I know that conventional wisdom for people who want to be liked is to never discuss politics or religion. Forget conventions, sometimes a guy’s just gotta be real, right? Besides, being liked is over-rated.

Before I launch in (and before any of you start hating me), know that I mean no disrespect to anyone. I’m not attacking anyone. I’m not trying to deny anybody’s intellect or humanity. I’m simply stating my opinion and, in this case, response to an article. You may or may not agree, but there’s no reason to argue about it. Responses are welcomed, but I ask that you respond in kind.

The article: Why My Bible Seems to Differ from Billy Graham’s (Source: CNN – http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/22/opinion/martin-billy-graham-politics/index.html)

The gist: Billy Graham has sold his soul to the Republican party, compromising his belief that Mormonism is a cult and narrowing the election to a two-issue decision (abortion and same-sex marriage) while ignoring the needs of the poor and the sick.

Okay, I think that about covers the arguments from Roland Martin (who is very much pro-Obama, by the way). So, I have two things to address: Is Mormonism a cult (and does it matter)? and Why are Romney supporters “ignoring” the poor and sick? (And by the way, I plan to vote for Romney). Off we go…

1. Is Mormonism a cult (and does it matter in this context)?

The definition of a cult is pretty generic. According to Dictionary.com (and I’m piecing together the 10 variations), a cult is “a particular system of religious worship” “bound together by” “great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing” “considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.” Merriam Webster adds that it is “a usually small group of people.” The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) website also notes that cults tend to claim they have all the truth about God (and everyone else is wrong), isolate themselves from others, rejects the Bible (or claims to have a divinely-inspired addition to the Bible), and rejects the divinity of Jesus.

It’s a pretty broad definition – one that could be applied or misapplied to any number of groups. In my efforts to simplify and hopefully clarify, I would argue that most of these qualifications fall under the category of worshipping “man” (humanity, creation, etc.) rather than worshipping God. But to me, as a Christian and follower of Christ, that translates to being “lost” or apart from God. The term cult – and I could be simpleminded in this regard – implies practicing beliefs and rituals that are physically harmful to yourself or to others. Being lost is spiritually damaging (eternally so) and the physical damage encouraged or demanded by a cult leader often leads to an untimely demise, which cements an eternal fate given that you only have a limited time here on earth. When I think of cults, I think of the Heaven’s Gate suicides or the David Koresh standoff in Texas among others. Or, before my time, the Jim Jones suicides. Or, in the Bible, the followers of Moloch, who sacrificed their children at Gehenna.

So, while I would agree that those practicing Mormonism are spiritually lost, I’m not sure I would classify their religion as a cult. Mormons (in general) appear to have a strong sense of morals and values that are not physically harmful to others or themselves. Again, I may be over-simplifying things, but that’s where I sit. As such, I’m not offended by the BGEA decision to remove that verbiage from its website. I’m also not offended or surprised by groups or individuals who argue to label Mormonism as a cult. As previously mentioned, I think the definition is so broad that it can be used to indict a fair number of religious groups if not on all counts, at least on a few points.

Now, the tricky part. Does it matter (in this context)? Is it okay for a Mormon to serve as the President of the United States? Is it okay for a Christian to vote for someone who believes differently than you do? Well, considering there are over 41,000 Christian denominations worldwide, you probably already have. Here’s the thing. The way I see it, the office of the President of the United States is designed to unify the millions of voices across the country and represent a position established the majority of the nation’s voters. Here I go with my simplistic view of things, but at ideally “we the people” have our say and elect government officials that best represent our beliefs. These officials, in turn, are charged to create necessary policies, laws, etc. that reflect the majority opinion insomuch as it is in the best interest of this great nation.

The President, sitting atop the political construct, should then also represent the beliefs and sentiments of the majority of voters across the United States of America. Simple, right? Well, except for all the muck that comes with a desire for power. Both sides of the equation – the voters and the politicians – have issues, not the least of which is the erosion of a clear majority opinion. But that’s a different conversation. We are where we are and right now, at this moment, we’re faced with a choice of candidates and we are charged with electing the candidate that best represents our values, beliefs, and morals as a nation. Which brings us to the second point of Martin’s article.

2. Why are Romney supporters “ignoring” the poor and sick?

Martin accuses Billy Graham (as a representative of all Romney supporters) of narrowing the focus of this election down to two key issues: abortion and same-sex marriage. Graham took out full-page ads in a handful of newspapers encouraging faith-based voters to consider candidates who “base their decisions on biblical principles” and “support the nation of Israel,” “protect the sanctity of life,” and “support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman.”

Martin’s complaint: “That’s it. Nothing else.”

Martin launches into the thrust of his argument by explaining that Jesus Christ taught us to care for the needy, feed the hungry, and reach the social outcasts. Along the way, of course, is the political rhetoric reminding us that Romney is a member of the evil “one percent.” (How dare he succeed! Wait, Obama is a one percent-er, too. Never mind. I’m getting off track.)

Why on earth would Graham “trump up” the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage? Well, the simple answer is: Because Obama and Romney have such glaringly different positions on these two issues. Martin admits this himself when he calls Graham’s ads as “thinly veiled endorsements of Romney.” He’s effectively conceding both points. Yes, Romney supports life and traditional marriage like the Bible says to. No, Obama does not. That’s why the issues are keyed on. These issues have clear moral implications to many voters and there are two clear sides to choose from. And though it may be hard to believe, BOTH candidates have demonstrated compassion and concern for those less fortunate – the needy, the hungry, etc. so those “issues” don’t present such an obvious choice.

But that’s the simple answer. To take it a little further, let’s think about the teachings of Jesus. What does He say about the poor, hungry, and needy? Who’s responsibility is it to care for the less fortunate of society? The government (Caesar)? Nope. Us. The Bible tells us to love our neighbors. Jesus provides an object lesson of this in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Certainly, governments can help encourage and enable individuals (and independent organizations) to better address these needs through tax relief and other “rewards,” but no government can feasibly reach that deeply into society and provide the necessary care. We only expect government to do this when we would rather not. (Again, another conversation, but consider the goats and sheep.)

On the flip side, governments create laws and policies to which its citizens are subjected. Laws about things like abortion and same-sex marriage, for example. Laws about taxes and treatment of others and business practices. Laws that are supposed to represent the values of the voting majority. Laws that, to other nations, represent the morality and values of the United States of America. Policies that affect our relationships with other nations. Policies that influence our impact as a nation among nations. That’s what we vote for. We vote to elect officials (including the President) who will reflect our values because “we the people” have the right to shape this nation. Because “we the people” are this nation. But we are more than that.

My Jesus cares about more than abortion and homosexuality, too, Mr. Martin. And He holds me accountable for how I treat my neighbors, not the government.