Some has been said and written about evangelicals “compromising” by sharing the stage this weekend at Glenn Beck’s Friday night Kennedy Center event (for approximately 2,000 pastors and Christian leaders) and being seated on the platform (nearly 200 seats) of the Lincoln Memorial during the “Restoring Honor” Rally on Saturday, August 28. This all stems from the fact of Beck’s Mormon faith.
I have not been criticized for going to the rally (at least as of this date), but I have seen writing attacking two men in whom I believe: James Robison (who will not even be at the rally, but whose video might be) and David Barton. Both of these men have impeccable credentials in our biblical faith.
I recognize that people of good will and good faith might differ with each other on this. Yet there is no need to “de-Christianize” each other over the matter.
If I may, allow me to state how I dealt with the issue of evangelical-Mormon working partnerships during the Prop 8 battle here in California.
Lessons Learned and Guidelines Followed from Prop. 8
We, as evangelical pastors (primarily in San Diego), were one of the first groups to organize regarding the defense of marriage. We later learned what the Catholics were doing, and we worked side-by-side – with great synergy and effect. The relationship proved to be spectacular and continues to this day.
It was later that some of the hierarchy of the Mormon Church called and asked to meet with me. Candidly, I did not – at first – want to meet with them and did not want to work with them. My disagreement with Mormon belief is substantial. Yet I knew that the battle for marriage was so immense in scope. The Sacramento based Schubert-Flint Public Affairs, working with Ron Prentice of ProtectMarriage.com, had outlined what was needed. We needed to activate 25,000 persons to knock on doors immediately, and to organize 100,000 persons, “boots on the ground,” by Election Day. In addition, many other webinars, satellite simulcasts and phone banks were planned, along with a 40-day prayer and fast period culminating with 33,000 persons in a 12-hour prayer meeting – 10 am to 10 pm – in Qualcomm Stadium three days before the election.
Several months before the election, three officials from the Mormon Church came to my office. The meeting was cordial, respectful and warm. We discussed ways to work alongside each other in this battle.
Most of us are familiar with the term “co-belligerency,” which means that people with diametrically opposing views on certain critical issues work together. It was in that role that we came together.
Towards the very end of the meeting, I was just ready to bring up a critical issue: the insistence of Mormons to proselytize and argue theology. Before I could bring up the obvious “elephant in the room,” the highest ranking Mormon official present – a member of the Council of the Seventy – said (as nearly as I am able to re-construct the conversation), “Allow me to broach a topic that is likely on your mind. You will be concerned that our people will bring up discussions regarding their Mormon beliefs. I want to assure you that they will not bring up that topic in conversation.”
I was surprised at his directness, thus I said, “Can I have your word on that?” He responded, “You can.” I asked, “Even though you are over the Pacific Rim (approx. 1/3 of the world) in the Mormon Church, may I have your cell number and call you personally if I become aware of any violation of the promise?” He responded, “You can,” and gave me his cell phone number.
I never called it. Not once. Because I never heard of one single violation. On our first weekend of knocking on doors across California, 25,000 persons showed up to work. Twenty four thousand of them were Mormons. They worked. They worked hard. They never brought up their faith. Not once. A letter had been sent instructing them to discuss only the defense of marriage – and they honored that policy.
Once we began working side by side, I received a call from a reporter with the Wall Street Journal. I have done over 775 interviews, so there was nothing particularly unusual about receiving such a call. However his questions were not about Prop 8 and marriage as such, but about the relationship between evangelicals and Mormons. As I was answering his questions, I stopped and said, “I am going to answer you as directly as I can. If you misquote me, you will do great harm to my standing as an evangelical, and you will harm the new and young friendship I have with some Mormon acquaintances, so I am going to talk slowly so you can write this verbatim and quote me correctly.” I did talk slowly, and he did quote me correctly.
The Quote: Key for Understanding the Issue
My quote was simply, “As evangelicals and Mormons, we are not theological brothers and sisters. But we are friends and neighbors. And on that basis we work together to defend marriage.” At another time, the LA Times called, equally inquisitive of the “new relationship.” I ended up making the same statement – “As evangelicals and Mormons, we are not theological brothers and sisters. But we are friends and neighbors. And on that basis we work to defend marriage” – repeatedly.
That became the mantra for our Prop 8 work together. Mormons make up 2% of the California population, yet contributed at least 40% of the funds to defend marriage. Of the workers that knocked on doors and called homes, I suspect that the LDS church provided the lion’s share of the workers.
(They are not the only identifiable group or constituency to which we are indebted. There were ethnicities that were critical to defending marriage. Whites voted 49% in favor of Prop 8. Asians also voted 49%. Hispanics voted 53% to defend marriage. While blacks voted 70%. Thus marriage was saved in California by Hispanics and African Americans.)
But back specifically to the issue of evangelicals and the LDS Church. Notice the phrase – “friends and neighbors.” That is exactly what they are. As such, I treat them (and all persons) with honor and dignity.
I later visited Salt Lake City and dialogued with two members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Russell Ballard and Quentin Cook. One of them set the stage perfectly with this opening line, “Look, we are just going to have to tolerate each other’s theology, so we can work together defending marriage.” My sentiment exactly.
