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Religion and Politics Are Poor Teammates

The tragedy of Billy Graham’s endorsement of Mitt Romney is not Graham’s choice for president of the United States. It would be the same had he endorsed President Obama.
The tragedy is that he made an endorsement at all. His removal of Mormonism from his list of cults and his endorsement are simply the results of human frailties.

Billy Graham, like so many of us, is unable to resist the warmth generated by the perception of power.

We thought that he had learned his lesson from being burned by getting too close to Richard Nixon. Apparently we were wrong.

Many of us have placed Graham on a pedestal and assumed he could do no wrong.

He has all of the fame and adoration that one person could possibly enjoy; however, the lure of political influence is too strong for mere mortals to resist.

Of course, Billy Graham has the same right as any other American citizen to endorse whomever he wishes – except that Graham is not any other citizen.

He occupies the position of spiritual counselor to the world. He is a role model for millions of people.

He has sacrificed a spiritual leadership position on the altar of partisan politics. He has become one more role model tarnished by the allure of political influence.

I have marveled at his ability to resist the temptations that money can bring, and he has not been touched by the sins of the flesh that have engulfed so many other televangelists.

He is a truly gifted communicator who can deliver a message to millions of people. He has neared the finish line of a remarkable career with very few blemishes on his record.

Why would he sacrifice all of this for a fleeting moment of political influence?

Most of us can manage the really big moments in our lives, but it is all those pesky little problems that arise in the meantime that cause us so much heartburn and heartache.

Power is a powerful magnet, and no matter how much of it we have, it is never enough. Politics seems to be Graham’s Achilles heel. He is unable to stay away from its lure.

The problem may lie with us in that we expected too much from another mere mortal. When the election is over and the results are known, Graham will get much of the credit and the far right will be strengthened if Romney wins. Religious leaders will be encouraged to enter the political wars.

If the president wins, Graham will have sacrificed his influence to politics. Either way he will be the loser, and so will we.

I am glad that God did not trust me with the responsibility of judging who on the national stage is more Christian.

Because I believe that there are no levels of Christians, I am automatically disqualified as a judge.

I also believe that there are no levels of sinners. We have all sinned and fallen short. I do know that it is un-Christian to leave people without health care, food or hope. I can judge those things.

Who am I as a layperson to criticize Billy Graham? I am just another flawed human being striving to find enough light to make it through life.

I am reminded of my conversation with the late Dr. John Hamrick, long-term pastor of Charleston’s First Baptist Church.

“Dr. John,” I asked, “does it ever make you anxious about preaching here where so many great pastors of the past have preached?”

“Yes,” he said. “At first it did until I realized that I didn’t have to please Richard Furman. I only had to please God.”

Billy Graham does not have to please Mitch Carnell. He only has to please God.

Mitch Carnell is a consultant specializing in interpersonal and organizational communication. He is the editor of “Christian Civility in an Uncivil World.” He and his wife are active lay members of First Baptist Church of Charleston, S.C. Mitch blogs at MitchCarnell.com.