Billy Graham and politics: Woe to us

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?

By Mark Wingfield

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, please keep reading. 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.

OPINION: Views expressed in ABPnews/Herald columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.