The Rev. Billy Graham is signaling to evangelical Christians that they shouldn't hesitate to vote for Mitt Romney because of his Mormon religion, further cementing Romney's strong standing with the key Republican voting bloc.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association removed the Mormon religion from a list of cults on its website this week, following a recent meeting with Romney at Graham’s home and months of making the case to followers of all sects of Christianity that the candidate’s religion is not a reason to deny him their vote.
The organization today ran a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal with a direct appeal from Billy Graham to vote for socially conservative politicians.
"As I approach my 94th birthday, I realize this election may be my last," Graham says in the ad. "I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel. I urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman."
Ken Barun, the association’s chief of staff, told the Charlotte Observer that the group chose to remove the listing to stay out of a theological debate that they think would become politicized during the hard-fought election.
“We are at a profound crossroads,” Franklin Graham wrote in the Association’s magazine, Decision. “Our secularized society has shaken its fist in God’s face and rejected his very name... We must not silence our voices when government clashes with the worship of God. I pray that all Christians and God-fearing Americans will put aside labels and vote for principles – God’s principles.”
He called Mitt Romney's father George Romney "one of the great governors of Michigan." George Romney's religion, he wrote, "never interfered with governing but his personal faith did define his strong marriage, family values, and personal integrity. I believe the same to be true for Governor Mitt Romney." Franklin Graham went on to criticize President Obama's "plan to rebuild America."
A Pew Research Center survey from July showed that just 60 percent of voters were aware Romney is Mormon, and the vast majority of those who were aware said it didn't matter. Another Pew poll from August showed that Romney's religion is no longer his defining characteristic.