Billy Graham and the “cult” fiasco
By Eric Johnson
When presidential candidate Mitt Romney spent some private time on Oct. 11, 2012 with famous Christian evangelist Billy Graham, few could have expected the uproar that was about to take place.
During their conversation, Graham reportedly told Romney, “I’ll do all I can to help you.” Soon after, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) provided a news release that quoted Graham, who said in part,
“What impresses me even more than Governor Romney's successful career are his values and strong moral convictions. I appreciate his faithful commitment to his impressive family, particularly his wife Ann of 43 years and his five married sons. It was a privilege to pray with Governor Romney—for his family and our country. 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.”
The controversy came after the BGEA took down an article on its website that placed Mormonism with a list of other “cults,” including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientologists, and Unitarians. The article’s deletion was picked up by The Charlotte Observer, which ended up being interpreted by a number of news organizations as meaning that Billy Graham no longer believed Mormonism was a cult. For instance, the lead from a 10/18/2012 CBS Charlotte/AP article (“Billy Graham’s Evangelical Group Removes Mormonism from Cult List”) explained, “The evangelical group run by Rev. Billy Graham does not believe Mormonism is a religious cult anymore.”
We called the BGEA on October 24 and talked to a representative. When we asked if the media were putting words into BGEA’s proverbial mouth—that “Mormonism was no longer a cult”—the spokesman fully agreed that the BGEA’s action was being misinterpreted. He added that nowhere did the association ever make such a statement. According to Ken Barun, “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.”
It can be debated whether this move was the wisest decision. In hindsight, the BGEA leadership must now understand that taking the article down created much more of a stir than if the article had just remained on the site. By deleting it, the media was able to twist this action into saying that Billy Graham must somehow no longer think that Mormonism is a cult. This simply is not the case.
If you go to Billy Graham's website, you can still find several articles that explain how the word “cult” is part of the BGEA vocabulary. For example, consider these quotes from articles that can still be found on the website:
Cults differ widely from each other, of course, but they often have several characteristics in common. (Your local Christian bookstore can suggest some books that describe cults in more detail.) One characteristic is that cults reject the basic beliefs of the Christian faith—beliefs that Christians have held in common for almost 2,000 years. Instead, they say they alone have a full understanding of the truth about God, and the only way to know the truth is to be part of their group. Many cults have their own writings also, which they either substitute for the Bible or add to the Bible. Cults also often have a strong leader—one who demands total obedience, and actually claims to speak for God. This is very dangerous, of course, because he or she may lead others into disaster. http://www.billygraham.org/articlepage.asp?articleid=3750
First, cults almost always claim that they, and they alone, have the truth. They turn their backs on almost 2,000 years of Christian history, and say that other churches are wrong and will deceive you. They point instead to their leader or founder as the final authority, and claim that God has given them a new revelation of Himself. Second, cults always reject what the Bible teaches about itself. The Bible alone is God's Word—but cults add to it or substitute other books in its place. http://www.billygraham.org/articlepage.asp?articleid=4431
How can you tell if this group is a cult? For one thing, cults often claim that the Bible isn't sufficient, and they add other books to it (usually written by their founder). Cults also claim that they, and they alone, know the way of salvation, and you must be part of their group in order to be saved. http://www.billygraham.org/articlepage.asp?articleid=6236
One test is to find out how this group views other Christians. Cults often claim that they, and they alone, have the truth about God, and they often dismiss other churches as wrong or misguided. They also may claim that God gave their founder a new revelation that "corrects" the "errors" of others. http://www.billygraham.org/articlepage.asp?articleid=5419
Cults also often have a leader who demands full obedience, and threatens members with condemnation if they doubt his teachings. They also may try to cut them off from their families, or anyone else who might try to draw them away. http://www.billygraham.org/articlepage.asp?articleid=8786
