Evangelicals have “Deep Concerns” about Beck

As Joanna discussed, Glenn Beck’s cred with conservatives is already being talked about as a possible bridge between evangelicals and Mormons — and Mitt Romney.

In 2008, some evangelicals did support Romney — something the late Paul Weyrich later lamented.

But, as I wrote yesterday, not all evangelicals are jumping on the Beck bandwagon. According to Warren Cole Smith, associate publisher of the evangelical World magazine, and a longtime conservative activist very plugged into the evangelical leadership, a “significant minority” of evangelical leaders are deeply concerned about Beck and his motives.

Although Beck had the support of evangelicals like the Southern Baptist Convention’s Richard Land, Sarah Palin, John Hagee, and David Barton, not all evangelicals whipping out their pens to sign up for his pastor brigade. (In any case, as Right Wing Watch pointed out yesterday, Beck’s notion to assemble a battalion of pastors is not particularly original.)

“In general,” Smith told me in an interview this morning, “evangelicals are pretty positive about the [Restoring Honor] rally. It promoted many of the issues, values, and concerns evangelicals find important.”

Still, though, the God-talk isn’t enough. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, took to the airwaves yesterday, arguing that while “much of what he [Beck] has to say on economics and politics makes a great deal of sense to us,” that’s not enough: “[J]ust to debunk liberal ideas does not give you then the authority to be taken at your word, or at just your media presence, to be speaking truth when then you talk about the Gospel.”

The concerns about Beck are about his Mormonism, but they’re also about Beck himself and how he is positioning himself in the conservative movement. According to Smith, on the Mormon question, the concerns are theological, but also about Beck’s commitment to what Smith (and many conservative evangelicals) call a “Christian worldview.” On the theological point, Smith said:

I will say that there is a significant minority of evangelicals who have deep concerns about Beck’s true motives. The fact that he is a Mormon. While the Mormon religion shares some common ground with biblically orthodox Christian faith, there’s a significant amount of primarily theological ground that’s not common between these two faiths. That causes many evangelicals some concern — some grave concern. These theological differences are not trivial. For religious people, these are important issues, like who is Jesus? They are issues like what must someone do to be saved? There are serious difference in the theology, the Christology, the eschatology, the soteriology on these points.

Smith, like Mohler, noted that conservative Christians share political ground with conservative Mormons on issues like gay marriage, abortion, or pornography. “But there are limits,” he told me, adding:

What you’re talking about is what Francis Schaeffer called cobelligerency: can we fight on the same side? We don’t have to have everything in common, but there are limits to that cobelligerency. The reality is that while we (we meaning conservative Christians) are largely in agreement among ourselves and are agreement with Mormons on issues like marriage, abortion, or pornography, a truly Christian worldview requires us to have positions on a wide range of issues that go beyond those four or five issues in the public square. It’s important that we be prudent about how firmly we embrace. Some evangelical leaders, that significant minority, are encouraging prudence on how closely we embrace Beck and other Mormon leaders (such as Romney).

But the concerns even go beyond those theological and “worldview” questions and take aim at the Beck celebrity. “The possibility that Beck might be promoting Romney, promoting himself, or might be promoting his TV program or radio listenership, people have a right to suspect Beck’s motives and have a right to withhold a warm embrace,” said Smith.

I asked Smith whether Beck’s “God-talk” on the Mall Saturday could act as a bridge between conservative evangelicals and the tea party movement. He said, “I think the answer is he possibly does and that to me is part of my concern. Again, there are serious theological differences between Beck’s conception of God and an evangelical conception of God. . . . [Beck's] language resonates with evangelicals but is the meaning the same? I fear that evangelicals will be duped.”

Beck’s large and growing platform, though, is creating an environment in which conservatives  fear crossing him. “Beck has this incredible platform that has the ability to make or break people in his sphere of influence,” said Smith. Getting on his program “is like finding the golden candybar in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. As a consequence, even those who are concerned are reluctant to criticize.”

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email