(Photo: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has responded to rising criticism from people accusing the Rev. Billy Graham of becoming too political by praising GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
"Throughout his public ministry spanning more than six decades, Mr. Graham has been careful to remain non-partisan, but has been a consistent advocate for a biblical worldview and taken a strong stand for biblical values with respect to political issues," Larry Ross, spokesperson for Billy Graham, said in an email with The Christian Post.
"During this time, a number of political leaders and candidates have stopped by to visit Mr. Graham in his home as their travels would bring them to the region, including President Obama in April 2010 and Sen. John McCain while the presumptive Republican presidential nominee prior to the 2008 campaign," Ross noted.
Romney visited the Graham and his son, Franklin Graham, at their home in North Carolina earlier this month. The popular preacher praised the Mormon politician for his "values and strong moral convictions." The BGEA website has also published several articles urging Americans to vote based on issues such as the traditional definition of marriage and the sanctity of life, and released an ad featuring a direct statement by Graham. Unlike President Obama, Romney is in favor of the preserving marriage between one man and one woman, and wants abortion in most cases banned.
Furthermore, an article which calls Mormonism a "cult" was removed from the BGEA website following the Republican's visit.
This caused a number of critics, both from the conservative and liberal sides, to announce their disappointment with the Graham's apparent support of Romney. Evangelist Bill Keller, who is warning against Christians voting for Romney because he fears it will allow the Mormon "cult" to grow, said that it was a "sad moment" when Graham decided to give his support to the GOP candidate.
"To not just endorse a 5th generation high priest of a satanic cult that propagates a false gospel leading souls to hell, but then remove the warning from his website that Mormons are NOT Christians in order to justify that endorsement is a sad moment," Keller told CP.
Timithy Beal, an author and religious scholar, who is a Florence Harkness Professor of Religion at Case Western Reserve University, wrote in an open letter to Graham that he feels the evangelist is allowing his voice to be leveraged for a political cause.
"It truly pains me to call you out on your decision to be party to this ad," Beal wrote, noting that he grew up in a household that revered Graham as a "Man of God" and was inspired by his work. He criticized the preacher for claiming that the biblical definition of marriage is set in stone and not open for discussion, and that he is using this stance essentially to voice support for Romney.
"[A]s soon as you crack open a Bible, things gets messy and complicated, leading to anything but a clear biblical view on homosexuality, let alone a biblical definition of marriage. Sadly, this is not about trying to be faithful to the text; this is about converting religious capital to political capital. Which is why it is so heartbreaking to see your name and face front and center. I guess I still expect you to rise above that cynical sort of political fray," Beal wrote.
In his statement to CP, however, Ross said that "the biblical values ads sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) that ran the following week are also consistent with both the mission of the ministry and Billy Graham's personal methodology throughout his public ministry to diligently and consistently remain politically neutral and non-partisan."
He added that "against the backdrop of moral decline and a cultural shift in our nation that reflects timely issues, Mr. Graham's quotation in the ad is an extension of his faithful preaching of a timeless message and strong stand on biblical values for more than six decades."
Graham's spokesperson noted that the minister, who will turn 94 on Nov. 7, is suffering from a number of physical limitations at this stage of his life, such as macular degeneration, hearing loss and limited mobility. However, the minister still remains productive, with an active mind, and continues to "enjoy good general health and remain engaged in the overall ministry that bears his name."
Ross also noted that the preacher is working on another book that is likely to come out next spring, and he is still involved with his syndicated newspaper column, "My Answer."