By Eric Johnson
Note: On April 25th, 2014, Glenn Beck addressed the student body at Liberty University (LU) at a tri-weekly gathering called “convocation.” (You can watch the talk here.) While each student must attend the service or face a $10 fine–it was no different for Beck’s talk–the entire faculty and staff at Liberty were also required to attend, which doesn’t always happen. (Because the arena was filled, they watched on cable television in other rooms.) Beck spoke on the history of the Bible, mentioned Joseph Smith and his “martyrdom,” and insinuated that the unique LDS teaching of preexistence is true. Later that morning, MRM published my response titled “What Glenn Beck Didn’t Explain at this Morning’s Convocation Talk.”
Within a day, we received five separate emails (four LU students and an LU professor), all saying they agreed with the article. (You can see the student posts listed at the bottom of the article linked above. In addition, a two-part blog can be found for the week of 5/26/14 on Mormon Coffee that will respond to LU’s defense of the issue. See Part 1 here.) While one LU official personally told me that the university hoped this controversial issue would just fade away, Glenn Beck decided to revisit the topic in a scathing article published on May 20, 2014 titled “”A Land of Monsters’: Beck Fires Back at Those Attacking Liberty University for Inviting Him to Speak.” Instead of letting the issue die, Mr. Beck aims directly at those folks (like myself) who believed he should not have been allowed to speak on spiritual issues from a pulpit at a prestigious Christian university. With that as a background, allow me to respond as I reprint his entire article (underlined) followed by my response.
Dear Mr. Beck,
I have read your May 20th article titled ‘A Land of Monsters’: Beck Fires Back at Those Attacking Liberty University for Inviting Him to Speak.
Your staff member wrote, Glenn Beck was the featured convocation speaker at Liberty University on April 25, and it didn’t take long for critics to begin attacking the university for inviting him to speak. But Beck said on his radio program Tuesday that many of the attacks haven’t actually come from the left.
The words “attacks” and “attacking”. . . what exactly did your writer mean by that? Wouldn’t you consider these loaded words? Johnnie Moore, the senior vice president of LU who serves directly under President Jerry Falwell, Jr., told me that he received about 20 emails concerning your visit. Apparently all but one criticized Liberty’s choice. (The only one who wrote to agree was written by an LDS student who attends LU–go figure!) Why was there such an uproar? I think this quote from your talk epitomized what the writers felt was wrong:
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 feel uncomfortable. I am a Mormon, but I share your faith in the atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ.
One of the writers shared her letter with me (her name is taken out, but otherwise it is intact):
Dear Johnnie Moore,
My name is ______________ and I am a former student of Liberty University. I still have many friends at LU and so I usually see the LU news on my facebook, the most recent being Glenn Beck’s speech in convocation. With all due respect, Sir, leaving Mr. Beck’s words without explanation is extremely detrimental to your students’ faith and blurs the line between Christianity and Mormonism, which cannot be combined. Let me briefly explain:
I have grown up in a very Mormonized part of Idaho. I have worked in theatre companies that are almost exclusively Mormon. In my junior year I transferred to Liberty from a college where I was one of only six non-Mormons in the entire department (professors included). Friends at LU asked what a Mormon was and I was utterly shocked! The Mormon temple is less than two minutes from my house – “Holiness to the Lord, the House of the Lord” is written on its steeple while the angel Moroni stands blowing his golden trumpet at the peak. In short, I understand Mormonism. I speak Mormon. Sir, what is so deceptive about this particular religion is that it uses the same vocabulary as Christianity, but it has different definitions. When they say “Jesus,” it is not the same Jesus. When they say “salvation,” it is not the same salvation. When they say “heaven,” you must ask, “Which one?” (There are three heavens and you can’t get to the top one unless you’re married, either in this life or the afterlife.) At the risk of sounding harsh, Mormonism is a very sneaky and deceptive religion which hijacks Christianity in a very clever way: by masquerading as Christianity.
I remember Mormons animatedly insisting that they were NOT Christian – they were MORMON. Now the tide has turned, as it so often does in Mormonism. It is now the goal of Mormonism to be accepted as a mainstream Christian denomination. Glenn Beck, in his convo speech, included himself as part of a Christian denomination, and to uninformed LU students, it probably sounded like he was just that.
