GLENN BECK’S great call for political revival on the National Mall last month highlighted the passionate affair conservative Christians have with the conservative Mormon entertainer. To many who attended, the difference between the Beck rally and the average evangelical worship service were negligible. According to a new poll, Beck has a higher favorability rating among white evangelical Protestants than any other religious group.
Conservative Christians’ attraction to Beck is as unsurprising as it is disheartening, and his much-hyped rally seemed to be the perfect opportunity for Christians to discuss their association with the most prominent conservative pundit in the nation. And discuss it they have.
On September 15, as part of a gushing series on Beck’s rally, WORLD magazine columnist Andrée Seu described her personal relationship with Beck, concluding that he is “a new creature in Christ” who is “red hot” toward God. A chain reaction occured in the Christian blogosphere. Justin Taylor, a pastor who blogs at the Reformed website The Gospel Coalition, called Seu’s assurance of Beck’s salvation a “tragic mistake.” Kevin DeYoung, also of The Gospel Coalition, wrote that Seu had ceded to “the temptation we all face to sacrifice theological precision at the altar of political likemindedness.” Mickey McLean, WORLD‘s online editor, explained that he did not read the column closely enough before posting it. WORLD editor Marvin Olasky also penned a column on Beck, agreeing with Seu’s critics that Beck is not a Christian and, therefore should not be embraced as a religious figure.
We would have been heartened to see a robust reaction to Seu’s ongoing adulation of Beck on WORLD‘s website, or to Christians’ embrace of Beck in general, but this display instead demonstrated conservative evangelicals at their worst. Rather than articulate the most urgent reason Beck is a figure from whom Christians should keep their distance—his political demagoguery—these bloggers and writers engaged in a petty debate about Beck’s personal salvation. Their objection is not that Beck feeds citizen unrest with trumped-up, conspiratorial bedtime stories of socialism and liberation theology (and makes obscene profits doing so), but that he might have prayed the Mormon equivalent of the Sinner’s Prayer instead of their own.
We accept that some Christians will embrace ideas about the direction of the country that we do not. They may even share political views with the likes of Glenn Beck. But as we have always argued, Christians of all political stripes have an obligation to demand honesty and to repudiate shadowy insinuation. Beck, who traffics in cherry-picked history, carefully edited footage, incoherent philosophical synthesis, and dishonest attacks on the President, is a master of the latter. Worse, he blends his sensational political lessons with the language of the Christian gospel, attaching religious significance to the twists and turns of U.S. politics. We appreciate that some Christian writers, like Olasky, have agreed with our assessment that Beck is promoting a “civic religion,” a cult of a particular American demographic’s political dissent. But Olasky then asserted that “this country is better off with Glenn Beck than without him,” a disappointing conclusion considering Beck’s thoroughly documented penchant for distortion.
Even more dismaying is the fact that so many Christian commentators are so hung up on the matter of Beck’s theology that they continue to disregard his dishonesty altogether. Though we have our issues with Seu’s lionization of Beck in her columns, at least she considered that the process of salvation might be more complex than many accept. By trying to forcefully slam that door, her critics exemplified Christianism in all its ugliness: rigid certainty, dripping condescension, charts and graphs of who is in and who is out.
We fear there are dark days ahead for the American electorate, as evidenced by the rise of an angry third party that thrives on purism and anarchy, and waves of hostilty toward those who live in the wrong cities, whose skin is the wrong color, who pray to the wrong god. The unease and talk of violence eclipses anything in recent political memory. Now more than ever, it is paramount that people of faith work to diffuse enmity, to meet fear with firm grace—especially in the public square. Glenn Beck’s words and actions exemplify the antithesis of that duty. And as ridiculous as it is for Christians to be debating his salvation on the internet, it is even more alarming that they are listening to him at all.
Correction, Sep. 20: An earlier version of this article incorrectly implied that First Things web editor Joe Carter had not criticized Glenn Beck. It has been updated.
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