Liberty University has tapped radio host Glenn Beck to address its graduating class next month despite knowing that such a decision will be contested and criticized given the well-known conservative's Mormon faith.
Liberty Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr., announced Beck as one of two commencement speakers on Friday, calling the radio host "one of the few courageous voices in the national media standing up for the principles upon which this nation was founded."
"Liberty University is blessed to have two national conservative leaders speak at our 2010 Commencement ceremony," Falwell said, referring to Beck and Dr. Paige Patterson, the current president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
"Both speakers continue Liberty's long tradition of Commencement speakers who are making a positive impact on society in all walks of life," he added, after calling Patterson "one of the patriarchs of Christian higher education."
While Liberty notably introduced Beck as a "conservative leader" and not a Christian figure, the Evangelical school's decision to have him speak immediately drew critical responses as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or the Mormon church, is widely regarded by Christians as either a heretical Christian sect, a cult, or – at best – a newly developed 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.
Mormons also reject the validity and veracity of the Bible, believing that the proper translation of what God wants believers to know is found in another source – the Book of Mormon.
"Alliances such as these are not glorifying to God, in that what association has God with false religions?" posed blogger John Ferguson, who runs the Voice of Truth blog.
"The tangential dangers when the evangelical community unites with the secular world for the sake of social or political agendas are numerous because it leads to a dilution of truths from the Word of God, opens the door to give credence to non-believers within evangelical circles and ultimately leads to the eternal destruction of lost people," he wrote Saturday.
Similarly, Steve McConkey, president and founder of the organization that operates ChristianInvestigator.com, stressed Saturday the need for Jesus Christ to come first before politics and that need for biblical messages in today's confusing times.
"We are not to put politics first and the Lord second," he said in a statement. "If this country is to have another revival, we need to get back to the basics, just like an athlete who has to go back to the basics to learn proper skills. We join Glenn Beck in many of his viewpoints, however, we do not endorse his Mormon beliefs."
With Liberty's commencement about three weeks away, the school's announcement Friday is expected to fuel many more debates on Mormonism and whether or not evangelicals should align with like-minded (though theologically different) Mormons in the social arena amid America's moral decline.
It is not likely, however, that Liberty will rescind its invitation to Beck, whose Mormon faith has posed a problem before for evangelical organizations that had placed their spotlights on him.
In December 2008, conservative ministry Focus on the Family removed from its website an article about the latest book by Beck in response to complaints over his Mormon ties.
According to ministry spokesman Gary Schneeberger, 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.
Schneeberger also said at that time that the ministry did not condone the tone of communications put out from McConkey's group, who was among the critics of Focus of the Family's acceptance of Beck.
"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," he added.
Once listed under "cults and sects" by the Southern Baptist Convention, Mormonism today is categorized among "newly developed religions" on the North American Mission Board apologetics page.
Liberty University, meanwhile, touts itself as the largest and fastest growing Christian Evangelical university in the world. Founded in 1971 by the late Dr. Jerry Falwell Sr., the school is also the largest private university in Virginia, offering more than 60 accredited programs of study.
Liberty University's Commencement Ceremony for the Class of 2010 will be held on Saturday, May 15.