The message in Eric Johnson’s article – “What Glenn Beck didn’t explain at yesterday morning’s convocation talk at Liberty University” – is exactly what myself and many other students tried to express to LU faculty last year before Mitt Romney gave the commencement speech – the closing cap at “the biggest Christian university in the world.” Christians over here in the West spend much time trying to unravel Mormonism for Mormon people, many of whom don’t even know the history of their own church. Please understand that when Liberty University – “the biggest Christian university in the world” – asks a Mormon leader to speak, knowing that his words sound dangerously Christian, it undoes everything Christians over here in the West (and even in the East) have tried to do. In Mormon eyes, it equates Mormonism and Christianity. To Mormons, when “the biggest Christian university in the world” accepts Mormon speakers (especially as a commencement speaker), it is an affirmation of Mormonism as Christianity.
Sir, as a recent Liberty student who understands the predicament of the West, I beg you to differentiate between these two religions. I love my Mormon friends – they are wonderful people – but to equate Mormonism and Christianity is to adopt heresy. Once more, it is heresy that uses the same vocabulary but different definitions – a wolf in sheep’s clothing, if you will. Mormonism Research Ministry has graciously offered to speak on this very topic at no charge, and as a university that cites Mormonism as a cult in their theology courses, I think it would be a huge step in the right direction if Liberty were to take them up on that offer.
Thank you for your time.
Mr. Beck, how exactly should this woman’s words be attributed as an “attack” on Liberty? It sounds to me that, while there certainly is a disagreement, this is anything but an “attack.” What this lady did is how civilized people let the leaders of an institution know when they disagree with their actions. Sending emails and letters along with making phone calls is a right we have. As a parent of a 2014 Liberty grad, I have this same right, as do those who don’t have any connections at all with LU. The word “attack” should be reserved for the actions of lynch mobs or terrorists. Of course, I am not privy to the other correspondence sent to LU, but I would think that the letter above is very typical of the criticism communicated to the university.
Perhaps you didn’t intend to focus your barb at the lady above but rather were thinking more about Christian apologists like me. Please understand, my criticism was not aimed so much at you as it was the leadership of the school. You have every right to say what you want. You certainly took full advantage at Liberty’s last convocation to speak on a topic that was sure to rile the critics who take their Christianity seriously. In fact, you admitted at the beginning of your talk that you had changed your message from what you originally planned to say.
According to the LU administration, what you said about your Mormonism surprised them. They claimed that they had no idea you would speak about Mormons belonging to a “different denomination,” the integrity of Joseph Smith, or the assumption that preexistence is true. After all, they don’t require the speakers to submit an outline of their talks, so maybe they shouldn’t have been surprised. However, I think you are well-versed in the differences between our faiths to know that most people wouldn’t catch the subtleties. When your company live-streamed your sermon and made it available for everyone in the world to see, you had to know that there would be some out there who would be better versed in Mormonism than the audience in that Liberty arena. Could it be that you knew your talk would generate controversy? It almost seems that way, which doesn’t appear very thoughtful if you really cared about the school and the leaders there who continue to speak so highly of you. The university, not you, has taken most of the flak. Until now.
You are right that the criticism originated from those in Christian circles who probably hold very similar values as you. For instance, politically, you and I are much closer than many, as I too am conservative. Socially, we would agree on issues like abortion and homosexual marriage. Spiritually, though, we are worlds apart. Just as you probably wouldn’t consider your disagreement with Obamacare, liberal legislation, and independent judicial rulings as “attacks,” please don’t label our disagreement with Liberty officials in the same way. You and I may not see eye-to-eye on certain issues, but as human beings and fellow Americans, may I please request that you have more respect by allowing for differences and dealing with these at a table of dialogue? It is you who seems to be on the “attack,” as you begin your article by using “land of monsters,” a negative remark about those with whom you disagree. Could we agree to avoid the ad hominem attacks in future dialogue so we can focus on the issues at hand?
“Liberty University is being smeared, absolutely smeared, and they’re being smeared by religious people [who] claim to be followers of Christ,” Beck remarked. “Now, I’ve read the Bible several times, and I just can’t find the place where Jesus hates.”
