Franklin Graham: BGEA Will Never Again Call Mormonism a "Cult"
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Nov 21, 2012 at 07:46:39 AM EST
I thought I'd follow up on this, especially because my Alternet stories now dominate Google searches on the terms 'Billy Graham', 'Mormonism', 'cult'. Reports CNN's "belief" blog, Billy Graham's son Franklin Graham has promised that the Billy Graham Evangelical Association will never again label Mormonism a "cult".
Little more than two years have passed since the U.S. Army withdrew an invitation to Graham, to speak at the Pentagon, following objections from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation concerning Franklin Graham's past vilification of Islam, as an "evil" and "wicked" religion. Amidst the fallout of this more recent scandal, has Franklin Graham, long known as a danger-loving hothead who once shot down a tree with a machine gun mounted on the back of his pickup truck, decided to tack to the politic, inclusive, moderate evangelical center ? And, can we now also expect Graham to similarly dignify Islam, as a legitimate fellow faith to born-again evangelical Christianity? Or would that be a bridge too far?

With Mitt Romney's [failed] bid for the presidency now in the past, the most obvious reason for the BGEA's reclassification of Mormonism, as a legitimate religion rather than a cult, has disappeared. Franklin Graham has chosen to defy cynics who predicted that the BGEA would re-label Mormonism a "cult" as soon as it was political convenient to do so.

Reported CNN belief blog co-editors Dan Gilgoff and Eric Marrapodi,

"Graham didn't direct the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to remove its website's reference to Mormonism as a cult shortly before Election Day. But he agrees with the move. "I didn't even know it was there. We have like 10,000 pages on our website," Graham told us.

Graham said the reference isn't coming back to the site. "I don't want to be involved in calling people names," he told us. "I want to reach people for Christ, and how can I do that if I'm calling them a name? I don't even like the word cult; it sounds like dungeons and dragons or something." "

Graham's suggestion that the anti-Mormon page which labeled Mormonism a "cult", along with Scientology and the Unification Church, simply slipped through the cracks because there are "10,000 pages" on the BGEA website is hard to believe given that the anti-Mormon page in question was so high-profile - it was written in Billy Graham's name. Did an unnamed BGEA official write the page for Billy Graham and, if so, did Graham sign off on it ? And, if we are to believe Franklin Graham, who then is really in charge at the BGEA ?

Nonetheless, Graham's promise is a welcome step forward.

There are other notable details in the CNN report. Franklin Graham credits Billy Graham's politicking, through a 2000 Jacksonville, Florida news conference appearance with Franklin Graham, with tipping the 2000 election presidential to George W. Bush. Reports the CNN belief blog,

"Graham told a story about his father speaking at a 2000 news conference with George W. Bush in Jacksonville, Florida, on the Sunday before Election Day.  That year, after a protracted recount, Florida wound up determining the election's outcome for Bush.

"Now don't you think that was worth some votes in Florida," Graham asked, referring to his dad's appearance with Bush. "I think it probably... changed the outcome of the race. So my father has been involved in politics at different levels over the years, and so for him to be involved in these ads is not out of character." "

Franklin Graham's characterization seems a half-truth; it is certainly true, especially in his capacity as a leading member of "The Family"/"The Fellowship", that Billy Graham was intensely political, at least out of the public eye. But in the spotlight, Graham carefully positioned himself as a religious leader who stood above partisan politics.  

Many observers seemed surprised by the blatantly partisan BGEA-sponsored newspaper ads, signed by Billy Graham, that called on voters to support supposed "Biblical values" - notably opposition to gay marriage and legal abortion, days before the 2012 election. Billy Graham's personal endorsement of George W. Bush was one thing, but for the Grahams to throw the weight of the multimillion dollar tax-exempt BGEA behind Romney was quite another.

Evangelicals toward the fundamentalist part of the spectrum were especially scandalized by the BGEA's apparently politically driven decision to pull the BGEA page identifying Mormonism as a "cult". Franklin Graham's promise that the BGEA will never again stigmatize the Church of the Latter Day Saints in that manner seems to signal a return to the spirit of Billy Graham's studiously crafted image as a centrist who eschewed the theologically narrow animosity of Fundamentalism towards competing Christian sects - Graham established a reputation for being ecumenically inclusive, to the point of refusing to speak at religious events unless Catholic leaders were present.

So it would seem fitting that Graham's heir Franklin has deigned to let the Mormon Church into the club. After all, Mormonism now has almost as many adherents as does the Southern Baptist Convention. But, again, why was the offended BGEA page, that attacked Mormonism, on the BGEA website in the first place ? Perhaps the scandal, over the page and its removal, has taught Franklin Graham the essential wisdom of his father's approach.

Another intriguing aspect of Graham's CNN interview: while blaming the current economic downturn on an alleged America turn towards secularism, Franklin Graham took the notable position of neutrality on taxes and economic justice, telling CNN,

"When it comes to the taxes - whether you should tax the wealthy more or the poor more, I'm not into that," he said. "Let the politicians worry about that."

For such a high-profile evangelical leader such as Franklin Graham to demur on the question of taxes is no small thing.

can run a GOP candidate for president?

by Villabolo on Wed Nov 21, 2012 at 09:13:50 PM EST

by Bruce Wilson on Wed Nov 21, 2012 at 09:36:25 PM EST
run a candidate for the Democratic Party. They'll lose their exemption status. ;-)

by Villabolo on Wed Nov 21, 2012 at 09:52:50 PM EST

... the JW's have traditionally stayed out of politics. But the Society could change that teaching with one issue of the Watchtower.

by COinMS on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 08:06:13 AM EST

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