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Billy Graham faces backlash over Mormon ‘cult’ removal on websitecomment (0)

November 1, 2012


Billy Graham faces backlash over Mormon ‘cult’ removal on website

For evangelicals, berating Billy Graham is like Catholics dissing the pope. Through his globe-trotting crusades and passionate preaching, the nearly 94-year-old evangelist has led countless Christians to the Lord and almost single-handedly ushered evangelicalism into the modern age.

But when Graham had the “cult” language about Mormonism pulled from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) website in mid-October, he confirmed some conservative evangelicals’ fear that GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s rise would lift his Mormon church to acceptance within mainstream Christianity.

Kevin Blackwell, pastor of Valley Creek Baptist Church, Hueytown, said, “While I have great respect for Dr. Graham and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the truth remains that the Mormon faith has fundamental differences in regards to soteriology, the inerrancy of Scripture and the doctrine of the Trinity, among many other things. We must call Mormonism for what it is: a religion that promotes great morals but terrible doctrine.”

Most evangelicals do not consider Mormons Christian because Latter-day Saints revere Joseph Smith as a prophet, consider the Book of Mormon on par with the Bible and conceive of the Christian Trinity as three separate gods.

Mormons acknowledge those differences but insist they are Christians.

The scrubbing of the “cult” language followed Romney’s pilgrimage to Billy Graham’s mountaintop home in Montreat, N.C. After the Oct. 11 meeting Graham pledged to “do all I can to help” Romney, according to a campaign aide. The BGEA said it cut the language “because we do not wish to participate in a theological debate about something that has become politicized during this campaign.”

And while the site still identifies those things that mark a group as a cult — which would define Mormonism as a cult if the description were applied — some conservative Christians remain concerned because all direct references to the Mormon faith were removed from the site.

“Evangelicals cannot begin thinking of Mormonism as a mainstream Christian denomination, and Dr. Graham’s association has taken a step in that direction,” Blackwell noted. “That being said, this political decision is not to elect a priest, pastor or religious leader. We are electing a president, and ... we can support Mitt Romney’s politics while rejecting his theology.”

Bob Waldrep, president of Crosswinds Foundation for Faith and Culture in Birmingham, agreed.

“I have been researching, writing and speaking on new religious movements and pseudo-Christian groups such as the Mormon Church for 20 years now and I cannot ever recall a time when Christians — evangelicals, in particular — were trying so hard to not call one of these groups a cult, or as being outside the Christian faith,” he said.

“My fear is some evangelical leaders have become less outspoken in their concerns about Mormonism from fear they may negatively impact Mr. Romney’s chances of being elected,” Waldrep said. “We must be mindful that in the attempt to legitimize Mr. Romney, we may also be legitimizing the Mormon Church. Once we have rung that bell it will be hard, if not impossible, to un-ring.

“Giving one’s support to, or casting one’s vote for a Mormon, should not mean we should no longer tell the truth about what the Mormon Church believes and teaches,” he said.

“It is never wrong to point out error, especially when it comes to those who proclaim a false gospel,” Waldrep said. “As Christians we know the governance of our nation is important; however, advancing the kingdom of Christ should have much greater significance.”

Bradley Rushing, senior pastor of Mount Gilead Baptist Church, Dothan, agreed that the gospel should be top priority.

“We must not trade the distinctiveness of the biblical Savior — who is the world’s only hope for salvation — to promote a politically moral but theologically heretical leader,” Rushing said. “The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association wants to promote the gospel of Christ while avoiding the theological debate of Mitt Romney’s Mormonism.”

This begs a question, he said — is it OK to compromise the gospel for the sake of an important issue like abortion?

“I would say no,” Rushing said. “We should never reduce the gospel to morality. I would advise BGEA to promote Mitt Romney for his moral positions and political leanings if they are so inclined, but to disagree adamantly with his view of God, Christ and salvation.”

If those eternal points don’t retain their strength, he said, “political agreements matter very little.”

The BGEA did not respond to a request for comment.

(RNS, TAB)

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