The American religion

“I am a proud member of the Church of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is my Lord and savior. He redeemed me fully and completely. He is the only reason that I am able to stand here today. I am a proud member of that faith, but more importantly, I am a proud member of the American religion.”

–Glenn Beck, addressing controversies over Mormonism

via At values summit, Romney keeps focus on Obama – The Washington Post.

Exegete THAT.

What would you say are the tenets of “the American religion”?

Where do we see the American religion as being treated as ‘”more important” than the Christian faith?

Glenn Beck and his allies in Israel

Glenn Beck is in Israel, holding a big rally supporting that country against its Islamic enemies and calling for solidarity with the Jewish people.  What’s interesting, as Sarah Pulliam Bailey shows, is the way certain media outlets are confounding Beck, a Mormon, with “Christian fundamentalists” and “evangelicals” who believe that Israel is playing a role in Christ’s second coming.  See Israel a la Glenn Beck » GetReligion.

On the other hand, some ostensibly conservative Christians are indeed embracing Beck and his cause.   These include David Barton, the revisionist historian who claims that America was founded as  a distinctly Christian nation and who maintains that Beck is a Christian on the basis of his “fruits.”  And also TV Bible-prophecy preacher John Hagee.

I think what we can conclude from this is that certain “fundamentalists” are not necessarily conservative theologically at all, that they can be very ecumenical and tolerant of other religions, to the point of theological relativism.

More important to them than theological conservatism is political conservatism.  But to have politics trump theology is a characteristic of liberal theology.  Theirs is a social gospel of the right, rather than the left, but it’s still a social gospel.

 

Fox News drops Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck and his controversial pronouncements and conspiracy theories remain popular, but Fox News is cancelling his show.

Glenn Beck and Fox News Channel formally agreed to end Beck’s daily program Wednesday, bringing a marriage beset by outside pressures and internal tensions to an end after just 27 months.

Fox News Channel said it was dropping Glenn Beck’s afternoon talk show, which has sunk in the ratings and suffered financially due to an advertiser boycott. The conservative host and the news channel started by a conservative billionaire, Rupert Murdoch, as an avowed counterweight to the liberal news media agreed that they could not agree to continue. Beck will “transition” off Fox sometime this year, Fox and Beck’s production company, Mercury Radio Arts, said jointly.

Beck’s sometimes outrageous pronouncements — he infamously said that President Obama has “a deep-seated hatred for white people” — were good for drawing attention and viewers, but they made him radioactive among sponsors. They also put him out of step with Fox News’ overall ethic, which is heavy on pugnacious conservative commentary but eschews the sort of apocalyptic rhetoric Beck favors.

Beck’s program has remained a solid draw for Fox despite a gradual slide in the ratings from its mid-2009 peak. Airing at 5 p.m., a period when fewer people are watching TV than during evening prime-time hours, “Glenn Beck” still draws more than 2 million viewers, making it one of the top attractions on a cable news channel. Beck’s ratings sometimes approached those of Fox’s “O’Reilly Factor,” consistently the most popular program on cable news.

But Beck’s broadsides alienated a number of organizations that fought back by pressuring his advertisers and embarrassing his bosses. Color of Change, a group that advocates on behalf of African Americans, started an advertiser boycott in July 2009; its efforts were abetted by Media Matters for America, a liberal watchdog organization that made Fox News in general, and Beck in particular, its raison d’etre.

Jewish groups also were angered by Beck’s habit of denouncing his political opponents by comparing them to Nazis. Their anger was further stoked by Beck’s three-part series on liberal billionaire philanthropist George Soros, whom Beck described as a Nazi collaborator during Soros’s boyhood in occupied Hungary.

After a coalition of Jewish rabbis called on Murdoch to sanction Beck in a full-page ad in the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal in January, Beck further inflamed his Jewish critics by comparing Reform rabbis to “radicalized Islam” on his syndicated radio program a month later.

The outrage got to Murdoch and Fox News Chief Executive Roger Ailes, said Simon Greer, who heads the Jewish Funds for Justice, which organized the Wall Street Journal ad.

“I think Fox News and its leadership value their relationships with the American Jewish community, and Glenn Beck has consistently insulted and disrespected Jews to such an extent that it was bad for Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes’ worldview,” Greer said in an interview.

Leading conservatives have taken issue with Beck lately, too. Pat Buchanan and neoconservative columnist William Kristol, among others, criticized Beck’s comments about the Middle East after Beck asserted that the uprisings were part of an alliance between American liberals and Muslims seeking to create a caliphate that would spread radical Islamic ideology across the region.

“When Glenn Beck rants about the caliphate taking over the Middle East from Morocco to the Philippines, and lists (invents?) the connections between caliphate-promoters and the American left, he brings to mind no one so much as Robert Welch and the John Birch Society,” Kristol wrote in the Murdoch-owned Weekly Standard in February. “He’s marginalizing himself.”

via Glenn Beck to end daily TV program on Fox News Channel – The Washington Post.

