Evangelical leader Billy Graham received a visit from Mitt Romney last week at his North Carolina home. During the visit, the 93-year-old Graham told Romney, “I will do all I can to help you,” reported the Washington Post. Soon afterward his organization, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, erased a reference to Mormonism as a cult from its website.
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Previously, Mormons had been on the evangelical organization’s “cult” list, alongside Unitarians, Scientologists, Spiritists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and adherents of the Unification Church.
The association’s quiet embrace of Mormonism came after a gay-rights group pointed out that Mormonism remained on the list despite Graham’s support for Romney. Pretty soon the “cult” reference was gone from the website, the Religion News Service reports.
The association’s spokesperson asserted that the removal had to do with its wish to stay away from a highly contentious issue. “Our primary focus at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has always been promoting the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” said the organization’s chief of staff, Ken Barun, in a statement, according to a story that appeared on the website of Christianity Today. “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.”
Conservative Christians tend to find their values congruent with Romney’s platform: Both disapprove of same-sex marriage and abortion. But many evangelicals don’t consider Mormonism as part of Christianity, as the two hold different views on the identity of Jesus Christ. Now, however, it seems the Grahams are trying to overlook the differences. In the most recent issue of the association’s monthly magazine, Franklin Graham — who runs the association — wrote a column titled “Can an Evangelical Christian Vote for a Mormon?” To which he answered his own question with “a rousing yes,” according to the Charlotte Observer. The newspaper also pointed out that in comparison, Franklin Graham gave a much more ambiguous answer when asked if Obama was a Christian. “I don’t know,” he said.
Billy Graham has been a force in U.S. politics for decades and has advised presidents since Harry S. Truman; but in a 2011 e-mail interview with Christianity Today, he called it one of his great regrets.
“I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and often they have no one to talk to. But looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.”
The 93-year-old preacher may have changed his mind.