What Evangelical Leaders (& The Rest of Us) Can Learn From Glenn Beck

What Evangelical Leaders (& The Rest of Us) Can Learn From Glenn Beck July 11, 2014

On Wednesday, Glenn Beck, the uber-conservative, tea party-ish, Mormon political commentator and personality took to the airwaves to announce that he was going to be making a “potentially lethal” career move that would put his new television network and non-profit in jeopardy. But with tears in his eyes, he looked directly in to the camera and said, “I have never, ever taken a position that is more right than this.” Following the emotional build up, Beck announced that he would be loading up a tractor trailer with teddy bears, soccer balls, and hot food and driving it down to McAllen, Texas to encourage the nearly 3,000 undocumented immigrant children whose lives and well-being are trapped in the middle of the intense immigration debates in Washington. This action by Glenn flies directly in the face of all of the right-wing’s positions on immigration and border control. In essence, he’s aligning himself with the pro-immigration movement and against his own audience. That’s a pretty gutsy move.

Now, I am not unaware that this is likely a very well planned publicity stunt on the part of Glenn Beck. I have been watching his show for years (which I find thoroughly entertaining) and know that Glenn is either a masterful actor who can cry at the drop of a hat or else incredibly emotionally unstable. But that’s beside the point.

Over the past few months, Glenn Beck has been taking a number of political stands on various issues that put him in direct opposition with much of his viewing audience and Republican support base. His choices seem to be motivated by the morality and life principles that arise from his faith and he is willing to take a stand for them even if it means offending many of his fans. Whether a brilliant reverse psychology technique or a genuine change of heart in Beck, he seems to be very committed to standing for what he believes to be right even when it means offending fans and losing customers. And in our political landscape today, this sort of demeanor virtually unheard of.

A few years ago I had the privilege of being a part of some conversations with some of the leading evangelical pastors in the nation. In the middle of one of the conversations that we were having around issues of evangelical engagement with social justice, one well-known pastor spoke up and jokingly said, “Well, you know what they say, money is our primary hermeneutic!” The whole group chuckled uncomfortably. I sat in a semi-shocked state for a few minutes thinking of the truthfulness and implications of that statement.

How much of evangelical theology, political engagement, and social activism is rooted in maintaining a consistent financial support base? How many churches, organizations, and leaders have conversations every day about issues they wish they could take a stand on but simply cannot because they would lose financial support from their donors or church members. How many opportunities have evangelicals had to take a stand and pave a new road forward on a number of vitally important issues but have been silenced because they valued their financial security and public clout over standing for what they know to be right?

I am not naive when it comes to running a church, organization, or non-profit. I understand that many pastors, seminary presidents, and organization heads livelihood solely rests on whether or not they please their congregations and financial supporters. I fully understand how this works. And I also understand that Glenn Beck is not even a fair comparison- he’s a multi-millionaire who could easily lose a couple thousand financial supporters and network subscriptions and do just fine. But none the less, there is something surprisingly refreshing about Beck’s willingness to go against the grain for something he believes is right. Something that seems very, I don’t know, Jesus-y. Something that is missing from most evangelical organizations and churches today.

There are so many things that many of us have become convinced are good, righteous things to stand for but are afraid to speak up because of the potential for backlash and loss of support. Going against the grain on one single issue can instantly get you pushed out of networks, churches, and companies. Standing for what you believe is right will often lead to being marginalized, scrutinized, and condemned. But at the end of the day, it seems to me that that’s exactly what’s supposed to happen when we follow Jesus. There are going to be major consequences when you face the religious rulers of our day and call them to the subversive way of the Kingdom. When you conspire against Caesar, you’re going to end up getting falsely accused and crucified. That’s the way that Jesus taught us by his example. That’s the way that the Apostle Peter says we all should walk in:

For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.- 1 Peter 2:21 NLT

Sometimes following Jesus means standing against what the religious and cultural elite of our day is standing for. Sometimes it means sacrificing personal security to do what you know is right. Sometimes it means being willing to surrender all of your privilege, power, and position in order to be a voice for the voiceless. Sometimes it even means laying down our careers, successes, and lives out of love for and for the sake of our enemies.

I know that none of this stuff is new. I know that Glenn Beck isn’t the only or even the best example of someone living in this manner. But what strikes me is that if one of the most extreme political personalities of our day can change his mind and heart on an issue because he believes it’s more in line with his personal and religious values, then why can’t evangelicals and our leaders? Why are we so committed to towing the party line in order to be accepted and maintain our positions of power, wealth, and security? Why do we continue to allow our theology, political, and social views to be dictated by the donations of our congregations and organizations supporters instead of trusting that when we stand for what is right and good that God will work on our behalf to sustain and uphold us?

