Friday, October 26, 2012

Billy Graham and the Mormons

Newsflash for all evangelical Christians: we like Mormons now.

Just last week Billy Graham (now 93 years old) met with Mitt Romney and decided he's a pretty good guy, even if he is a Mormon. 

Graham then ordered that the Mormon church no longer be listed as a cult on the website of his Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.,0,7781678.story

Never mind that the Church of the Latter Day Saints doesn't see Jesus as fully divine, part of the Trinity. Jesus is just one of a number of God's children, including Satan. 

Never mind that they believe that God the Father "has flesh and bones" (and a penis).  And of course, there are multiple universes, each with their own god.  Our God lives on a planet called Kolab.

Men have to be married to reach the highest level of heaven.

Women can't get to heaven unless they are married--and to a Mormon.  (Despite what Jesus said in Mark 12:25, your marriage continues in heaven.)

Forget all this, folks.  The important thing is that Mormons "share our values."

If you thought those values were maybe the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, or  "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27), you are wrong.

Our shared values, according to Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, are:
* opposition to abortion,
* opposition to same-sex marriage,
* support for religious freedom (including the right of religious institutions to refuse to provide contraceptive services to their employees),
* support for school vouchers, and
* limited government (except in the case of women wanting to make their own reproductive choices). 

Thank you to Amanda Baugh, my colleague at California State University, Northridge, for reporting the Graham website's switch in her lecture this week on the role of Mormons in the 2012 presidential election.

Thanks also to Mary J. O'Donnell, who analyzed religion in the election and made an interesting distinction between "political religious organizations" and "religious political organizations." 

She reminded us that many evangelicals used to believe in staying away from politics and not even voting; after all, we are citizens of heaven just passing through this world.

But starting in the late 1970s some politicians discovered that they could win a lot of votes if they convinced conservative Christians to throw faith, patriotism, politics, and moral values all into one bag.  These people became a powerful voting block, the famous "Religious Right." 

Enlisting these 3-4 million voters was "like finding oil," O'Connelly observed.

The churches and other religious organizations turned political and said it was God's will to vote and to try to get the US government to legislate, make judicial decisions, and make executive decisions according to the "Christian" values listed above. 

A certain number of right-wing political organizations turned religious.  Ronald Reagan discovered the word "God" and inserted it into his speeches far more than any previous president, including Jimmy Carter, a Southern Baptist and born-again Christian. 

Evangelical Christians, who prior to 1980 had felt that divorce was their main Christian value, suddenly were told they should vote for a divorced and remarried man for president.  He shared their values, despite ignoring the fairly clear teaching on divorce by Jesus, who said nothing about abortion and gay marriage.

When a political organization wants your vote, it can get very religious.  But check out what it is selling as "religion." 

Its "religion" just might not have much to do with anything Jesus ever said or did.

For further reading:

Randall Balmer. Thy Kingdom Come, An Evangelical's Lament: How the Religious Rgiht Distorts the Faith and Threatens America. New York: Basic Books, 2006.

Frank Schaeffer.  Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Rgiht, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back.  New York: Carroll & Graf, 2007.

Anne Eggebroten. Review of Crazy for God with an accompanying essay "Crazy for Abortion" about Schaeffer's campaign to make abortion a Christian issue.  Christian Feminism Today 32, 1 (Spring 2008).

Milt Hankins.  "Politics Indeed Makes for Strange Bedfellows." Herald-Dispatch, October 25, 2012.

Milt Hankins is a Baptist pastor in West Virginia who can't believe that some evangelicals are now planning to pass over a member of the United Church of Christ to vote for a Mormon:  Here's an excerpt of his column in yesterday's newspaper in Huntington, West Virginia.

Why would evangelical Christians vote for someone who believes that God lives on a planet called Kolab, and that men can become Gods, and that God is an exalted man?
How could any evangelical, African-American Christian vote for a man who was a bishop and stake president in the Mormon Church, which until 1954, believed that "Negroes" were ineligible for the Mormon priesthood. The commonly-held belief was that if they were good enough, black people could enter heaven to be slaves for white people.
Is it possible that evangelical Christians, who insist on electing people of like beliefs, can support someone whose religion teaches that "Jesus and Satan were spirit brothers?"

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