Jerry Falwell, Jr. announced last week that Glenn Beck will be commencement speaker for Liberty University’s May 15th graduation.
There are those of you reading this who like Beck. I hope you will bear with me as I explain why this move is a horrible one on the part of Liberty. Then there are others of you who fail to see the big deal. After all, Liberty has aligned themselves with conservative politics figure heads for the length of their existence. However, this is especially bogus and I will tell you why.
First, let me offer a little background. Three years ago, I was in the market for a distance learning program with an M.A. in Religion. At that time, I was unable to move to a seminary (which would have been ideal) but pursued the M.A. with the goal of career advancement. After doing the appropriate research, I settled on Liberty. I was impressed with the academic rigor necessary to succeed. That the University was more politically conservative than me was inconsequential.
When I learned that Ben Stein was scheduled to speak at my commencement last year, I was amused. I looked forward to the event in hopes that should I nod off during his talk (as I did during his Expelled) that I might be stirred by the sound of him calling my name a la “Bueller, Bueller.” In the end, I didn’t make it out to Virginia. Stein’s Judaism was of no concern to me then, and neither is Beck’s Mormonism now.
No, the trouble I have is that the selection of Beck as commencement speaker looks, feels and smells like a big, stinky political statement. This announcement comes just after Beck’s ill-spoken rant on the topic of social justice last month in which he suggested that people “flee” their churches if the terminology was employed. SBTS President Al Mohler stated that Beck’s comments were “nonsense.” Evangelical consensus was that yes, a person should leave a church if that church promotes anything as of greater value than Jesus Christ. Despite Beck’s backpedaling, I am not convinced that this was his point.
Shortly after, Falwell came to Beck’s defense stating in like manner, [those pastors who preach economic and social justice] “are trying to twist the gospel to say the gospel supported socialism.” Certainly, there are churches who use these terms as code words for socialism (as both men suggested) but the problem with Beck’s and Falwell’s remarks is that they take what is true for the few and apply it to the many. A lot of noise is made and people become unduly suspicious of some legitimate Christian ministries.
We would expect little more from Beck, the self-professed “rodeo-clown” but for Falwell to join in like fashion was disheartening. We could reasonably extend to Falwell the benefit of the doubt, not wanting to argue over semantics. While it is haphazard to suggest that all churches talking about social justice bear an ulterior agenda, I could suppose that perhaps he had particular churches in mind, assuming also that Beck had such churches in mind. That seems to me a stretch not entirely inconceivable.
This announcement by Falwell, that Beck will deliver the May 15th commencement address, renders that argument even more implausible. The decision and its implications were undoubtedly considered prior to the announcement. Falwell stated, “Beck is one of the few courageous voices in the national media standing up for the principles upon which this nation was founded.”
The political statement is this: not only does Liberty University endorse Glenn Beck, Glenn Beck is deemed by Liberty to be an ideal representative of its identity and values. This is dangerous because his public persona inspires fear, prejudice, and unholy division within the church.
These are not what Jesus values.
I would hope that Liberty would choose, as representative for itself, someone who not only aligns ideologically with them but is also known for caution, clarity, and humility.