I had to reread this several times just to make sure I understood what you were trying to say. “Absolutely smeared”? You need to provide evidence that a “smear” campaign was attempted by “religious people.” A more complete explanation combined with evidence to support your accusation is necessary to validate your claim.
Then you say that you’ve “read the Bible several times, and I just can’t find the place where Jesus hates.” Allow me to provide three passages–one from each Synoptic Gospel writer–quoting Jesus who was dealing with the religious leaders of his day:
As he taught, Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”
When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal. Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you. “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone. . . . “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.”
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples:
“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. . . .
“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ You blind fools! . . . “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. . . . You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. . . . “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?
I would agree that Jesus didn’t use hate speech to put the Pharisees in their place. Yet how many liberals would consider Jesus’s mere disagreement and choice words as somehow hateful and even contradicting what He said in Matthew 7:1? Indeed Jesus was quite colorful in calling human beings—if Mormonism’s view of preexistence is true, they too are “children of God”— “blind guides,” “hypocrites,” “child(ren) of hell,” “fools,” “whitewashed tombs” “full of the bones of the dead,” “full of hypocrisy and wickedness,” “snakes,” “brood of vipers,” and ultimately people who are “condemned to hell.” Reread the letter from the former student above and then look over Jesus’s words once more. Is it really fair to say that LU (or even you) has been “smeared”? Something tells me there is no comparison. The Jesus you picture, meek and mild, just doesn’t hold water when the facts are entertained, even though this goes against the popular conception that the Savior would have never criticized anyone.
Beck said there’s a group of people who identify themselves as Christians, but always seem to “have a problem” with him and men like historian David Barton.
I’m not sure how Christian historian David Barton has anything to do with your speaking at LU. Yes, the critics of LU are Christians who are very concerned about Liberty’s policy of allowing a Latter-day Saint using religious jargon and emotional language to make Mormonism sound the same as the Christianity taught by the Bible department at LU. You may still feel that the critics are without reason for their criticism. If so, allow me to use a passage from the Bible (2 John 7-11) to provide more detail:
I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work.
Let’s dissect these verses. First of all, John warns against deceivers in the same way Jesus did in Matthew 7:15, which says:
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”
Jesus said that we will know these false teachers by their fruit. And then, in 2 John 7, we see that wrong doctrine is “bad” fruit. You may read verse 7 and, with a smile, say, “But Mormons do believe that Jesus came in the flesh.” Literally, this is true, as your leaders have taught the Jesus came to this earth through the Virgin Birth, a direct result of a physical union between Elohim (Heavenly Father) and Mary. (For those doubting what I am saying, please see here for more details.) Mormonism’s view of Jesus is much different than what is taught at LU, which has been admitted by your leadership. For example, one of your former apostles had this to say about the differences:
“And virtually all the millions of apostate Christendom have abased themselves before the mythical throne of a mythical Christ whom they vainly suppose to be a spirit essence who is incorporeal uncreated, immaterial and three-in-one with the Father and Holy Spirit” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, p. 269).
Consider what fifteenth President Gordon B. Hinckley had to say:
“In bearing testimony of Jesus Christ, President Hinckley spoke of those outside the Church who say Latter-day Saints ‘do not believe in the traditional Christ.’ ‘No, I don’t. The traditional Christ of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak. For the Christ of whom I speak has been revealed in this the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. He together with His Father, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in the year 1820, and when Joseph left the grove that day, he knew more of the nature of God than all the learned ministers of the gospel of the ages’” (“Crown of Gospel is Upon Our Heads, Church News, June 20, 1998, p. 7).
Four years later he said,
“As a church we have critics, many of them. They say we do not believe in the traditional Christ of Christianity. There is some substance to what they say” (“We look to Christ,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2002, p. 90).