So is that responsible journalism on the part of Fox News or a craven capitulation to ideological pressure?  So is Fox not all that conservative after all, or is Beck no true conservative?

A Mormon on the Glenn Beck rally

Here is a discussion of the Glenn Beck rally–what it means and what it achieves–from Mormon official Greg West:

I believe that Glenn Beck’s desire, in some measure, was to create a “King Benjamin moment.” The Book of Mormon relates a landmark gathering of some of the ancient inhabitants of the Americas to hear the words of one King Benjamin. Benjamin declared principles of piety, humility, service, and faith to his people. He preached to them repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, who would be born in centuries to come, relative to his time. The result was a turning back to God by his audience that brought the Holy Spirit upon them. It was a moment of national renewal and personal recommitment to do good in God’s name. This was Beck’s template for the event that took place today.

As a Mormon, I have to consider an unintended message throughout Beck’s work, which has culminated in this event. That message is: “Mormons are Christian believers.” Despite nearly two centuries of misrepresentation and religious envy by sectarian Christianity, Beck has achieved the visibility, prominence, and has had the time day after day, week after week, to speak openly and truly about his core beliefs. Those statements of faith have disoriented and confused those who had previously believed the lies about Mormons. Just a few weeks ago, Beck discussed the heresies evident in “Liberation Theology” and declared his belief of individual salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. One confused person commented on Free Republic, a frequent forum for open Mormon-bashing, that “this would mean that Beck is ‘born-again.”

Jim Garlow, a popular and influential pastor who partnered with the Mormon faithful in California to defend traditional marriage was quoted recently in CNN’s Belief Blog, saying, “I have interviewed persons who have talked specifically with Glenn about his personal salvation – persons extremely well known in Christianity – and they have affirmed (using language evangelicals understand), ‘Glenn is saved…’ He understands receiving Christ as Savior.”

Hallelujah! The light bulb has been switched on after nearly two centuries! Every single member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes that a person must be “born again” and receive Jesus Christ as his Savior and Redeemer. Our holy books teach that salvation comes only in and through the atonement of Christ and that there is no other way a person can be saved. Those beliefs obligate us to do our best to keep God’s commandments and to follow the example of Jesus in doing good. Glenn Beck’s beliefs are mainstream Mormon beliefs. Joseph Smith, the Church’s founder, was a Christian prophet. He was an apostolic witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As Rev. C.L. Jackson said in his speech today after accepting the medal for faith, “God sent his Son to this earth so that we could all gather, and I think that’s the dream and the vision of Glenn Beck.” I myself have reacted, defensively and perhaps provocatively, to the attacks of Christian pastors on Mormons in the past. If anything, Glenn Beck has brought mainstream Mormonism into the public eye and has reached out to our fellow Christians in a powerful way. Perhaps it signifies the crossing of a threshold where Mormons and our fellow Christians can work together for good, to revitalize our country, and enshrine the principles of faith, hope, and charity–restoring honor once again to our familes, our communities, and our nation.

Indeed, lots of evangelicals are saying that Glenn Beck is a Christian because he has “accepted Christ” and believes he is saved through Christ’s “atonement.” It turns out that Mormons in general believe that. So, if that’s all there is to it, Mormons must be Christians. Belief in the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, and the other tenets of historic Christianity are being dismissed as just “theological differences” and thus not all that important. (See, for example, what David Barton is saying. [HT: Rich Shipe])

HT: Brannon Howse

The Gospel according to Glenn Beck

Hundreds of thousands of Americans attended Glenn Beck’s rally at the Lincoln Memorial.   In the course of honoring veterans and cultivating patriotism, Beck said that he sensed that the rally would mark the beginning of a new revival, with America turning back to God.  Though a number of Christian leaders participated in the rally, leading prayers from the podium, the invocation of so much civil religion and the prospect of a religious awakening led by Mr. Beck, a Mormon, filled some Christians with alarm.  This is from Russell Moore, a Southern Baptist minister and seminary professor:

A Mormon television star stands in front of the Lincoln Memorial and calls American Christians to revival. He assembles some evangelical celebrities to give testimonies, and then preaches a God and country revivalism that leaves the evangelicals cheering that they’ve heard the gospel, right there in the nation’s capital.

The news media pronounces him the new leader of America’s Christian conservative movement, and a flock of America’s Christian conservatives have no problem with that.

If you’d told me that ten years ago, I would have assumed it was from the pages of an evangelical apocalyptic novel about the end-times. But it’s not. It’s from this week’s headlines. And it is a scandal.