Because he had laid it out so clearly, we were able to focus on the matter at hand: defense of marriage. I later met with them for the same purpose. They are my “friends and neighbors.” In addition, there are a host of members of the LDS church in San Diego and further up in the greater LA area that are my “friends and neighbors.” I thoroughly enjoy my time with them. They are friends. I have not changed my theology one bit. Not at all. I suspect they have not as well, but we can work together on this important project.
In the aftermath of the November 2008 Prop 8 victory, there was a demonstrable backlash directed at the Mormon Church. Without hesitation, I called a meeting of evangelicals and Catholics – inviting the Mormon officials that I could gather on short notice – and we (Catholics and Evangelicals) affirmed that we would stand with them and speak out against the violence directed against them. In addition, I participated in a major press conference in which Evangelicals, Catholics, Muslims, Sikhs and others all defended the unwarranted and viscous attacks on the LDS Church.
The Nature of Alliances
In the Old Testament, there were times that Israel forged alliances out of desperation because they did not trust God. That distrust is sin. In addition, Israel compromised herself in those alliances, becoming like those with whom she joined.
However, there were other scenarios in which God used cultures outside Israel for his purposes. Those alliances seemed to have the approval of God.
Thus I developed a personal “grid” regarding the forming of alliance on the Prop 8 battle. It might not be helpful for you, but it is helpful for me. I asked myself two questions:
1. Am I joining with someone simply out of failure to trust God, or does this alliance seem to have the approval of God for this moment, to accomplish his will?
2. Am I compromising biblical truths and values in this alliance?
I concluded that the alliances were not out of failure to trust God, but out of an understanding of how (in this moment) to live out his will on earth, and that there was no compromise of biblical values.
I am not hesitant to say that – though they are not my theological brothers and sisters – the LDS members I have come to know truly are my good friends. We even laugh hard together. Yes, we even tease each other about each other’s theological positions. Yes, I wish they would embrace what I believe. As yet, that has not happened. But in the meantime, we are unabashedly “friends and neighbors.”
The Evangelical-LDS Prop 8 alliance provides some background to the issue of why an evangelical might attend the Restoring Honor Rally in Washington, DC.
(I am not expecting all persons to arrive at the same conclusion. There is a principle I learned decades ago, “Others may; you cannot.” I have wondered for years why so-called Christians can do some of the things they do. For example, Christians who prided themselves in “doing all things in moderation,” however, are finding that they are no longer doing those things in moderation. You name the taboo. They are almost all gone. What was called “sin” in the 1950’s is quite cool in the new millennium. Has Evangelical Christianity improved? Grown up? Become so much more sophisticated? I doubt it. It seems a bit dull. Blunted. Muted. It has lost its “edge” – and we all know it. As I have observed these changes, I sensed that “the old way” – as out of step with contemporary culture as they might be – might just be better. So as others begin doing things I do not do, I attempt to override my first instinct to judge. Then I hear the “Others may; you cannot” principle and go my merry way. Why have I taken you on this detour? Because when it comes to the issue of “should I attend a rally led by a Mormon?” some may; others may not. There is room for amiable disagreement.)
As I have sorted this out, I have watched Glenn Beck as closely as I can. I do not have a lot of contact with him, but I do have some. I have been:
1. In his studio audience once
2. On his show once, interviewed very briefly
3. With him and a group of 20+ persons for a three and one half hour dinner and discussion
4. With him in his green room with a group of 10 for nearly half an hour
5. Conversed with him one-on-one very little, perhaps 5 minutes total
6. Led on his internet early morning (7:05 Eastern) 10-minute prayer and devotional time on one occasion
I have had some other email and phone contact with his staff, but only a dozen or so times. Bottom line: I have had some, but limited, contact.
I have listened and watched very carefully regarding clues to Glenn’s spiritual condition. I have interviewed several people who have been with him and have talked very specifically with him regarding his own personal salvation. Glenn has said unequivocally that that he relies on the atonement of Jesus on the cross for forgiveness for his sins, and those are almost the exact words. Few people use the term atonement. Glenn did.
On one of his TV shows about a month ago, he laid out the gospel, using his well known blackboard, in the clearest explanation of the crucifixion and the resurrection that I have ever heard on national TV. I called James Robison, and asked, “Did you hear that?” James said, “Richard Land (Southern Baptist) just called me and said he never expected to hear the Gospel so clear on secular television.” It was quite remarkable. A few days ago, Glenn laid out America’s problems and then concluded, “We need God!”
I have interviewed persons who have talked specifically with Glenn about his personal salvation – persons extremely well known in Christianity – and they have affirmed (using language evangelicals understand), “Glenn is saved.” He understands receiving Christ as savior. (Note: I have never discussed with Glenn this topic.)
On one occasion three of us were walking near the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. The person to my right asked the man to my left – who is with Glenn Beck a great deal – “I heard Glenn Beck is a Mormon. What is he?” The man to my left, without missing a beat, without even turning his head to look at the questioner said, “A Christian.” That answer comes from a man who has been with Glenn often. At the risk of throwing a verbal grenade, there is no ambiguity about Glenn’s faith, such as what we see in the “is he a Muslim / is he a Christian” discussion regarding our President.
