Billy Graham’s lurch towards Mitt Romney risks his legacy
By Jonathan Wynne-Jones, Thursday 18 October 2012 07.57 EDT
As America’s pastor for the past half century, Billy Graham has earned a reputation as a wise and holy man. But the respect he has gained as a man of unflinching, unerring principles has been severely compromised by his Evangelistic Association’s decision to remove a reference to Mormonism from its website.
The faith had been listed as a cult along with Scientology and Jehovah’s Witnesses in a section called Billy Graham’s My Answer, but the comment was taken down shortly after he and his son Franklin met with Mitt Romney, America’s most famous Mormon.
Not only does the move represent a sacrificing of values for political expediency, but it also smacks of double standards, given Franklin Graham’s treatment of President Obama. Asked on Piers Morgan’s CNN show this week whether Romney could be regarded as a Christian, he refused to answer, arguing he felt it inappropriate to speculate on the Massachusetts governor’s faith.
Yet, he has less compunction when it comes to discussing Barack Obama’s faith. In an MSNBC interview he said couldn’t categorically say Obama was not a Muslim “because Islam has gotten a free pass” under his presidency. And in an earlier interview, he said he believed thrice-married Newt Gingrich’s assurances that he was a Christian, yet questioned Obama’s faith even though the president personally told him he is a Christian.
“Now he has told me that he is a Christian. But the debate comes, what is a Christian?” he said. “For him, going to church means he’s a Christian. For me, the definition of a Christian is whether we have given our life to Christ and are following him in faith and we have trusted him as our lord and saviour.”
The contrast between the Grahams’ treatment of the two presidential candidates has been highlighted further by the statements they gave following their recent meetings with Obama and Romney.
While April’s meeting with the president was described as “very cordial, very nice”, Billy Graham described it as “a privilege” to pray with Romney, and said he would do all he could to help him.
Visiting Billy Graham is something of an obligatory pilgrimage for presidents and White House hopefuls, but he has never before been so openly political by apparently endorsing one of the candidates.
“I hope millions of Americans will join me in praying for our nation and to vote for candidates who will support the biblical definition of marriage, protect the sanctity of life and defend our religious freedoms,” Graham said.
Given Obama’s support for gay marriage and abortion, the evangelist’s call for Christians to get behind Romney could hardly be much clearer.
It is entirely understandable that Billy Graham has concerns about these issues, but taken in the context of Franklin Graham’s previous doubting of Obama’s faith, they are suggesting that it’s not possible to be a Christian and be socially liberal.
Franklin questioned Obama’s profession of Christianity even before the president had come out in support of gay marriage, which leaves you wondering why he is so sceptical and hoping that it isn’t merely because of his Kenyan ancestry.
Whatever the reason, they are feeding the bigotry of the racists under a cloak of Christian conservatism.
Yet they have agreed to go quiet on their opposition to Mormonism despite widespread concern in America among evangelical Christians and previously saying that it “deviates from the biblical message of the Christian faith”.
They are sending out a message that says God is on the side of the white, conservative Mormon rather than the black, liberal Christian.
By becoming so political they risk damaging the incredible work Billy Graham has done in spreading a gospel that preached forgiveness for all, because it turns out repenting might not be enough.
Instead, you have to ask for your liberal views to be washed away as well because your faith will always be suspect unless you subscribe to a certain brand of Christianity.
Surely, after all his years of life-changing ministry, that’s not the legacy that Graham wanted to leave behind?
Photograph (modified) of Mitt Romney speaking with Billy Graham during a visit to the Graham cabin in Montreat, N.C., October 11, by Jim Watson (GettyImages). http://blogs.suntimes.com/politics/2012/10/billy_graham_site_scrubs_reference_to_mormons_as_a_cult.html or http://bit.ly/ScFrwy