I agree with your general authorities in saying that the Jesus of Mormonism is different from the Jesus worshipped by millions of Christians around the world. Because this is true, what is John’s advice? He said that those teaching such a false gospel should not be allowed in the “house.” What does this mean? Should Christians invite the missionaries into their homes? The context of John’s day will help us better understand what was meant. Because the Christians in those early days met in homes, very similar to our Sunday church services today, they were not supposed to let false teachers introduce heretical doctrines from house pulpits. Doing so, verse 11 says, is the same as “shar(ing) in their wicked work.” Thus, John is instructing the churches to keep the sheep (Christians) safe by not allowing any wolves to deliver their corrupt philosophies.
I realize that Liberty officials do not think their convocation is the same as a “chapel” or “worship” service. It is a place, Mr. Moore has written, allowing for a variety of viewpoints. Yet musical worship to God along with prayer before and after the talk play major roles in all convocation services when the pulpit (although LU officials don’t like that term, I’ll still use it) is given over to someone like you, Mr. Beck. You changed whatever message you originally were going to bring so you could present what turned out to be a confusing talk, leaving many students thinking that Mormonism and their Christianity were one and the same. Shame on Liberty’s administrators for allowing students to possibly walk away convinced that your spiritual view is aligned with theirs. And shame on you for taking advantage of the situation.
“I want to make it really, really super clear: there is no difference between the people who are currently trying to take down Liberty University because they’re ‘not Christian enough,’ or me because I’m ‘not a Christian,’ [and] the people who are trying to run other people out of the square.”
This is nothing more than rhetoric. How can our belief that you shouldn’t have been allowed to taken the pulpit at LU be the same as running “people out of the square”? You have every right to talk about your political and spiritual views. (In fact, you have dedicated whole television shows to Book of Mormon issues.) Your platform is your “square” and you can believe whatever you like. Just don’t think your beliefs should go unchallenged. The administrators at the largest Christian university in the world had the right to (or not to) invite you to speak to their students. They chose to let you come, and it is my opinion that this was not a wise choice. Still, nobody is running you out of the “square.”
Think about it this way, Mr. Beck. What are the possibilities that I could speak at your church’s next general conference? Imagine if I responded, “What do you mean that I would never be allowed? Isn’t this discriminatory?” Yes, it certainly is, and your leaders have every right to discriminate! In the same way Liberty’s officials should have been more discriminatory in who they allow to speak at convocation on spiritual topics. And asking the university’s officials to not allow someone from another religion to address the student body on spiritual issues is well within our (my) rights.
“This is why your churches are dwindling,” Beck continued. “You think you’re standing for something, when indeed, you’re standing for hate and bigotry. I think Jesus was hanging out with prostitutes and sinners, wasn’t he? You won’t even listen to a man who says … ‘I challenge you to know your faith, not my faith, your faith so well that you’re willing to die for it. Stand with one another.’ That frightens you so much? If it does, you might want to consider that you’re on the wrong side.”
Mr. Beck, you lose me when you trot out the “hate” card. For Pete’s sake, you sound more like a political liberal than the conservative you are supposed to be. Should I take your disagreement against me (and my position that Liberty shouldn’t have invited you to speak) as hateful? You can’t win with the hate card and I suggest hanging up this stale maneuver once and for all.
As far as Jesus “hanging out” with prostitutes and sinners, these were the folks who knew they were lost as they often beat their chests in seeking repentance. They understood that forgiveness could only come through a contrite heart and they recognized they were sinners. Forgiveness cannot come without the understanding that we have fallen way short of the glory of God. (Rom. 3:23)
This brings me to a quote from Mr. Moore, as reported by the Religion News Service article published on Monday, May 19. He said that “many conservative evangelical leaders who are closer to Beck than me have told me that they believe Beck has had a born again experience recently. “
Mr. Beck, is this true? (You would know better than anyone else, right?) Do you believe that you have had a “born again” experience? I would love to see you become a Christian, yet in your talk, you clearly stated that you remain a “Mormon.” To support this, you spoke highly of Mormonism’s founder Joseph Smith–a man who repudiated the basic beliefs of the historic Christian faith–and you made it clear that you uphold the doctrine of the “first estate” (preexistence). Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you would fully agree with Smith who said that “being born again comes by the Spirit of God through ordinances.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 162) If that’s true, let me ask a few more questions to get further clarity:
- Do you believe water baptism in the Mormon Church is an essential requirement for salvation?