But what about Glenn’s Mormonism, many ask? That is a legitimate question. Glenn was raised, as I understand it, as a Catholic. He became a heavy drinker, destroying everything in his life. It was the Mormons that got him into the equivalent of a 12-step program. His life was turned around. His wife, as I understand it, is a strong Mormon. My personal read-out would be that Glenn’s Mormon ties are not profoundly deep rooted. I am not saying that to denigrate his theological understanding. I simply do not see evidence that he has deep Mormon theological motifs.
But didn’t he talk about some Hebrew stone tablet on his show recently? Yes. Frankly, I am not sure why he did it. It appeared for a moment that he might be – for the first time – pushing his Mormonism. But in further conversation with those I regard to be “in the know,” that was apparently not the case.
Two statements by Beck have caused serious Bible believers serious heartburn. One was on an interview – I believe with Katie Couric – and the other was recently on the Bill O’Reilly show. In both cases, Glenn trivialized the dangers and harm of gay “marriage.” Some defend him, saying he was merely saying that that issue is not his personal focus.
I am not certain how to interpret this one. I was on his show a couple months ago. He specifically asked Robby George (Princeton professor) to tell the audience about the Manhattan Declaration – which strongly affirms traditional, natural marriage. He then changed the conversation to the violence against those that defended Prop 8 in California. At that point, I spoke up, referencing the acts of violence and vandalism committed by those trying to advance the radical gay agenda.
I do not have an explanation for his comments on Bill O’Reilly. I need to know more of the background. It was, most assuredly, not his strongest moment. He may be in need of much more biblical truth and social science data.
Let me ask you a question. Is your theology “off” at all? Even one percent? Only the most arrogant would say, “Oh, my theological understanding is 100% perfect.” No, we all keep growing. God’s Word does not change. God’s truth does not change. But we grow in our understanding of spiritual, biblical truths.
I suspect my theology is off by 1% or 4% or 7%. And, I have news for you: yours is too.
Here is my question: if your theology is off slightly, but you still trust exclusively in Jesus Christ’s death on the cross for your salvation, and in his resurrection, are you still saved? Going to heaven? Yes.
How far off might your theology be – and yet still trust exclusively in Jesus Christ’s death on the cross for your salvation, and believe in his resurrection – and still be saved? Is it 10% or 15% or 20%? Or what?
My point is this: all of us are missing part of God’s full truth. He knows all truth. I don’t. I am striving to understand all truth, but it is a journey of maturing in the understanding of God’s Word.
Someone might truly trust in Jesus Christ’s death on the cross for one’s salvation and believe in Jesus as Lord as demonstrated by the resurrection, yet be lacking in many points of doctrine.
Larry King likes to ask evangelicals on Larry King Live if one must believe in Jesus to go to heaven. If they say “yes,” then he is likely to mention that he is Jewish, so will he go to hell? Evangelicals historically squirm at the thought of saying, “yes, you are going to hell.” What is a better answer, I believe, is, “Everyone who is going to heaven will get there the same way: by the provision of Jesus.” “But am I,” Larry might persist, in this imaginary conversation, “going to hell?” We should respond politely, “All who are going to heaven will get there the same way: by the provision of Christ. It is not mine to judge who will be ‘in’ or ‘out.’ But I do know that all who gain heaven will get there the same way: by the provision of Christ.”
Perhaps that Larry King illustration has some relevance to this discussion.
The Restoring Honor Rally
I am going to the events at the Kennedy Center on Friday and the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday. I go with no reservation. I go – as most are I suspect who have sorted through this issue – with a sensing of the blessing of the Lord.
Candidly, I made a statement publicly about three months ago, before I ever knew I would even meet Glenn Beck. The statement was (as nearly as I can reconstruct it from memory): “If this nation collapses in the 2010-2012 time frame, historians will have to report, if they are honest, that American fell because of silent pastors and inactive pews. If, on the other hand, this nation is saved from self-destruction in the 2010-2012 time frame, those same historians will have to report that one of the major reasons for the turnaround was Glenn Beck.” That was before I had ever been with him. I had no idea that two days later, I would receive a call to come meet with him.
I still believe that. Glenn Beck is being used by God – mightily. The left loves to slam him and do so viscerally and often with vulgarities. Glenn is not perfect. (For the record, neither are you or I.) But his expose on America’s sins is stellar. I am convinced his motives are pure. His research department is profoundly skilled, checking footnotes down to the last detail. The left cannot “get” him – at least, not at this point. They have tried. Since they have no truth, and history is not on their side, they resort constantly to ad hominem attacks. He has withstood staggering scrutiny, disdain and attacks.
Based on all I know about him, I am proud to stand with him at the Restoring Honor Rally this weekend. Glenn does not see that this about him, because it is not. It is about Restoring Honor. That is the issue. It is much bigger than Glenn Beck and he knows it. And God knows we need it.