Fox News commentator Glenn Beck, of course, is that Mormon at the center of all this. Beck isn’t the problem. He’s an entrepreneur, he’s brilliant, and, hats off to him, he knows his market. Latter-day Saints have every right to speak, with full religious liberty, in the public square. I’m quite willing to work with Mormons on various issues, as citizens working for the common good. What concerns me here is not what this says about Beck or the “Tea Party” or any other entertainment or political figure. What concerns me is about what this says about the Christian churches in the United States.

It’s taken us a long time to get here, in this plummet from Francis Schaeffer to Glenn Beck. In order to be this gullible, American Christians have had to endure years of vacuous talk about undefined “revival” and “turning America back to God” that was less about anything uniquely Christian than about, at best, a generically theistic civil religion and, at worst, some partisan political movement.

Rather than cultivating a Christian vision of justice and the common good (which would have, by necessity, been nuanced enough to put us sometimes at odds with our political allies), we’ve relied on populist God-and-country sloganeering and outrage-generating talking heads. We’ve tolerated heresy and buffoonery in our leadership as long as with it there is sufficient political “conservatism” and a sufficient commercial venue to sell our books and products.

Too often, and for too long, American “Christianity” has been a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it. There is a liberation theology of the Left, and there is also a liberation theology of the Right, and both are at heart mammon worship. The liberation theology of the Left often wants a Barabbas, to fight off the oppressors as though our ultimate problem were the reign of Rome and not the reign of death. The liberation theology of the Right wants a golden calf, to represent religion and to remind us of all the economic security we had in Egypt. Both want a Caesar or a Pharaoh, not a Messiah.

Leaders will always be tempted to bypass the problem behind the problems: captivity to sin, bondage to the accusations of the demonic powers, the sentence of death. That’s why so many of our Christian superstars smile at crowds of thousands, reassuring them that they don’t like to talk about sin. That’s why other Christian celebrities are seen to be courageous for fighting their culture wars, while they carefully leave out the sins most likely to be endemic to the people paying the bills in their movements.

Where there is no gospel, something else will fill the void: therapy, consumerism, racial or class resentment, utopian politics, crazy conspiracy theories of the left, crazy conspiracy theories of the right; anything will do. The prophet Isaiah warned us of such conspiracies replacing the Word of God centuries ago (Is. 8:12–20). As long as the Serpent’s voice is heard, “You shall not surely die,” the powers are comfortable.

This is, of course, not new. Our Lord Jesus faced this test when Satan took him to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the earth, and their glory. Satan did not mind surrendering his authority to Jesus. He didn’t mind a universe without pornography or Islam or abortion or nuclear weaponry. Satan did not mind Judeo-Christian values. He wasn’t worried about “revival” or “getting back to God.” What he opposes was the gospel of Christ crucified and resurrected for the sins of the world.

We used to sing that old gospel song, “I will cling to an old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.”  The scandalous scene at the Lincoln Memorial indicates that many of us want to exchange it in too soon. To Jesus, Satan offered power and glory. To us, all he needs offer is celebrity and attention.

Mormonism and Mammonism are contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ. They offer another Lord Jesus than the One offered in the Scriptures and Christian tradition, and another way to approach him. An embrace of these tragic new vehicles for the old Gnostic heresy is unloving to our Mormon friends and secularist neighbors, and to the rest of the watching world. Any “revival” that is possible without the Lord Jesus Christ is a “revival” of a different kind of spirit than the Spirit of Christ (1 Jn. 4:1-3).

The answer to this scandal isn’t a retreat, as some would have it, to an allegedly apolitical isolation. Such attempts lead us right back here, in spades, to a hyper-political wasteland. If the churches are not forming consciences, consciences will be formed by the status quo, including whatever demagogues can yell the loudest or cry the hardest. The answer isn’t a narrowing sectarianism, retreating further and further into our enclaves. The answer includes local churches that preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, and disciple their congregations to know the difference between the kingdom of God and the latest political whim.

It’s sad to see so many Christians confusing Mormon politics or American nationalism with the gospel of Jesus Christ. But, don’t get me wrong, I’m not pessimistic. Jesus will build his church, and he will build it on the gospel. He doesn’t need American Christianity to do it. Vibrant, loving, orthodox Christianity will flourish, perhaps among the poor of Haiti or the persecuted of Sudan or the outlawed of China, but it will flourish.

And there will be a new generation, in America and elsewhere, who will be ready for a gospel that is more than just Fox News at prayer.

Is this right?  Or too harsh?  Civil religion, I suspect, goes better with Mormonism than with Biblical Christianity.  So far the Tea Parties have avoided religious issues, sticking to economic and small-government issues.  Does the Beck rally herald a deepening of the movement, or the sell-out of Christians to an interfaith–and essentially Mormon–quest for political power?

HT:  Rich Shipe (one of those concerned evangelical pastors)


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