Billy Graham and politics

My maternal grandmother thought Billy Graham was a saint above all others. You simply could not say anything negative about the evangelist in her presence. She held the same regard for Jimmy Carter, because she considered him a godly man and a faithful Sunday School teacher—even if not an effective president. She also was convinced Henry Kissinger was the anti-Christ, but that’s another story.

I’m glad she didn’t live long enough to see Billy Graham and his family descend into the arena of secular politics. It would have broken her heart. And it should be sad for the rest of the Christian world as well.

The latest news came last week, when the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association made a slight change to the content of its website right after a visit from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Prior to Romney’s visit, the evangelist had defined Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, the Unification Church, Unitarians, Spiritualists and Scientologists as “cults” and therefore not Christian. Several news outlets reported that after Romney’s visit to Graham, the page with that content was removed from the Graham website; then later, a Graham spokesman confirmed it.

Now before some of you, dear readers, start heating your branding irons to label me a partisan heretic for speaking ill of Billy Graham or for appearing to speak negatively of Mitt Romney, please keep reading all the way through before forming your opinion. I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t vote for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama. What I do want to say is that you shouldn’t vote for either candidate just because you have been cleared to do so (or been encouraged to do so) by a preacher, pastor or evangelist. You should vote for one or the other because you are convinced in your own mind that person is the best for the job. God gave you a brain for a reason; use it.

Nor should you require Romney to be a Christian before you vote for him, just as you shouldn’t spread the lie that Obama is a closeted Muslim in order not to vote for him. There is no religious test for office in the United States.

So why, three weeks prior to one of the most hotly contested presidential elections in modern history, does America’s Evangelist need to suddenly declare Mormonism no longer a cult? Has there been an unreported change in theology or practice? What purpose could there be other than removing a barrier that might keep some evangelical Christians from voting for a Mormon? Especially when the evangelist, to the best of my knowledge, never has repudiated his own son’s statements from February, implying that Obama may not be a Christian but is likely a secret Muslim. Why is Billy Graham taking sides in a presidential election?

Some will say he has every right to take sides and should make his views known. Here’s why I think he shouldn’t and why his son, Franklin, is single-handedly undoing his father’s legacy: The gospel of Jesus Christ transcends political parties and labels. Jesus is neither Republican nor Democrat. And the moment we put God in a political box is when we alienate half the population from hearing the good news of redemption through Christ.

No person in our lifetime has done more to proclaim this message of salvation for all than Billy Graham. And he was heard because he appeared to care about all people without regard to race, creed or color. To make any other agenda—abortion, gay marriage, economic policy or whatever—more important than the universal call to redemptive faith is to lose sight of the cross of Christ. Ironically, it is Billy Graham who most clearly and consistently has called America to fix our eyes only upon Jesus. And now his own vision seems to be fading. Woe to us.

Mark Wingfield

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About the Author
Mark Wingfield is associate pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, and author of the book, “Staying Alive: Why the Conventional Wisdom about Traditional Churches is Wrong.”

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  • danielhaszard

    Destructive cult or benign religion?

    The *Cult* word gets overused,but in some cases it is appropriate.
    The definition of a destructive religious cult is like alcoholism-if booze controls you instead of the other way around you are an alcoholic.
    I was in the Watchtower society Jehovah’s Witnesses,they are not benevolent and won’t let you leave their organization in peace.The Jehovahs are not without scandals-child abuse,deceptive mind control tactics, sex scandals, money scams, general bad behavior.
    Is it a cult?
    If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck….
    Danny Haszard

  • Payito

    The evangelicals/baptists are so obsessed with which church is a “cult” and which isn’t. So what. Sounds like they are so very insecure with what they have that they continually lash out at others to cover up their bigotry and prejudices. Who says they have it all anyway. Where did they get their authority in the first place? They are as guilty as all the others who promote hatred and spread misinformation. They are definitely not following in the footsteps of Jesus.

