As many of you have heard by now, Glenn Beck spoke at Liberty University last week (watch above, read here and here). He spoke at the final convocation meeting of the semester and delivered a rousing address invoking God and the Bible as the foundation for personal redemption and civic freedom. It was clearly not a secular address. It was a sermon that called for Liberty students to expect “miracles” and to witness “the awesome power of Jesus Christ and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
Beck’s sermon invoked unity between his own faith and Liberty’s and downplayed differences. At one point during the message (14:37), Beck said this:
I share your faith. I am from a different denomination, and a denomination quite honestly that I’m sure can make many people at Liberty uncomfortable. I am a Mormon, but I share your faith in the atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ.
Beck also claimed to be worshiping the same God as the evangelical students assembled in the room. He said, “God is our God—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
But there weren’t merely expressions of solidarity. Beck also invoked distinctive aspects of the Mormon faith. He told an emotional story about the “martyrdom” of Joseph Smith and how Smith stands as an example of how to “trust in the Lord” in the face of persecution. Joseph Smith is of course the great false teacher that founded Mormonism. Beck also mentioned the Grand Council. In Mormon theology, the Grand Council consists of gods over other planets who convened a meeting before the world began and decided who the savior of planet Earth would be. This teaching—along with Mormonism’s other well-known errors—is not merely outside the mainstream of Christianity. It is outside of Christianity.
Some will say that Beck’s error is mitigated by the setting of his sermon. This was, after all, a convocation meeting and not a chapel service. And Liberty intends for its convocation meeting to include a broad range of speakers from a variety of perspectives. In other words, the setting is more like Mars Hill and less like a church.
Nevertheless, that distinction seems like a facile one in this case. A quick look at Liberty’s convocation schedule reveals that the regular expectation for this meeting is Christian preaching. Yes, there is an occasional politician or public figure included. But even then, they tend to come from a Christian background and are not the type who would be advancing tenets of a non-Christian religions such as Mormonism. But even if we grant a distinction between convocation and a chapel service, we must question the wisdom of giving any platform to a false teacher without alerting students that they are in fact about to hear from a false teacher. Beck sermonized as if he were a Christian just like the Liberty students—just from a different denomination.
I don’t know why an evangelical school like Liberty would invite someone like Beck to deliver a message like he gave. I have had lots of friends from Liberty over the years. In the church where I serve now, we have had lots of Liberty graduates as members and one as a fellow pastor. I have friends who now work and teach at Liberty University. I know for a fact that none of them would recognize Glenn Beck’s faith as Christian. Liberty has always been a stalwart evangelical institution. So that is why Beck’s appearance last week is so perplexing.
I am viewing this as an outsider. Without a word of clarification from the university, I think Beck’s appearance in this context leaves one of two impressions:
1. That Mormonism is a Christian denomination with no essential theological differences from other evangelical denominations. Or,
2. That even though Mormonism is not a Christian denomination, Liberty’s agreement with Beck politically is more important than Liberty’s Christian distinctives. Political solidarity trumps Christian truth.
I hope neither of these impressions is correct. But without a clear word from the university, what’s to stop people from coming to either of those two conclusions?