Just imagine. If all of us were freed from the pressures of money and position. What would we say? How would we live? What would we take a stand for? It is my prayer that our leaders and that each of us individually would be willing to sacrifice all that we have to do what’s right, to work to establish the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Because until we are willing to do that, transformation will never come to our communities, our culture, or our world. God is calling us to follow in Jesus’ example. It’s a way of pain, suffering, and marginalization. But it’s also a way of abundant life and extravagant beauty. It’s a life of faith and trusting in God for our every need, but then again, don’t we have the promise that when we seek first God’s Kingdom that everything that we need will be provided for us?

So if there is one thing we can learn from Glenn Beck (and subsequently Jesus) it is that we must be willing to go against the grain to stand for what we know to be right, even if it costs our job, wealth, power, position, or privilege. We must be willing to stick our necks out and seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. If we do, God will take care of everything else.

Just a thought.


"5. Slavery is OK.Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them ..."

A Christian Values Voter Guide for ..."
"Your god showed priests which herbs to use to induce abortions. It also declared how ..."

A Christian Values Voter Guide for ..."
"The only things that christians value is money and how to get more. Do and ..."

A Christian Values Voter Guide for ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Glenn Beck has compared himself to Jesus and at least 4 apostles this week alone. That’s pretty impressive. When he reads scripture in his Kermit the Frog voice I have a hard time not changing the station.

  • choctaw_chris

    In the politicosphere rhetoric is king especially among conservatives. Not long ago Beck proclaimed the Iraq war a mistake and now his rhetoric is pro-immigration. Its a big deal regardless of his motives or actions. Its like shouting ‘fire’ in a theatre – it will have repercussions. Could you imagine Sarah Palin doing anything like this? When hell freezes over.

  • SATXThinker

    Author, I love that you give credit to Mr. Beck for having taken a path of compassion toward the children in south Texas. I also appreciate your acknowledgement that too many religious leaders (from rural pastors to mega-church millionaires) preach lessons that are comfortable and supportive of their congregations and donors. I once considered going into the ministry, and my family advised against it, telling me many of the things you’ve pointed out in this article.

    I feel concerned, though, by the lack of defining what’s right. I know right and wrong are subjects upon which massive tomes can be—and have been—written. I’m sure the values you’re really calling for, the ways that Jesus exemplified, are compassion, peace, love, giving to those in need, acceptance of strangers, and defense of the downtrodden, bullied, and defenseless. However, the great majority of evangelicals today see their fight against gay marriage, against the Affordable Care Act, for guns, and for Tea Party values as right. They believe they’re already making the kind of sacrifice your article calls for, and their persecution complex tells them they’re already going against the grain and making sacrifices.

    I’m a liberal because I believe in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I left the evangelical church ten years ago when I realized they did not. But from their perspective, the things you’re calling for are what they believe they’re already doing.

    • Justin

      This is an insightful point. I’d also add that part of Glenn Beck’s appeal to his base is how he goes “outside” the normal bounds of Tea Party orthodoxy at certain times. I actually went (as a matter of curiosity and research, not support) to his Restore Honor rally that he had in D.C. in 2008. The people there I spoke to were very against Washington in general, Republicans and Democrats – it was much more of a religious rally with alot of whistle blowing to the conservative evangelical core audience. And that is the same group he is appealing to here – there is a cognitive dissonance in the Tea Party among its religious constituents because, even though they believe their positions are right, they still must love and serve their enemies according to Scripture. So Beck has addressed this disconnect – he doesn’t challenge the politics, but wants to support the moral underpinnings of the movement, as he sees it. I think, his blubbering antics and showmanship aside, he understands the psychology of that section of the Tea Party much better than any of his talk radio rivals. His sincerity is irrelevant, although I think it mostly not an act.

      For some of the audience there is an interesting tug of war going on in their souls. On the one hand, they recognize the moral impetus for reforming immigration. On the other hand, they are afraid of what the country will become demographically and religiously – they disguise this vague fear by raising the specter of lawlessness (even though, no such immigration laws existed when the Pilgrims and English settlers arrived centuries ago.). Liberals see the issue about racism, and there is alot of that element. But I think the deeper element is the fear of conservative evangelicals (his primary religious audience) about the loss of their cultural clout. I mean, many of them don’t even consider Beck, as a Mormon, to be a true Christian. I heard a Tea Party acquaintance of mine say, “he’s 99% right, but God will lead him to the full truth soon.” It says alot that conservative evangelicals are so desperate about losing their cultural hegemony that they are willing to follow someone they don’t even consider a full member of their tribe.

