Playing Politics

Earlier this week Billy Graham formally endorsed Mitt Romney in his campaign to become President. The endorsement is significant for a number of reasons, Graham is a life long Democrat and has never formally endorsed a candidate. This endorsement is important to Romney because it secures the most well-known and respected Evangelical voice of the last century. Graham’s endorsement is thought to put at ease the minds of those Evangelicals who may be reluctant to vote for a Mormon in a national political race.

Perhaps of greater interest than the actual endorsement was the immediate retraction of a number of articles from the Billy Graham Evangelical Association’s web site. All of the articles in question had named Mormonism as a cult. A spokesman for Graham stated:

“Our primary focus at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has always been promoting the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 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.”

The retraction on the subject has raised the ire of many Evangelicals. Calling some to ask, will we gain the White House but lose our souls?

Christianity Today published an article with some brief reactions from Evangelical leaders asking, should the BGEA have removed the cult designation from Mormonism on their site? Here are two I thought of interest:

“Yes, but not for the reason they apparently did. If [the BGEA] did so to help the Romney candidacy, then that was probably folly. First, because it likely won’t help in any meaningful way; and second, because it gives the appearance that the BGEA might think that—on certain occasions—they will let politics trump principles. However, in the big picture I’m not sad that they are moving away from the word ‘cult’ for Mormonism. These days, the word is nothing more than a pejorative, and unhelpful in communicating the true gospel to Latter-Day Saints (LDS).”
–Craig Hazen, professor of comparative religion and apologetics, Biola University

“It is unfortunate that the BGEA chose to remove the cult designation describing Mormonism this week. It will appear to the world that the Graham organization has chosen political expediency over spiritual conviction. It is possible to endorse Mitt Romney, as I have done, and yet maintain that Mormonism is a false religion that leads people away from the one true God.”
– Robert Jeffress, pastor, First Baptist Church (Dallas)

My personal take is that the word “cult” serves very little productive use in communicating about Mormonism. I appreciate the theological definition that Evangelicals have used but regard the the distinction between sociological cults is more often than not misunderstood or not all clarified. In my view it is a welcome change to remove the word “cult” from our vocabulary but the timing of this change stinks of politics and not of principle. If anything this change serves the opposite of the BGEA’s intentions by reinforcing the politicized nature of the debate over the word “cult”. I’m not sure how better the BGEA could have handled this controversy other than to make the change many months ago out of principle in a non-political atmosphere, or to have left all of the articles online and replaced the word “cult” with “heretical sect”, and then clearly explain that the change in vocabulary was intended to better communicate the association’s disagreements with Mormonism.

Billy Graham’s legacy is strongly in tact, but I think I would have preferred him not to have made this one of his last nationally recognized statements. His record of non-endorsement of presidential candidates would have better served his name and not have further promoted the political stigma that has inflicted Evangelicalism.

Palin, Prayer, Politics and Prophecy

When I saw the media coverage of Sarah Palin’s speech in her church (shown in full here,part 1 and  here part 2) had some observations and questions relevant to this blog.

It has struck me with my limited experience with Evangelical prayer that they generally pray for different things and pray in different ways.

1. Evangelical prayer is more informal, Mormon prayer seems more solemn and formal, very often using old-style english and very formal forms.

2. Praise is a much bigger theme in Evangelical prayers.  Mormons generally don’t have many hymns or prayers of praise like I have seen in evangelical churches, i.e. Mormons don’t really talk a lot about how God is great and awesome and powerful.  Mormons are generally thankful and

3.  It seems that Palin is much more open in praying for certain things to happen in the world, i.e. pipelines, economic development, etc.  Mormons are more subdued in that sort of thing, I generally feel embarrased when people pray for such “political” things (I don’t really know if most mormons are that way or not).  Is this typical of evangelical prayers?

4. I think for many mormons it is an uncomfortable thing to pray for one particular person to obtain public office or that some political event to take place.  Mormons and the Mormon church do tend to be more right-wing than the average person in the U.S.  (not really true outside the US) and socially “conservative” across the board but politics is most often carefully kept out of public worship.   At least in the case of Palin’s pastor, he seems very open about putting Palin in office.    I am sure he believes his prayers had a part in getting her on the Republican ticket.   Despite the claims of prophetic guidance, Mormon leaders are now extremely conservative in making any sort of political prophecy. I think there is a lot of irony here, i.e. that Mormons, in my opinion, are more uncomfortable about such bold prophecy than evangelicals, and generally more skeptical unless the prophecy is very clearly delivered as such from the head of the church.

5. I thought the older pastor’s prayer seemed much more Mormon-like, i.e. it focused on love, gospel, and left out politics.

The questions that remain are:

Are Mormons comfortable (or even excited) about having a national leader who prays like Palin? are Evangelicals?

If you are comfortable or excited about having a national leader make decisions based on prayer, does it make a difference that the leader prays in a “Mormon” or “Evangelical” (or some other) way?

Is there something Mormons can learn from evangelicals prayers and vice versa?  such as: Could Mormons get closer to God by praising more and could Evangelicals get closer by focusing less on political areas and more on interpersonal issues?

Could the fact that evangelicals seem to be very bold in their prophecy on a local level, help them develop more understanding of Mormon’s belief in modern prophecy as authoritative?