The first time I heard this man speak, I was six years old, visiting my great-grandparents home in Orlando. The year was 1981.
It was after supper. A "farm supper," Grandma had called it. My baby brother and I were sitting on a latchhook rug playing with his squeaky Seven Dwarves that my great aunt had purchased for him. Grandpa turned on the massive console television, and there was a man singing. We stopped playing, and we watched the man sing.
Grandpa noticed that we noticed. He leaned forward in his recliner to explain what we were seeing.
"That's George Beverly Shea," he explained. "He's singing about Jesus."
And then a lot of people in the stadium audience started clapping. And then a man started talking. I don't remember all that he said, but I remember feeling warm all over. Then that George Beverly Shea started singing a song I had never heard before, called Just As I Am.
It reminded me of Mr. Rogers. Mr. Rogers liked me just the way I was, and apparently, so did this Jesus character.
Fast forward to yesterday afternoon, where I saw this headline:
"Billy Graham's Organization Removes Mormonism From Its List of Cults.":
Most people know that I have long been an advocate for cult and spiritual abuse survivors. That I have studied cults in depth for over a decade. That I wrote and produced an award-winning independent film about spiritual abuse.
What they might not know is how I've invited Mormon missionaries into my home on many occasions for a meal and to listen to their recruitment speech. Often they are teenage boys who are hungry. So I feed them and listen.
And I ask questions. So many in fact that the local bishop often sends different missionaries to meet with me the next week.
It is my strong conviction after speaking with a number of ex-Mormons and Mormon missionaries and after reading several perspectives (including Mormon ones) that the Mormon church is indeed a cult.
It used to be a conviction shared by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Until a Mormon decided to run for President. As a Republican. The reference to Mormonism as a dangerous cult on their website is no more.
Yesterday, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association took out an ad that asks Americans to "cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles..."
I wonder if biblical principles include the following:
- The Book of Mormon and the book of Doctrine and Covenants to have the exact same weight as the Holy Bible. (As an aside, I wonder if we'll start seeing these volumes in Lifeway Christian Bookstores; they seem to pass the litmus test - neither includes the word 'vagina'.)
- Mormonism teaches that people will one day be Gods. That the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is merely an exalted man living near the star-base Kolob. I'm not sure where this comes from, but since I know both the Old and New Testaments pretty well, and there isn't a mention of this celestial planet.
- Women can only achieve salvation if their husbands call them. (I remember telling one of the missionary kids that I could never be a Mormon because I'd never be saved; my husband would forget to call.)
- The accepted practice (and some would say doctrine) of justified lying. In short, to defend God's one true Church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), a Mormon who has taken a blood oath in the temple (like the current Republican candidate for President) will uphold his faith and the teachings of his church over and above any other commitment. I presume that to include upholding the Constitution of the United States of America.
Remember in 2000 how we constantly heard of the faith of George W. Bush, and how the President drew upon that faith to make tough decisions in the White House?
I also hearken back to the Jeremiah Wright scandal - the question then was 'how could Obama sit under a man like Jeremiah Wright and not be affected by his radical teachings?' After all, Franklin Graham, Billy's son and the presumed heir-apparent of the $127 million dollar Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, has questioned whether President Obama, a man who claims Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, is truly a Christian.
So it seems to beg the question: why isn't Franklin Graham up to the task of questioning the $4M that Mitt and Ann Romney gave to the Mormon Church. Sounds like the Romneys are more than nominal Mormons; after all, in the last debate, Mitt Romney claimed to be a pastor in his church. And four million seems to make him pretty vested in the LDS Church. Does this not deserve scrutiny?
At the very least, Franklin or some other high ranking evangelical should ask Mitt publicly what his relationship with his precious children and grandchildren would be like should they choose to leave the Mormon church.
Or will the Romneys get some sort of celebrity pass on the command of shunning in order to cement Mormonism as another harmless version of Evangelicalism?
But I suppose that if Romney is asked about anything, he can justifiably lie about it. Misguide, redirect, offer a five point plan without really telling American voters what it is really all about.
And even if he does tell us, will it be the truth?
But back to my hero. Billy Graham is 94 years old. Hopefully, he is merely a figurehead of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The text of the Wall Street Journal ad just didn't ring true with me. This is a man who historically has invited all candidates to the table and prayed for them. He's never gotten involved in politics historically, except to provide spiritual counsel to sitting Presidents.
I'm going to retain my childhood memory of Billy Graham as the man that told me that Jesus loved me. But the organization that bears his name ought to explain to their contributors that they are using their hard-earned contributions to gain political power and prowess through thinly-veiled political ads that look something like this:
We question Obama's Christianity; we love Mitt's father, George and believe Mitt to be following in his footsteps. It's too theologically damaging to talk about Mormonism as a destructive cult. Now, vote for someone who will support Israel and protect the sanctity of marriage.
Gee. I wonder who the BGEA is endorsing for President.
As a taxpayer, I don't wish to support a parachurch organization obeying the letter of the law by the skin of their teeth while endorsing a political candidate with millions of dollars of print advertisements that seem as carefully crafted as a man washing clean pots in a soup kitchen with buttoned sleeves.
I would call upon the IRS to carefully examine and investigate whether the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is violating the terms of their 501(c)3 agreement in purchasing these ads. If they are found to be acting as a political action committee, they need to follow the rules accordingly.
And if they are found in violation, they need to be taxed appropriately.
I love you, Billy Graham. I wish you were doing what you do best: inviting people to allow Jesus Christ to come into their lives and change the landscape. Reminding people of their brokenness. Binding up wounds. Inviting people to the Lord's table.
And not giving cult groups a pass for the sake of political expediency.