Glenn Beck believes Joseph Smith was a prophet. Glenn Beck believes he is wedded to his wife for eternity. Glenn Beck wears special garments under his clothes to remind him of promises he has made to God. But none of this is startling because, well, Glenn Beck is Mormon.
But it may surprise you to learn that Beck preached a sermon at Liberty University on April 25 that was rife with Mormon theology in which he showcased a valuable Mormon relic.
During the sermon, Beck asked if Liberty students were willing to give their lives for their beliefs: “What are you willing to do? What is it that means something to you?”
Beck then told the story of Joseph Smith’s death (15:15-16:54), describing Smith as a martyr of the faith. According to Beck, a Sheriff falsely accused Smith of owing a debt for stealing a stove.
“[Smith] reached into his pocket and pulled out his pocket watch…he gave it to the Sheriff and said, ‘I owe man nothing.’ They let him go. And they killed him,” Beck said.
Beck picked up Smith’s pocket watch, a Mormon relic, and showed it to the crowd: “This is his pocket watch that he pulled out.”
He also brought other religious artifacts, such as an “original William Tyndale Bible” and a Bible that Beck claimed “stopped the Salem witch trials.”
Later, Beck roused the crowd by talking of their spiritual purpose: “You’re here for a reason…You were born at this time in this country, you are at this university for a reason.”
Beck said that “nobody in the Grand Councils” sent them down to earth just to design T-shirts or become an accountant.
“You didn’t come down for a job. You came to this university maybe thinking, ‘I have to have an education to get a job.’ You need this education from Liberty University because of your only true job, the purpose you were sent here for.” (27:05-27:22)
According to Mormon teaching, the Grand Council (or Council of Heaven) is a gathering of heavenly beings that send men and women, who they believe are pre-existing and immortal souls, to earth for a divine purpose. Protestant and Catholic critics of Mormonism claim that this teaching is both polytheistic and unbiblical.
During other parts of his sermon, Beck used language that would be familiar to most Protestants and Catholics. He spoke of the importance of studying the “scriptures” and preaching the “gospel.” Presumably, many students and faculty would have a different understanding of what those words mean.
Of miracles, Beck said, “Expect miracles in your lifetime. Live in such a way that you can demand miracles. Expect miracles. Call down miracles. And then when they happen pronounce them. Declare them. Never be shy, no matter how small or how big. Never explain it away. That is the awesome power of Jesus Christ and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” (17:43-18:02)
Beck commented that he shared many beliefs with the crowd, including the atoning power of Jesus: “I share your faith. I am from a different denomination. And a denomination that I’m sure can make many people at Liberty uncomfortable—I’m a Mormon—but I share your faith in the atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ.” (14:38-14:59)
The crowd erupted in applause at several junctures.
There seems to be no outcry from students, parents, or faculty over Liberty’s invitation of Beck or of his sermon so far. Perhaps the silence is because this is business as usual for the evangelical mega-school.
Liberty is America’s largest Christian college boasting more than 90,000 resident and distance learning students. It was founded by the late Jerry Falwell, a prominent televangelist, founder of the Moral Majority, and leader of the Christian right movement until he passed away in 2007 from heart failure.
Falwell was famous for forging friendships with leaders across the religious spectrum, breaking down walls between Protestants and Jews, Catholics and Mormons. Jerry Falwell Jr., the school’s current chancellor, has continued this tradition. He was criticized by some for inviting former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to deliver Liberty’s commencement address in 2012. Two years prior, Liberty conferred to Beck an honorary doctorate.
So what does all this mean?
Given the school’s history, Beck’s sermon may be nothing more than Liberty doing what it has always done best: thriving amidst controversy and leading with conservative politics rather than theology. But it may also be one more sign that Mormons are becoming more mainstream in American life–even increasingly welcomed by evangelicals who would have rejected them only a few years ago.