It is perhaps a little ironic that Beck is invoking theology so often and especially in order to demonize Obama further. Ironic because conservative and evangelical Christians probably have more in common theologically with Barack Obama than with Glenn Beck. Mainline Protestantism is still a lot more similar to evangelical Christianity than Mormonism – which has an entirely new book of gospels (the Book of Mormon) and which teaches that the lost tribes of Israel came to America and ended up the Native Americans. Not to mention all the differences in belief in the afterlife.
So it’s an interesting tactic for Beck to criticize Obama’s ‘liberation theology’ and a risky one at that. And no, I don’t mean this to be a referendum on whether or not Mormonism is really Christianity. I don’t really care, to be quite honest.
But the difference between Baptist and Mormon theology is far more radical than the difference between Baptist and Lutheran or Catholic and Presbyterian theology. Notice, in this comparison chart, the right hand column is “Christianity” and is basically all those areas where mainline Christians – whether Protestant or Catholic or Evangelical – agree. They may disagree on implications, on tolerance of various social practices, on accepted rituals or ways to go about practicing, preaching and so forth, but they agree on the basics. Mormons do not agree on those basics, much as Unitarians or Arians do not agree on the basics. I’m a big-tent Christian, so I’m perfectly happy to call Mormons, Unitarians, and Gnostics Christians and be done with it – but that doesn’t change the theological divide one iota.
Nor am I sure that Beck is a very good representative of Mormonism or whether his faith is as paper-thin as his political sincerity. But his slams against Obama’s faith are a little odd and could only really be taken on face value by a group of people who largely suspects Obama is in fact Muslim – Muslims, after all, represent the Other far better than Mormons.
Both Islam and Mormonism leap off the older Judeo-Christian heritage, adding new scriptures (the Koran, the Book of Mormon), new beliefs, and many reinterpretations into the mix – and both consider themselves the fulfillment of these older traditions (much as Christianity considered itself the fulfillment of Judaism). Islam teaches that Jesus was a prophet, whereas Mormonism still teaches that he was the son of God. But in other ways – in the singularity of God, for instance – Islam and Christianity are actually more similar than Mormonism and non-Mormon Christianity. Obviously on a cultural level Mormons and mainline Christians are far more homogenous, but in terms of theology – which is where Beck took this conversation – Obama is probably a lot closer to evangelical Christians than Beck.
Also, full disclosure, I have family that is Mormon and they’re good people. I have nothing at all against Mormons even though I view their theology as radically different from my own. But I do have something against Glenn Beck and his belief that “social justice” is evil. And there are plenty of non-Mormon Christians who share that distorted understanding of what faith should be about. Though for the life of me I cannot understand how someone could read the teachings of Jesus Christ and still believe that social justice is wrong. As far as I know, most Mormons believe in social justice as well. But most conservatives, at least in the Age of Oba, apparently do not.
For those of you who are saying that somehow this whole social justice thing is about the law – well, that’s really neither here nor there. It’s beside the point in regards to this post at least. Beck told people to leave their church if it promoted social justice. What on earth does that have to do with the law?
Also, Ross Douthat muses about Beck’s Mormonism and the yawning chasm between it and evangelical Christianity, here:
Latter Day Saints and evangelical Christians arguably share enough affinities to belong in the same “cultural family,” as Weigel puts it. But you’re more likely to find them in competition, from the streets of American suburbia to the mission fields of the developing world to the caucuses of Iowa during the great Mike Huckabee-Mitt Romney throwdown. It’s a case of theological differences trumping cultural commonalities: The two faiths occupy opposite sides of a theological chasm that makes the gulf between Catholics and Protestants look narrow by comparison, and many evangelicals bristle with hostility for what they regard as Mormonism’s cultish pseudo-Christianity.
To the extent that this theological chasm can be bridged, though, the obvious place to fling out a rope bridge is the question of America’s providential purpose, since both Mormonism and evangelicalism (especially in their more populist manifestations) often incline toward highly-theologized readings of American history, the founding fathers, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, etc. And tellingly, that’s exactly what Beck has been doing: From his boosterism for the batty Cleon Skousen’s Mormon-inflected interpretation of the American experiment, “The 5,000-Year Leap,” down to the blend of civic religion and nondenominational Christianity on display at the Lincoln Memorial this weekend (complete, as Noah Kristula-Green notes, with distinctively Mormon nods to Native Americans), he’s been tacitly inviting his evangelical fans to get over their anxieties about Mormonism, and find common ground with the Latter Day Saints in their shared appreciation of the Father, Son and Holy Constitution.