In general, cults differ from Christian churches first of all in what they believe. Cults always deny some part of what the Bible teaches (which is why some add other so-called "sacred" books to the Bible). Many deny the deity of Jesus, or believe His work on the cross wasn't sufficient to save us from our sins. Cults also differ from Christian churches by the way they act. Cults often stress absolute and total obedience to their leader (instead of to Jesus), and threaten anyone who wants to leave the group by claiming they will be lost if they do. http://www.billygraham.org/articlepage.asp?articleid=4291
Whenever any group claims that they, and they alone, have all the truth about God, then an alarm bell should go off in your heart and mind. Christ alone is "the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6), and His followers are found within countless denominations and churches. Cults tend to have several characteristics in common (one of which I just mentioned: They claim they alone have the truth, and everyone else is wrong). Cults also often have a strong leader who demands total and absolute obedience; some cults even require their members to cut themselves off from their families. Another characteristic of many cults is that they reject the Bible, or claim their founder's writings are also divinely inspired. http://www.billygraham.org/articlepage.asp?articleid=4099
Cults can take many forms. Some cults are openly and clearly influenced by non-Christian religions (such as some that originate in the Far East). Others, however, claim to be Christian and may actually incorporate some of the teachings of Christianity, while they deny certain truths in the Bible. Cults substitute their own ideas for the truth which God has given us. Although cults differ, they share several characteristics. For example, cults often do not accept the Bible alone as God's Word, and may even say that other books (usually written by the group's founder) are also God's Word and of more value. Cults also commonly claim that they alone correctly interpret the truth and that Christian denominations and churches are wrong in their teaching. Some cults have a strong leader and demand that members give their allegiance to him (even to the point of rejecting family members). http://www.billygraham.org/articlepage.asp?articleid=2077
For one thing, cults often claim that the Bible isn't sufficient, and they add other books to it (usually written by their founder). Cults also claim that they, and they alone, know the way of salvation, and you must be part of their group in order to be saved. http://www.billygraham.org/articlepage.asp?articleid=6236
A cult is a group that claims that it, and it alone, has the truth about God and offers the only way to salvation. Members reject what Christians have believed for almost 2,000 years, and substitute instead their own beliefs for the clear teachings of the Bible. Often, they add to the Bible by claiming that the books their founder wrote or "discovered" are from God, and have equal authority to the Bible. In reality, however, those books deny what the Bible says about God or Jesus, or about the way of salvation. http://www.billygraham.org/articlepage.asp?articleid=5124
Clearly, several of the definitions offered above fit many of the truth claims offered by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On November 16, 2012, we received an email from a representative at the BGEA containing the following statement from Franklin Graham:
Regarding recent media reports, I want to reassure you that my father, Billy Graham, and I, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) have not altered any of our beliefs or compromised on the truth of the Person of Jesus Christ as the only Savior of the world, and priority of the Gospel as taken from God's Holy Word, the Bible. The single technical alteration to our web site was not a reflection of a theological shift or a modification of what God has called us to do or what we believe. It is in no way inconsistent with my father’s nearly 70 years of proclaiming God's love and his desire to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with every man, woman, and child in every corner of the world, regardless of their ideology, ethnicity and belief. The Gospel is for everyone. The world needs to know uncompromisingly that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and as Jesus said as quoted in John 14:6, ‘No one comes to the Father except through me.’ Any message other than this, coming from religious people denying the divinity of Christ, Mormons or a host of other belief systems, is not compatible with Holy Scriptures and is not shared by us theologically.
Sadly, we have already heard reports of Mormon missionaries telling people that Billy Graham does not believe Mormonism is a cult and that the Mormon Church is Christian. To our knowledge Billy Graham, or Franklin for that matter, never actually said that and the BGEA website certainly does not imply that. Mormons who say this need to be told that such a statement is bearing false witness. While many may question the wisdom behind the BGEA's decision to no longer specifically call Mormonism a cult, the fact remains that definitions still found on the BGEA web site can be applied to the LDS Church.