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Mormon 'cult' reference removed from Billy Graham website

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association acknowledged today that it recently removed from its website language lumping Mormonism together with Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Unification Church and Scientologists and calling them all “cults.”

“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,” Ken Barun, chief of staff for the Association, told reporter Jon Ostendorff of the Asheville, N.C., Citizen-Times.

The language was removed soon after Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney met with Billy Graham at his Montreat, N.C., home. Ed O’Keefe of the Washington Post reported that “Mitt Romney asked the Rev. Billy Graham for his prayers … and the ailing evangelist came through by praying with the Republican presidential candidate and offering his support.”

“I’ll do all I can to help you,” Graham told Romney. “And you can quote me on that.”

Speaking to 10,000 supporters in Asheville following the meeting, Romney referred to Graham as “an extraordinary American treasure.”

The evening after the meeting Graham issued a statement in which he expressed admiration for Romney’s “values and strong moral convictions” and appreciation for “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,” the statement continued. “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.”

It was soon after the meeting that reporters noted language had been removed from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s website.

Eric Marrapodi, co-editor of CNN’s Belief Blog, said the section that was removed was in a portion of the website called, “My Answer,” in which Graham answers the question: “What is a cult?”

According to Marrapodi, the answer was, “A cult is any group which teaches doctrines or beliefs that deviate from the biblical message of the Christian faith. Some of these groups are Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, the Unification Church, Unitarians, Spiritualists, Scientologists and others.”

Asked about the elimination of that language from the website, a spokesman for Graham said “Mr. Graham’s calling is not to pass judgment, but to proclaim the biblical truth that Jesus is the only way to heaven, allowing every individual and group to fall along that plumb line.”

Graham has also taught that “salvation is the work of Almighty God,” the spokesman continued. “Only He knows what is in each human heart.”

During an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan, Graham’s son, Franklin, who is chairman and chief executive officer of BGEA, said the meeting with Romney was “a great meeting,” but he refused to get into the “are Mormons Christian?” discussion.

“There’s a lot of differences in various faiths and we all have those differences in doctrine or dogma,” the younger Graham said. “But what’s important is that we get along and that we co-exist together and we respect one another.”

Morgan pressed Graham on the issue. “Having interviewed Mitt Romney about his faith,” Morgan said, “I would personally say, I think he is Christian, very much so … Do you believe that? Do you think he is a Christian?”

“I’m not going to get into this debate as to who’s a Christian or who’s not a Christian,” Graham said. “I’m not even going to go there.

“We’re not voting for the man who is going to be our pastor-in-chief,” he said. “We’re looking for a commander-in-chief, someone who can lead this nation out of the economic mess and the political mess that we have found ourselves in.”

Graham indicated that he thinks Romney is the candidate to do that, pointing out that “I’ve already voted, and I’ve voted for him and my father has already voted.”