  • Finn Jacobsen

    The good values referred to in the article, and which Beck now takes credit for, are general, human values, found in all societies and in all religions. Even among all the “godless” people these are fundamental values being honoured and respected. As such, they have developed away from all the frightening laws, superstitions and abuse that lie at the heart of all religions with imagined Gods, prophets and saviors no rational thinking human should submit to. If ever Jesus existed as a scapegoat to man, the values referred to as “his” are the simple human values of modern, educated man. So when the author of this article wants the Kingdom of God and its righteousness (that killed off almost all living things on earth for no other reason than mans disobedience) to be established on earth, he is really calling for a return to the Dark Middle Ages.

    • RockyMissouri

      Thank you for an excellent comment!

    • Frank2918

      No it just proves God reality and story is planted inside everyone.

      • Finn Jacobsen

        Do you really believe that? Planted by God? Which one? Does He plant in Muslim brains and Hindu brains too? What a strange thing to say! Turning things upside down does not prove anything. And as always: you cannot prove the existence of any God.

        • Frank2918

          Reread what I wrote. Then understand that we always take that fact and pass it through our sinful lens which is why we get other faiths and philosophies when there is only one God and one true Faith,

          • Justin

            Which denomination of the true Faith is correct? How do you know your own “sinful lens” is not obscuring you from having the correct view? What about having a humble faith which doesn’t order you to pretend to know things you have no way of ascertaining?

          • Frank2918

            There is nothing to pretend. God has revealed himself through Christ.

            As far as denominations that gets a little more complicated.

          • Kathy K-m

            You know, for an all powerful deity, he/she/it has done a pretty.lousy job of revealing itself. Except through grilled cheese sandwiches or sliced toast.
            Or else a whole buncha people are sorely confused, since they don’t seem to agree on much. Dr Seuss could have written a clearer book.

          • Finn Jacobsen

            What fact? There is no fact in what you wrote, just a phantasy. And who put that sinful lens in other peoples brains? Muhammed? Satan? Other fanciful deities?

          • Frank2918

            I am sorry you are too blind and/or deceived to see the truth.

          • Finn Jacobsen

            I am polite enough not to comment on your clear visions of the truth. And that concludes our exchange of opinions.

          • Liliana Stahlberg

            If we believe that God created everything the God also created evil and sin; and that is OK, we don;t have to defend God!

          • Finn Jacobsen

            I am no expert on the Bible and other holy writ, so I would like to know where it is written that God created evil and sin. It is true that you don’t have to defend God as blasphemy is a crime without a victim.

          • ctroop

            Atheism = pseudo intellectual masturbation at its finest.

        • ctroop

          And neither can you (or a million fools like you) prove that God doesn’t exist. So tit for tat and tic toc.

    • ctroop

      Living proof that fools can be not only potty trained but also educated. Of course I could be wrong about the potty trained part.

  • Rhodara Shreve

    This is the best we can do for an example? God help us.

  • Kathy K-m

    Mr Beck is a shameless hustler, but he’s wise enough to know even the most heartless of Christian-Republicans will be hard-pressed to be mean to children. Even immigrant children.
    So he can assuage that guilt, pretend he’s being progressive, and will suffer no particular fallout.
    Even Pablo Escobar was a community minded man, when it suited him, and Mr Escobar was actually more genuine about it.

    • ctroop

      Kathy, get your ears away from Obama’s liberal blow-hole! There is no such thing as a heartless Christian … Republican or otherwise. And then wake up and take a look around and see that “progressives” are only generous and compassionate with other people’s money.

      • Kathy K-m

        Semantically, you’re probably correct. The people calling themselves Christians, are certainly not following the biblical Christ, so they’re just fakes, phonies and hypocrites. Protesting and screaming at immigrant children??!! Disgusting.
        But sorry, “progressives” are generous and compassionate with their own money, too. Gates, Buffet, and quite a few others, have no problem paying higher taxes or using their own funds for philanthropy.
        BTW, I’m nowhere near “Obama’s liberal blow hole”. Not even in the same country.
        I live in a land where we care about people, all of em, and we aren’t.so greedy, that we aren’t willing to share.
        We don’t deny people their rights, because they were born differently, or all those other delightful “Christian values” so many of you like to foist upon others.
        If Jesus came back tomorrow, He wouldn’t be impressed with your mega-churches and ostentatious holier-than-thou crap.
        In fact, you’d probably crucify him again since he’s nothing but a poor, itinerant, brown skinned, middle-eastern, non-English speaker, with no documentation.

