taken me a long way, but if someone had told me that believers would ever support a Mormon priest for president I would have rejected that notion.
    But here we are. Let us put our spiritual house in order, the Day of the Lord must be upon us.

    • Thanks for sharing that Rick. Its interesting to hear about the different way’s and manners God uses to get through to us. I do laugh about Bill Clinton now, but its actually true that God used the man to teach me a valuable lesson.

      Rush Limbaugh…don’t get me started🙂

      Some years ago i posted one of my ‘musings’ in order to let it be known, “Rush Limbaugh doesn’t speak for me” and neither do any of the other conservative talk radio personalities. I felt it was necessary to let others know because he (Limbaugh), like so many other talk radio personalities, claim to be Christians. And frankly, i sure didn’t want anyone stumbling upon this blog, who didn’t know Christ, to think (a) these rightwing Radio talking heads were true representatives of Christ or (b) that they represented me. Needless to say i got slammed by a number of Christians and truth be told, lost a number of readers.

      Wickle, at A True Believer’s Blog, posted a series of posts in 09 titled, My beef with Talk Radio. Part 2 in the series addressed Rush Limbaugh. Not that you need any convincing but you might still like to read it: My beef with talk radio, part II: Rush Limbaugh

      But here we are. Let us put our spiritual house in order, the Day of the Lord must be upon us.

      Amen brother Rick, amen.

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