  • coltakashi

    The word “cult” does not appear anywhere in the King James Version of the Holy Bible. The obsession that many Protestant churches have about placing other denominations into a bin labeled “cult” is a modern phenomenon. Up to a century ago, the questions that demarcated doctrinal differences between Protestant sects were regarded as affecting salvation. That included questions of whether baptism was necessary, and whether the person baptized had to be old enough to understand baptism for it to be effective. The relationship between faith and works was a question that divided one denomination from another. The authority to lead a church and its relationship to the apostles called by Christ was also a major point of disagreement. But in the 20th Century, a mass of Protestant clergy decided those issues interfered with their ability to form large congregations, and essentiallynsaid the questions that had divided Protestants since the Reformation were no longer worth arguing about. Even declaring affiliation with a specific denomination was too limiting for many pastors. It is no coincidence that as many ministers abandoned certainty about the particulars of the true and correct Christian doctrines (as diverse their certainties were), the desire grew to draw a larger circle as a dividing line between what was acceptable and what was.not. If your group was not outside the line, and thus not a “cult”, what you actualky believed about baptism or the nature of faith and the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount were no longer impirtant. To be within the circle your church had to believe most of all in supporting a class of paid clergy, and entering a truce in which you promised not to steal the “flock” of another paid minister. The thing that defined the religious groups out in the newly minted “cult” zone was their active recruitment of people who were financially supporting a minister within the club of acceptable Protestant variation. It was a.matter of financial survival for ministers to band together against churches that would diminish the market for generic Protestant pastors.

    The characteristic of Mormons that drives the need to classify the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a “cult” is its conversion of a hundred thousand people every year away from churches where they had been paying their pastors.

    Pastors who are more worried about the effect on their paychecks of having a.Mormon in the presidency, above the impact on the nation of continuing in power a man who is dedicated to partial birth abortion, imposing same sex marriage on all 50 states, and forcing church-affiliated colleges and schools to pay for abortifacients–such pastors are more interested in mammon than the ability of Christians to live consistently with their faith.

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  • phillipcsmith

    Phillip C. Smith, Ph.D. 10/28/2012


    Many people, ignoring valid science definitions, use
    the terms “cult” and “sect” improperly with reference to religions. In their
    historical usage in Christendom
    the terms have often had pejorative connotations, applied by uninformed users
    to movements seen by them as committed to heretical
    beliefs. Valid, ethical science enlightens and thus avoids such pejorative
    applications of the terms cult and sect.

    The intent here is to provide or re-state scientific
    definitions of these terms to help others avoid future application misuse. I
    will apply the use of these terms to the religion with which I am most
    familiar, namely the Church founded some 2000 years ago by the Lord Jesus
    Christ, and this same Church as restored by the Prophet Joseph Smith, namely
    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    Cult: A small, recently-created, innovative religious group, headed
    often by a single charismatic leader, that exists in some state of tension with
    the predominant religion or with more established and conventional sects and

    The Christian religion, as it existed in 30 CE, might
    have been considered a cult early since it involved one leader and a small
    number of devoted disciples, but it is now far too large and universal. The
    Church restored by Joseph Smith and a few followers also met this definition of
    cult early, but has outgrown this label to become an established religious
    denomination of over 13 million members.

    All major religions likely began as cults. Over time
    they either disappear or as they became larger they shed their cult-like
    qualities and are today, such as the early Church founded by Christ or the
    restored Church, accurately classified by thoughtful, knowledgeable people as
    religious denominations.

    Sect: A small religious or political group that has broken off from a
    larger group, for example from a large, well-established religious group like a
    denomination, usually due to a dispute about doctrinal matters.

    The Church Jesus founded some 2000 years ago was not a
    sect, since Jesus spoke as one having authority from God, not in effect
    breaking off from any other group. In addition, as the Bible implies, he
    himself was the author of the religion of the Jews, even though they did not
    recognize him as such. His restored Church is also not a sect, since the
    prophet-founder belonged to no other religious group but claimed to receive his
    doctrinal knowledge in the main directly from deity.

