Remember the good ol' days when folks in the media were fond of telling us that conservative evangelical Christians would exhibit anti-Mormon bigotry and fail to vote for Mitt Romney simply because of his religion?
Well now that conservative evangelical Christians seem by-and-large on board with the Romney/Ryan ticket liberal CNN Belief Blog contributor Stephen Prothero has turned the tables and criticized conservative evangelical leaders with, essentially, denying their faith by being pro-Romney. From his November 1 post, "My Take: Billy Graham and Ralph Reed are putting politics before God" (emphases mine):
Why are evangelicals like Billy Graham and Ralph Reed stumping for Mitt Romney? And why are roughly three-quarters of white evangelicals inclined to vote for him?
Because politics matters more to them than religion.
Until quite recently, many evangelicals saw Mormonism as a dangerous cult spreading false theology and dooming its followers to hell. In fact, only after Romney showed up for a meet and greet with Billy Graham in North Carolina earlier this month did the website of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association erase a reference to Mormonism as a “cult."
Did Mormons all of a sudden change their theology? Did Graham change his definition of a “cult”? Of course not. It just became politically expedient for Graham to declassify Mormonism, given the fact that Romney, a Mormon, was the presidential nominee of his beloved GOP.
Ralph Reed, too, is forsaking his theology for his politics, mobilizing his Atlanta-based Faith and Freedom Coalition to place voter guides in Ohio churches in the run-up to election day.
I am old enough to remember when the main purpose of Reed’s Christian Coalition and other groups on the religious right was to put born-again Christians in the Congress, the White House, and the Supreme Court. And for decades those who were running those groups saw Mormons as non-Christians.
And don't get me started on Mike Huckabee, who in a recent ad says that a vote for Obama is a vote for your own damnation.
Have LDS Church members repudiated the Book of Mormon as “another testament of Jesus Christ” or their view that the Bible is the word of God only “as far as it is correctly translated”? Have they accepted the Trinity? Rejected their teaching that there are many gods?
As Ben Witherington, Albert Mohler, and many other evangelical thinkers continue to insist: no, no, and no.
I used to believe that the purpose of the religious right was to infuse American politics with Christian politicians and Christian politics. I no longer believe that. The purpose of the religious right is to use the Christian God for political purposes. Why any Christian, conservative or liberal, can say "Amen" to that is beyond me.
I am perfectly happy to see Reed stump for Romney in Ohio and Graham plump for Romney in an ad in The Wall Street Journal. Just don’t tell me they are doing so as Christians. They are doing so as shills for the GOP.
First off, the Huckabee ad, as I explained Thursday, has nothing to do with damnation or hell. But to Prothero's larger point, plenty of evangelical Christians still have strong disagreements with Mormon teaching, but they recognize that secular politics is not about selecting a national pastor but electing a president, a civil officer, not an ecclesiastic one. Secondly, Ralph Reed has long been disassociated with the Christian Coalition and a thoroughly partisan Republican activist for years, so it's ludicrous for Prothero to hit Reed for partisanship.
You'll notice that Prothero insisted that the Christian Coalition was founded "to put born-again Christians" in all three branches of the federal government. While that doubtless was and probably remains a desire of many folks within the Christian Coalition, it appears nowhere in the group's mission statement, available online and excerpted here (emphases mine):
The Coalition is a political organization, made up of pro-family Americans who care deeply about ensuring that government serves to strengthen and preserve, rather than threaten, our families and our values. To that end, we work continuously to identify, educate and mobilize Christians for effective political action.
Represent the pro-family point of view before local councils, school boards, state legislatures and Congress
Speak out in the public arena and in the media
Train leaders for effective social and political action
Inform pro-family voters about timely issues and legislation
Protest anti-Christian bigotry and defend the rights of people of faith
What's more, a review of the Christian Coalition's site finds no explicit "vote for" pitches for candidates for federal office, although it's clear the organization is friendly to Romney and conservatives and highly critical of liberal Democrats and President Obama. The Coalition does have a 2012 legislative agenda, which, among other things, wants to make the Bush tax cuts permanent and repeal ObamaCare.
Prothero has a right to his opinion, but the Boston University religion scholar really needs to tighten up his argument with facts, rather than misleading innuendo.