(Photo: A. Larry Ross Communications)
An article describing Mormonism as a "cult" was removed from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's (BGEA) website following Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's visit with Graham last week.
The article described The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly referred to as Mormonism, as a group that "teaches doctrines or beliefs that deviate from the biblical message of the Christian faith." Other groups identified as cults in the article include Jehovah's Witnesses, Unitarians, the Unification Church, Scientologists and Spiritists.
The article was removed sometime after Romney, a Mormon, visited Graham at his Montreat, N.C., home last week. Ken Barun, chief of staff for BGEA, said in an emailed statement on Tuesday that the organization removed the article in order to avoid a debate, though he did not specify whether or not the candidate's visit had anything to do with the timing of its removal.
"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," said Barun.
Following his meeting with Romney, the 93-year-old Graham said he was honored to have met the candidate, with whom he had the opportunity to pray.
"What impresses me even more than Gov. Romney's successful career are his values and strong moral convictions," said Graham.
He later added, "I will turn 94 the day after the upcoming election, and I believe America is at a crossroads. I hope millions of Americans will join me in praying for our nation and to vote for candidates who will support the biblical definition of marriage, protect the sanctity of life and defend our religious freedoms."
During his meeting with Romney, Graham said he would do "all I can" to help the Republican candidate, The Asheville Citizen-Times reports.
Issues surrounding Mormonism – and whether or not it should be defined as a Christian belief system – have stirred up strong emotions and some debate in Christian circles this election season. Some have even questioned whether or not it is acceptable for Christians to vote for a Mormon at all.
Franklin Graham, Billy Graham's son and the president and CEO of the BGEA, told The Christian Broadcasting Network in December 2011 that Romney's Mormon faith "doesn't bother me at all." The most important thing, he said, is for Americans to select the person who is most qualified to be president.
"You can have the nicest guy and he can be a Christian and just wonderful but have absolutely no clue as to how to run a country, you don't want that … Mitt Romney is a very capable fellow," he said.
He was also asked in an interview with MSNBC in February if he considers Romney a Christian.
"Most Christians would not recognize Mormonism as part of the Christian faith ... Now, of course they believe in Jesus Christ, but they have a lot of other things that they believe in too that we don't accept theologically," he said.