Billy Graham Website Down: "Mormonism Cult" Scandal Widens
On Thursday and Friday Billy Graham's BGEA ran high-profile full page ads, in 2012 election battleground state newspapers, encouraging voters to support "Biblical values" - foremost among which, according to the ads, is opposition to same-sex marriage. Then, on late Friday, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association pulled the plug on the over-$75 million dollar a year nonprofit organization's website, in a striking counterpoint to the BGEA's byline: "Always Good News".
The surprise outage of the flagship global evangelizing organization website comes days before the 2012 presidential election, and on the heels of a widening scandal that opened up when aging evangelism superstar Billy Graham made a widely-heralded non-endorsement of presidential contender Mitt Romney and, soon after, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association website scrubbed a page on which Graham identified Mormonism as a "cult", along with the Unification Church and Scientology.
On Friday, October 19th, the Washington Post ran a satirical essay, by a Mormon university professor, with the title "Mormon says he’ll miss ‘cult’ lifestyle". The same day, the website of Christianity Today, considered by many to be the world's leading publication for evangelical Christianity, featured a story titled Should the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association have Removed Mormons from "Cult" List?.
The Christianity Today op-ed followed an earlier CT wire service story, from the Religion News Service, which quoted my observation that - despite the previous scrubbing of a BGEA website page on which Billy Graham explicitly identified Mormonism as a "cult" - the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association website still featured pages which insinuated to website visitors that Mormonism is a "cult" and explicitly stated that followers of the world religion are not Christians (Mormons consider themselves fully Christian.)
To secular audiences, it is hard to overemphasize the earthquake-scale magnitude of this scandal within modern American evangelicalism -- superstar evangelist Billy Graham was friend and confidant of multiple presidents, such as Richard Nixon, and was widely viewed as a more sophisticated and inclusive counterweight to theologically rigid tendencies within Christian fundamentalism. Graham was heavily criticized by fundamentalists for his willingness to appear in public with representatives of non-Christian faiths.
But even as Billy Graham has aged, and his perhaps less-diplomatic* son Franklin Graham has taken over the vast business franchise bequeathed to him by his superstar father, fast rising tendencies within American evangelism such as the New Apostolic Reformation -- which former co-architect of the religious right Colonel V. Doner, in a new 2012 book, warns could become an "American Jihad" -- are displacing strands of evangelicalism that embody Billy Graham's carefully cultivated ecclesiastical and religious inclusivity.
Top leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation have called upon their followers to burn the Book of Mormon, the principal scripture that differentiates Mormonism from Protestant and Catholic Christianity.
In early Fall 2012, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was a co-sponsor of the New Apostolic Reformation-dominated Philadelphia "America For Jesus" rally. A letter of support from the 93 year-old Billy Graham was read at the "America For Jesus" rally, which was sponsored by top NAR apostles and prophets including Cindy Jacobs, who has claimed that flocks of blackbirds dropped dead from the sky because of God's wrath at Barack Obama's decision to rescind the Department of Defense "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" policy concerning the sexual orientation of LGBT members in the U.S. military.
Other prominent NAR sponsors included Dutch Sheets, The Call founder Lou Engle, and National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference President Samuel Rodriguez. In August 2011, after unprecedented media scrutiny (see: 1, 2, 3) of the New Apostolic Reformation following a high-profile Houston, Texas NAR apostle-dominated religious rally called "The Response" that kicked off Texas Governor Rick Perry's failed bid for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, New Apostolic Reformation intellectual godfather C. Peter Wagner authored an op-ed for Charisma Magazine, the leading magazine of the Christian charismatic movement, titled The New Apostolic Reformation Is Not a Cult.
While some liberal publications such as Mother Jones have characterized the NAR movement as "small", the apostles of the New Apostolic Reformation - under attack for years by traditional Christian fundamentalists who accuse the NAR of being a "cult" or even the end-time church of the Antichrist - have nonetheless blessed U.S. vice presidential candidates and tutored U.S. state governors on how to establish Christian theocracy, and sit on the boards of leading evangelical publications such as Christianity Today.
The NAR also claims, as an acolyte, former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who shut down the Florida vote recount in the 2000 election that sent George W. Bush to the White House.
Like the Mormon Church, New Apostolic Reformation doctrine includes the teaching that prophets can receive prophetic teachings from God which can augment biblical scripture - a teaching that Billy Graham prominently included as a characteristic of cults in one of his now-scrubbed Billy Graham Evangelistic Association website pages.
One possible factor that may have inclined Billy Graham and Franklin Graham to weigh in so heavily against the reelection of President Barack Obama: immediately following his 2008 election as president, Obama is reported to have rebuffed Graham's overture to serve as spiritual "mentor" to the new president.
A 2012 survey sponsored by the liberal evangelical Sojourners organization, founded by pastor Jim Wallis, showed that only 29% of young evangelical Christians believed that "Christian leaders should endorse political candidates in elections". Young Christians interviewed for the survey reported that "Same-sex marriage/Homosexuality" was the second most common theme they heard from the pulpit, closely trailing the issue of poverty - which is, by many magnitudes, a dramatically more prominent concern of biblical scripture as compared to biblical teaching on homosexuality.
*In 2010 Franklin Graham was dis-invited from a scheduled appearance at the Pentagon, because of his past statements attacking Islam.