Monday, August 30, 2010

Reflections on "Restoring Honor"

First of all, if you want to read the definitive reflections on the "Restoring Honor" rally, read the Rev'd Dr. Russell D. Moore's "God, the Gospel, and Glenn Beck." I can't improve on what Moore says and won't even try; I'm in essential agreement with his reflections.

I've been listening to Glenn Beck on and off since 2003 -- when he first aired on one of the local talk stations and have generally found him informative and entertaining. I have from time to time somewhat jokingly referred to him as "my favorite Mormon," and while I have never gone to one of his shows nor have I bought any of his books, I did consider purchasing one and taking it to be autographed when he made an appearance at the Barnes & Noble that is across the street from my office (the crowd was unbelievable and I didn't have the time or the inclination to endure it to see him). When he launched the 9-12 Project I gathered with some friends at a local bar for a viewing party (I've not been to any meetings since then so I'm hardly a "member," but I so share some of their concerns and have attended a couple of Tea Parties [not the same thing, but there is certainly some overlap there]). I have friends who were on the Mall on Saturday; most of them will probably disagree with my thoughts.

Mr. Beck is an unapologetic member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It is certainly his right to belong to that sect, and my disagreements with it -- which are substantial -- don't prevent me from enjoying his show (they also wouldn't have prevented me from supporting his fellow-Mormon Mitt Romney [which I did for a time in 2008, after Fred Thompson had withdrawn from the race for the Republican Presidential nomination)]. Harry Reid being a notable exception, most of the Mormons that I have encountered have been very traditional, family oriented, and pro-life -- people with whom I naturally have much in common and with whom I'm happy to stand politically and socially.

Why, then, am I less than enthusiastic about Restoring Honor, an event that I actually considered attending? Sarah Palin, who made voting for the 2008 Republican Presidential ticket acceptable to me and of whom I continue to be a fan, was there, as was Alveda King, whom I heard speak eloquently and with conviction at a banquet for the Lowcountry Pregnancy Center here in Charleston several years ago. One would think that this would be my must-attend event of the summer, something to which I would flock like a moth to a flame. One would, it turns out, be mistaken.

Mr. Beck called for a renewed emphasis on family and faith -- with which I completely agree. "The Kingdom of God will not arrive on Air Force One" may or may not be original to Cal Thomas, whom I first heard say it in 1994, but it is completely true. If the Republic is to be preserved politics will indeed play a part, but it will be a bit part as hearts are turned to God and renewed individuals, families, and churches proclaim God's truth and live transformed lives. Again, shouldn't I be completely on board with Glenn Beck?

It turns out I can't be. Time and again I heard people -- Christians who are on the right side of the battles raging in their churches regarding doctrine and manner of life -- say that Glen Beck says what pastors don't have the guts to say and that what he says is what he need to hear in the churches. While some of that may be true (the cultural mandate is very real and Christians are called to declare the whole counsel of God), one can hardly be said to be doing so if one gets all of the family values messages right and then gets the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, the sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures, and the Holy Trinity wrong. Mr. Beck, as a faithful Mormon, gets all of these and more wrong -- despite how right his message may sound and despite how attractively it may be packaged, I cannot pretend that those issues are inconsequential. I do not claim to have watched all of the rally (I was in a class for most of it), but I do know that time and again Mr. Beck referred to himself as a Christian (he frequently does so on his radio program) and time and again speakers who hold to the historic Christian faith did so as well either directly or by implication.

Mr. Beck proclaims another faith. A faith that is similar to Christianity (therein lies much of the danger) but different on key points. As Dr. Moore so aptly points out, the problem is not with Glenn Beck, the problem is what it says about American Christianity. Dr. Moore writes, "It’s taken us a long time to get here, in this plummet from Francis Schaeffer to Glenn Beck" -- true indeed and very damning, as Glenn Beck couldn't be dubbed the leader of America's Christian Conservative movement with approbation from many of those Christian Conservatives unless there was a huge vacuum at the helm; there is, and his ascendancy to that spot indicates just how vivid it is.

Do I think Christians should be active in the pro-life movement? Absolutely! I have been and will continue to be so. Do I think that Christians should be active in the political process, seeking to apply their faith in the public square? You bet. Do I think that Christians should work with those of other faiths in the political sphere? Yes, if they can do so without compromise. But most certainly do not think that Christians should be willing to sacrifice the essentials of the faith in so doing. Katharine Jefferts Schori , John Shelby Spong, and others are rightly taken to task when they preach a liberal universalism that denies the uniqueness of the Gospel; a conservative universalism that does exactly the same thing is just as bad -- maybe even worse. If the Church wins the culture war but denies historic Christianity in so doing, it will be no victory at all.

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