This one’s being reported widely; via CNN:
Shortly after Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney enjoyed cookies and soft drinks with the Rev. Billy Graham and his son Franklin Graham… a reference to Mormonism as a cult was scrubbed from the website of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
…In a section of the website called Billy Graham’s My Answer there had been the question “What is a cult?”
Answer: “A cult is any group which teaches doctrines or beliefs that deviate from the biblical message of the Christian faith.”
“Some of these groups are Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, the Unification Church, Unitarians, Spritualists ["Spiritists" in original - RB], Scientologists, and others,” the site continued.
According to the Association’s Chief of Staff, Ken Barun:
“We removed the information from the website because we do not wish to participate in a theological debate about something that has become politicized during this campaign.”
That’s very difficult to believe. Would a Unitarian running for Presidential office, almost certainly as a Democrat, really be afforded the same consideration? Or would the two Grahams instead be railing against a liberal form of religion which from their perspective rejects essential Christian doctrines about the nature of Christ and the authority of the Bible?
The website also told readers that “it is very important that we recognize cults and avoid any involvement with them”. It’s not clear whether this is just a warning against taking part in religious activities involving such groups, or whether Christians should avoid other forms of contact with members. Either way, it may certainly have been a stumbling block for some Christian conservatives who wish to vote for Romney.
However, the removal of the site is welcome, even if it’s the result of political calculation rather than religious principle. Everybody knows that in popular understanding, the word “cult” has the connotation of an unreasonable religious group characterised by extreme commitment enforced through manipulative or coercive forms of behaviour. It’s a polemical term, deployed by the Billy Graham Association here to make people fearful of alternative religious beliefs.
Although the Association has not gone so far as to say that Mormonism is not cult, it’s the highest-profile conservative Christian step back from opposition to the religion. Last year, David Barton and Jim Garlow affirmed that Glenn Beck, despite being a Mormon, is actually “saved”; a few weeks ago, the neo-Pentecostal evangelist Rick Joyner went much further, invoking the unofficial Mormon “White Horse Prophecy” in support of Romney. Joyner explained that Mormons believe that the US Constitution is “God’s government on the earth”, and added that “maybe this was one of those true prophecies”.
Joyner also recalled that John F. Kennedy faced opposition in 1960 due to his Roman Catholicism. It should be remembered that Graham was involved in this, although he cleverly kept in the background and left Norman Vincent Peale to face accusations of religious bigotry. According to Stephen P. Miller’s Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South (2009, University of Pennsylvania Press, pp. 80-81):
The evangelist stoked the religious issue in 1960 more than he was subsequently able to acknowledge. At the start of the election season, Graham and the strongly Republican Peale turned down a request from Kennedy to sign an open statement that criticized opposing a Catholic president along religious lines…
…Graham agreed to join Peale in encouraging Nixon to address religion more specifically in his public speeches… In early 1960, Peale served as chair for the National Conference of Citizens for Religious Freedom, held to address Protestant concerns about the election. Graham astutely refrained from lending his name to the Washington, D.C., gathering… He did, however, encourage Peale.
Graham was also discrete about his dislike of American Jews, which came to light only by chance decades after he expressed ugly views on the subject. His son Franklin, in contrast, is openly contemptuous of Islam, which he famously denounced “as a very wicked and evil religion”.
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