  • LanceHaverkamp

    Actually, this is perfectly in-line with Beck’s political transition that began several years ago: He left his big cable show when he realized that American politics has never been “Left vs Right,” but is, in fact, a diamond. Search for “World’s Smallest Political Quiz” to learn about the diamond.

    Beck outgrew conservatism, and has been slowly trying to bring his audience with him to the Libertarian position. Here’s a simple diagram to go with the above quiz:

  • Charlie Emery

    I’ve never been a Glenn Beck fan. However, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in this case, and commend his good deed. Very few people on the left or the right are willing to go against their grain and upset the people they identify with.

    • Duane Bauman


    • ctroop

      I totally agree. But still, he did wait until he accumulated a vast amount of wealth and security before coming out “against the grain.” He could lose all his sponsors, get banished from the airwaves forever, and still live out the rest of his days like an oil sheik. Not much in the way of real risk there.

  • RustbeltRick

    Beck did something nice, but his rhetoric is still incredibly destructive. And it’s not really a surprise that even his kind act was mixed with hefty doses of narcissism. To praise him in this way is a bit sickening.

  • Noah172

    Mr. Robertson has apparently not been paying attention. The religious elite is in fact vocal in its support of amnesty for illegal aliens: the Catholic bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Evangelical Immigration Table (funded by non-Christian billionaires and the Chamber of Commerce), the Mormon hierarchy (hence Beck’s views), and others.

    People who withdraw their support, financial and otherwise, from pastors or ministries which engage in political advocacy — any political advocacy, not just on immigration — are right to do so. Christ had no political agenda. Ministries which present political agendas as necessary to Christian conversion are putting a stumbling block in the way of souls.

    • Duane Bauman

      Well then I quess we should all withdraw support from most of the evangelical leaders . I agree we as Christians should not be involved in politics. You cannot server two masters

      • ctroop

        Finally! The dawn arises! Yes, you are absolutely right … we should all withdraw support from most of the super-wealthy, celebrity so-called, “leaders.” They are neither leaders nor evangelicals! They are money-grubbing phonies with golden tonsils.

    • Otherwise known as Dominionists.

  • Asemodeus

    This isn’t really compassion folks. What would be compassion is him spending his political capital pushing for immigration reform and improving conditions in Central America. Instead he gets to enjoy a cheap stunt while ignoring the harder issues that caused this mess in the first place.

    • ctroop

      Nope, sorry. But you don’t get to open our borders, and give away tax dollars and call it compassion. Compassion is giving out of YOUR OWN pockets … not out of others. Funny how all those compassionate liberals are always so generous with other people’s resources … never their own.

      • Asemodeus

        Just more gibberish without any solutions. Welcome to the modern republican worldview.

  • I would go pretty far to say your reaction to the (surprisingly) candid joke from the evangelical pastor belies a certain amount of naivety on your part. Churches are businesses, selling a product to a consumer audience. America is a consumer culture so this approach to theology and religion fit within the structure already established.

    At the end of the day, if you make a person choose between their principles and their wallet, the wallet will win out far more often than the principles. You can’t eat principles or pay for a roof over your head (and your family’s heads) with them either. That takes cold, hard cash.

    How many pastors do you think are a part of The Clergy Project? How many pastors do you think are secretly atheists but remain in their position because it is the only job they’ve ever known and the only means they can feel they can make a living to support themselves and their families.

  • “Whether a brilliant reverse psychology technique or a genuine change of heart in Beck,…”

    I invite you to reconsider the thought that this constitutes a change of heart. And by that I don’t mean that it is insincere.

    It is possible for someone to believe that certain public policies are well-meaning but create perverse incentives while still being caring and compassionate in their more private conduct.

  • ctroop

    I do not question Becks sincerity or his motives, but please, before pinning the hero badge for self-sacrifice on him, consider that he has a very, very uber-comfortable cushion of personal wealth to fall back on. Now, had he taken such a stand on an equally volatile issue when he first started gaining a following … literally risking everything … then we could have placed him on that lofty pedestal … right up there with Gandhi and the Buddha. But no, not now.