Glenn Beck Doesn’t Speak For Me. Or Does He?

By now Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally on Saturday is old news.  The event has been sliced and diced every way possible.  I have my own thoughts about the rally, especially the decision- foolish from my angle- to claim the date and location of Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, but I’ll withhold those for now.  I’m interested rather in how many Christians are distancing themselves from Glenn Beck even as he increasingly claims religious language to advance his aims.

Credit: Alex Brandon/AP

Time Magazine’s Amy Sullivan thinks the dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Russell Moore, is the best example of American Christians who are discovering the need to distinguish themselves from Beck.  Moore warns against, “vacuous talk about undefined ‘revival’ and ‘turning America back to God’ that was less about anything uniquely Christian than about, at best, a generically theistic civil religion and, at worst, some partisan political movement.”

It’s noteworthy that both First Things and Relevant Magazine- Christian publications whose readers occupy different places along the political spectrum- reprinted Moore’s challenge.  It seems Christians of all stripes are feeling the need to distinguish their faith from the religion expressed by the Beck.

Which raises a question: How important is it to distance yourself from a public personality whose version of Christianity you disagree with? (In Beck’s case the question is more nuanced given his Mormon faith, though this hasn’t dampened the distancing reaction by many Christians.)  The other evening my wife and I were discussing our unease at being associated with Beck’s brand of religion, especially by friends who don’t share our Christian faith.  Does his language about faith, God and religion in some way connect us with him in the eyes of those friends?

Complicating all of this is the fact that many American Christians, some of you perhaps, do not mind being associated with Beck.  While there may be areas of disagreement, these folks find themselves generally approving of his message.  When I  publicly disagree with any Christian “spokesperson” I’m also disagreeing with members of my Christian family.

Please chime in.  How do you think about this? Do you have a threshold that a Christian spokesperson has to cross before you feel the need to distance yourself from him/her?  Do your friendships with Christians of different political and ideological persuasions temper your responses to people like Beck?  Do you regularly find yourself in conversations with friends who don’t share your faith about how you’re not “that” kind of a Christian?

As always, your charitable comments are welcome.

11 comments

  1. altonwoods

    “Do you have a threshold that a Christian spokesperson has to cross before you feel the need to distance yourself from him/her?”

    Of course I do…some candidates, such as Sarah Palin/Glenn Beck exude a certain “aroma” that tip’s me off as to their real character. So initially it’s a gut reaction in some respects. Neither of these people has passed…

    There are also many more “tangible” factors involved such as their positions on issues that I consider. I look at not only what they say they believe but how they live out those belief’s as well. Personally, I believe that Mormonism is a cult so Glenn Beck is out before he begins. Sarah Palin supports the “two state solution” for Jerusalem and is such a glaring opportunist that it makes me “ill” so yes, as a follower of Christ I make every effort to distance myself both of them.

  2. Karen

    I think about this a lot. There are certainly some Orthodox spokespeople I would like to distance myself from as I communicate with other Christian brethren–including sometimes myself, especially when I fail to think before I talk (or write)! :-) I think it’s good to be thoughtful about this, but if you’re like me you probably worry and give this a little more energy than it really merits. I’m trying to learn (mostly by falling down) to check the reality of the present moment and relationship(s) I am in before I decide whether or not I need to weigh in on some controversial issue or person. That means considering the real needs and situation of the people I am talking to or influencing (as opposed to what I fear their needs or impressions might be based on my own insecurities). One way to do that is to refuse to criticize or make a negative comment unless the issue comes up and it becomes clearly necessary to avoid misunderstanding or appearing to condone sin, and instead to let your own manifest attitudes toward others and actions speak for themselves. Another way is simply to check things out by remembering to ask clarifying questions of others before you launch into some sort of apology for your own position. (Especially with “secular” people, I find they can be far more discerning, generous and level-headed in their evaluation of people and their respective merits and faults many times than the polarized picture in the media would like us to imagine, and unfortunately, it’s the religiously committed people, whatever their persuasion, you have to look out for!) I am particularly bad at this latter skill–again my own insecurities are at fault. Far more than I would like to believe, these discussions are more often about my defending my own ego and image of myself than the real spiritual necessity of the moment in terms of God’s agenda for me and those for whom I may, if I am listening to the Holy Spirit, have the real possibility of being an agent of His grace.

  3. Byron Durham

    “Do you regularly find yourself in conversations with friends who don’t share your faith about how you’re not “that” kind of a Christian?”

    Yes. And almost all my friends are non-Christian.

  4. Wayne Park

    The whole thing about being a Covenanter is keeping those at a distance close :) But this takes the cake and crosses the line. I think he speaks authoritatively on what he knows little of. An entertainer doesn’t get theology overnight. He seems to try to come across that way.

  5. Jim

    This may not be what you are asking but I feel it is important to keep most “spokespeople” at arms reach but I do understand that simply because I am a minister I will be painted with the same brush. It is a hard pill to swallow but although I’m Rev. Jim, people can still associate that with Rev. Jimmy Swaggart or Rev. Jim Baker, people I would rather not be associated with.

    Yet at the same time I don’t mind getting into conversations with people about, say Beck’s speech, because it opens up conversation. Without Beck’s misuse of common Christian phrases, such as ‘social justice’, ‘liberation theology’, and saying he disagrees with Obama’s ‘theology’ it would be harder to have open discussions about these topic. When is the last time I had a discussion with a laity person about liberation theology?

    Whether the people I talk to are with or against Beck we are still have a conversation which can lead to a better understand of God. I can’t complain about that.

  6. Richard

    Nothing in your piece indicates that you watched or participated in Beck’s event. True? If so, how did you find time to criticize without first finding time to observe? Relying on others’ criticisms to inform your opinion? Vapid at best.

  7. Dan Vdm

    I don’t know if she would be considered a Christian spokesperson but Oprah’s concept of spirituality and good works really gives me the creeps. I once heard a preacher say how he felt Oprah leads more people astray than an atheist like Robert Sherman. It kind of fits with the concept C.S Lewis describes in the Screwtape Letters. The devil in the story teaches that it is more effective to get people doing seemingly Christian things then to get them to do blantent sins.
    One of the other Christian spokes persons that I have trouble with is Bono. Many many years ago I went to one of his concerts and felt that I was in the very presence of evil. Fast forward several years and I find that he is a committed Christian doing more good in the world then I could ever dream of and respected by Christian leaders that whose judgement I trust. To this day I still have trouble reconciling these competing ideas.

  8. Dan Vdm

    I didn’t see any of Beck’s event but I think one reason so many people went to Washington was to try to distance themselves from how many of our political leaders view America. It was hundreds of thousands of people saying that the trend of government over the past several years doesn’t represent their view of America. Things like a larger and larger government, borrowing, printing and spending beyond our means, politicians that feel the end justify the means and so on. It just struck me that where Christians are trying separate themselves them from Beck that at its very core this event was Americans trying to separate themselves from a particular political view of our nation.

  9. Larry Eisner

    As a general rule, I find that most people that outwardly, publicly, and loudly proclaim to live by one set of standards, typically don’t.

    It’s those who live quietly, honestly, and lovingly, that I tend to want to associate with.

    Therefore, not just Glenn Beck or other talking heads, but ANYONE in power that uses Christianity to further THEIR ideals instead of simply those of Christ, I distance myself from.

    I feel guilt by association, otherwise. And I want to make it clear to people that this idiot doesn’t represent Christ. He’s making Christ into HIS own image. And that’s not how it works.

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