Focus on the Family got to work this week in explaining in detail why it pulled from its website an interview with a Mormon author.
“We intended no insult,” expressed ministry spokesman Gary Schneeberger, in a statement. “[W]e merely miscalculated on how best to feature Glenn [Beck], whom we greatly appreciate.”
Last week, some time before Christmas celebrations, Focus on the Family took down the interview with Beck amid complaints from the evangelical community over the former CNN host’s Mormon ties.
The interview, produced by a freelance reporter in Colorado Springs and not Focus on the Family, focuses on Beck’s recently released book, The Christmas Sweater, which has been on the New York Times Best Sellers list for Hardcover Fiction for six consecutive weeks and currently ranks at No. 1.
In the interview, Beck talked about what Christmas means to him, how he came to write the book, and what message he hoped readers will take away from the book.
“Sometimes redemption has been made into a word that people don't understand,” he said. “They need to know it's true, it's real. It's not a word, it's a life-changing force. It's transformed my life, who I was to the very core of my being. If it wasn't for me accepting the gift that the Lord gave to me, I'd be dead today.”
Since the interview was published, a number of Christians throughout the blogosphere raised flags and sounded alarms, concerned that Focus on the Family was compromising central doctrinal truths to win the culture war.
“They use Mr. Beck's story as a way to show that hope can be found in God, which is true enough; the problem is that Mr. Beck's god is not the Triune God of the Bible nor is his Jesus the Jesus of the Bible,” commented Dustin S. Seger, pastor of Shepherd’s Fellowship of Greensboro, N.C., in the co-authored blog “Grace in the Triad.”
Beck, however, maintains that the book's message can be and has been embraced by people of different faiths and should not be “censored” because of his own personal religious views. The book tells the narrative of a boy named Eddie who embarks on a dark and painful journey on the road to manhood.
“The Christmas Sweater is a story about the idea of Christmas as a time for redemption and atonement,” Beck expressed in a released statement after the interview was pulled from Focus on the Family’s CitizenLink website.
“Whatever your beliefs about my religion, the concept of religious tolerance is too important to be sacrificed in response to pressure from special interest groups, especially when it means bowing to censorship,” he added.
According to Schneeberger, however, Focus on the Family could not intimate to its evangelical base that the differences in Mormon faith and the historic evangelical faith are inconsequential.
“We can, and do, gladly cooperate with friends outside of the evangelical heritage on common causes; but in no case do we intend to alter our clear distinction as unwaveringly grounded in evangelical theology,” he explained.
But Schneeberger made sure to also distance the ministry from another that had strongly rebuked it for the article’s posting.
“[W]e do not condone the tone of communications put out from UnderGround Apologetics,” he clarified, referring to the controversial apologetics ministry that spoke out against Focus on the Family last week. “And we can without reservation say that the group's news release had nothing to do with our decision to pull the article from publication."
In their statement three days before Christmas, UnderGround Apologetics called Mormonism a cult and chastised Focus on the Family for “opening the door to false religions.”
“[T]o promote a Mormon as a Christian is not helpful to the cause of Jesus Christ,” it added.
Despite such statements and the recent move by Focus on the Family, Beck, who not long ago left CNN Headline News for a multiyear deal with Fox News, said he is “humbled and grateful” that hundreds of thousands of people from different faiths have read his book and have “appreciated its uplifting message for themselves.”
“At a time when the world is so full of fear, despair, and divisions, it is my hope that all of those who believe in a loving and peaceful God would stand together on the universal message of hope and forgiveness,” he stated.
While many Christians today still view the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the official name of the Mormon church) as a cult, more have come to view it as another religion – some going as far as calling Mormonism a fourth Abrahamic religion.
Aside from rejecting the Trinity and their belief in many gods, Mormons believe their prophet, Joseph Smith, was “the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam,” according to the Mormons’ History of the Church.
Formally listed under “cults and sects” by the Southern Baptist Convention, Mormonism was later categorized among “newly developed religions” on the North American Mission Board apologetics page.