    As defined by science, then, any religion breaking off
    from another, as many have, is a sect. Thus within Christianity the Protestant
    movements fell into this category. As each has grown larger, of course, they
    are more properly, accurately and kindly referred to as religious

  • Chris Kling

    Billy Graham has a LONG history of ministry to the Presidents. In fact, your outrage is disingenuous and tenuous at best. Where was your outrage when Obama met with him? or Bill Clinton? or George Bush 41: or 43: or the multiple “black” churches that are bending over backwards to LITERALLY deliver voters to Obama?

    • Chris Kling
    • Kevin

      I think you need to re-read the article Chris. The problem is not with Billy Graham meeting with Romney, it is with the reaction afterwards. In changing the website and taking down the “cult” name for Mormons, it appears that Billy Graham is changing his beliefs to try to get a person elected. The other visits were more “pastoral” in their intent, but this one seems to have been more political in nature. That is the problem here, because it seems that Franklin is trying to use Billy’s good name to do political work and even change his beliefs. It is sad that things end up going down this path. I agree with the article wen it says, “The gospel of Jesus Christ transcends political parties and labels.
      Jesus is neither Republican nor Democrat. And the moment we put God in a
      political box is when we alienate half the population from hearing the
      good news of redemption through Christ.”

  • Gene Libutti

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is amazing. Its organization, effectiveness, and sheer goodness are respected by all who sincerely seek to understand it. There is nothing like this Church in the entire world. Consider these in association with “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matt. 7:20)–All of this is done with the final intent of bringing people to Christ–

    The Church has programs for children, youth, men, and women, all led and
    administered by unpaid leaders. It has beautiful meetinghouses that number more than 18,000. (Approximately 300 new meetinghouses are built worldwide each year with 150 existing meetinghouses receiving additions. This is more than 1 meetinghouse being built or added to each day!) Temples—now totaling 139—dot the earth, with another 30+ under construction or announced. (The sacredness of the temple anciently can be seen in both the Old and New Testaments. For example, in the Old Testament, Moses had the children of Israel carry with them the Tabernacle [a large, portable temple] as they wandered in the wilderness. King Solomon built and dedicated the great temple that was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C). A full-time missionary force of over 58,000, comprised mostly of 19-24 year olds who are serving in 150 countries at their own expense. The Church’s worldwide humanitarian work is a marvelous display of the generosity of the members. (Humanitarian projects are funded by donations from Church members and others. One-hundred percent of these donations go directly to help the poor and needy, church member and non-member). The humanitarian services arm of the Church sponsors five ongoing global projects to help people become more self-reliant. Initiatives include neonatal resuscitation training, clean water projects, wheelchair distribution, vision treatment, and measles vaccinations). The church welfare system cares for members and promotes self-reliance in a manner unduplicated anywhere. (Funding for the welfare program is provided by donations from Church members. One Sunday a month, members of the Church go without two meals [biblical fasting] and give the money they would have spent on food to the Church). In March 2001, Church President Gordon B. Hinckley announced the creation of the Perpetual Education Fund to provide members with opportunities to gain education and training that lead to employment opportunities in foreign countries. Young men and women who are living in certain areas outside of the United States may apply for the fund. The fund gives loans, with minimal interest, to the student to pay for tuition and books. After the student completes school, they repay the loan over an eight-year period. Members of the Church donate money to help the fund continue. This is a small sampling of what this Church does to help people come to the Savior.

  • afmajret

    Mark, your post echoes my own reaction to Dr. Graham’s change of heart. I’ve never been an evangelical, but he had earned my wholehearted admiration with his unblemished reputation and unquestionable dedication to proclaiming the Good News to all who would listen. I pray he was motivated by love and charity and the desire to not let some potential supporters be unduly swayed by the ‘cult’ label. I’ll be glad to see November 7th.