- Do you believe the authority of the LDS priesthood is necessary?
- Do you believe that a person must get a temple recommend and get sealed for not only time but eternity?
- Do you think drinking tea or coffee should prohibit a person from going to the temple?
If your answers are all affirmative and you remain in agreement with your church’s leaders, then what exactly do you think Mr. Moore means when he suggests you have had a recent “born again experience”? If you have left Mormonism and become a born again Christian, let us all know. If he’s wrong, perhaps you might want to clarify this issue with him so he doesn’t assume something that is not true. There are sins of commission, but there are also sins of omission.
Beck said America is “turning into a land of monsters.”
“I look at every single lover of light and truth as my ally, my friend, my brother,” he said. “I look at everyone who is my enemy as my brother. I don’t care what you say; I don’t care what you think your belief is; I don’t care what your lifestyle is — you’re not going to change me. And I invite you to join me, join others of multiple faiths — never asking anyone to change their faith — asking you to strengthen your faith, whatever it is.”
Do you believe President Obama is your brother? (I’ve heard your show before and you’ve said some pretty harsh things about our nation’s President.) And if I were to ask Mr. Obama what he thought of you, would he call you a “monster”? Yes, it goes both ways. By calling your enemy a “brother,” are you referring to nothing more than Mormonism’s teaching that all people are spirit brothers and sisters going back to the preexistence? Or do you mean that as brothers we should all agree with one another? A little more clarity here would be appreciated in your response.
Beck said he wants “nothing to do with you” if your religion is telling you to “kill people, burn their books, shut them up, torture them, imprison them.”
How did my disagreement with Liberty’s invitation to you create me into a “monster” who wants to “kill people, burn (your) books, shut (you) up, torture (you), imprison (you).” This sounds like the type of rhetoric offered by the Nazis in the early 1930s! See, this is what waving the hate card does to a person. If disagreement with someone leads to this type of accusation, then perhaps you need to look in the mirror yourself, Mr. Beck. Shouldn’t your words apply to you as well? As Matthew 19 as quoted above mentions, hypocrites are not favored by Jesus!
“[But] if your faith says: learn about love, learn about goodness, learn about the power of faith, learn about the miracles of God … I’d love to meet you,” he said. “And I’d love to be around you.”
Let’s have lunch, Mr. Beck, and discuss this in a civil manner. Let’s lay the differences on the table and, using good communication tactics, fairly explain why we disagree. Let’s stay away from good cop, bad cop. Instead, let’s determine the strength of our ideas based on the evidence we can provide. Meanwhile, stereotypes and flamboyant language should be left on the porch outside.
Liberty University has also stood by its decision to invite Beck to speak. An email from the office of Johnnie Moore, senior vice-president for communications and assistant to the president at Liberty University, was posted at Religion News Service.
“College is about learning,” the email read. “How can you defend what you believe if you don’t understand what others believe? I believe our students are stronger in their faith because of our convocation speaker series and the wide diversity of views that they have been privileged to hear in person over the last few decades.”
As I wrote earlier, my response to this (and other quotes) given by Liberty University will be posted on Mormon Coffee in a two-part series beginning Monday, May 26.
As I close, I want to reiterate once more that I hold no animosity against you or Liberty University. Know that I don’t hate you, as I actually pray for your salvation. Until that day comes, though, I cannot accept nor endorse a policy that allows someone with heretical views to address my daughter and her fellow Christian students from a pulpit, especially when the backdrop reads “Training Champions for Christ.” Because I believe that Mormonism is not the same as Christianity, I will continue to defend this idea as long as our nation upholds our First Amendment rights. After reading this, I hope you still don’t consider me to be a monster, just as I don’t consider you to be one either. We just disagree.
Mormonism Research Ministry
For more information on Glenn Beck:
- What Glenn Beck didn’t explain at his April 25, 2014 convocation talk at Liberty University
- Glenn Beck’s Popularity
- The Not- so Mormon Soteriology of Glenn Beck
- W. Cleon Skousen: The Man Behind Glenn Beck
- Questions for Glenn Beck
- Podcast: Glenn Beck speaks at Liberty University Part 1 Part 2 (May 5-6, 2014 )