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Cover Story

Glenn Beck: Latter-day Taint Page 2

Glenn Beck's Mormonism may even frighten fellow believers.

By Adam Reilly
Posted // December 2,2009 - In addition, there’s a widely known concept in Mormonism—not contained in the Mormon scriptures, but attributed to Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith, and still influential among some believers—that effectively places believers on perpetual Red Alert for the Constitution’s possible demise. According to this tenet, commonly known as the “White Horse Prophecy,” there will come a time when the Constitution is in great jeopardy—when it will “hang by a thread,” in Smith’s purported words—at which point the Mormon people will come to its rescue.

Apparently, Beck believes that this terrifying crisis is now at hand (or just thinks LDS apocalypticism makes great radio). On Election Day in 2008, Beck interviewed Utah’s Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, also a Mormon, on his radio program:

Elder_Glenn.jpgBeck: Senator, do you believe—I mean, when I heard Barack Obama talk about the Constitution, and I thought, we are at the point or we are very near the point where our Constitution is hanging by a thread.

Hatch: You got that right …

Beck: We are so close to losing our Constitution. We are so close to losing what we have, and people aren’t thinking. The next generation, our children will look to us and say, “You sold my freedom for what?”

Hatch: Well, let me tell you something. I believe the Constitution is hanging by a thread.

More recently, Beck used his radio show to propound the Mormon conception of Satan—though many in his audience may not have noticed. On May 5, waxing indignant about governmentsponsored social services—as opposed to freely chosen acts of charity—Beck asked, “Did Jesus say when a man asks for your shirt, you give the government your coat also, and have the government give that coat to the man? No! The government is a middleman. … The government is the devil.”

That’s a bizarre statement—but it jibes with a passage in the "Pearl of Great Price," one of the LDS Church’s canonical scriptures, in which God explains that Satan was cast down after he “rebelled against Me, and sought to destroy the agency of man …” God’s conflict with the devil, in other words, originated with the latter’s attempts to deprive humans of free moral agency. Hence, Beck’s overheated assessment of a hypothetical, government-sponsored clothing giveaway. As Jones, the aforementioned Mormon historian and blogger, immediately noted, Beck’s strange claim was actually a “variation on a standard Sunday School theme.”

Romney’s Apocalypse?
So is Beck’s retro Mormonism responsible for his particular brand of politics?

EzraTaftBenson.jpgNot everyone thinks so. “Anybody that’s going back to the John Birch era is going to discover Ezra Taft Benson,” says Jan Shipps, an emeritus professor at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) and eminent non-Mormon scholar of Mormonism. “To say he’s going in that direction because he became a Mormon is pushing it a little far.”

The prolific historian D. Michael Quinn, who grew up in the LDS Church, makes a similar point. Quinn—who was trained at Yale and has taught there and at BYU—was excommunicated by the LDS Church in 1993 after pursuing several incendiary topics in Mormon history. He suspects that Beck’s conservatism led him to embrace the LDS Church, rather than the other way around. “The combination of Skousen and Benson would have been very attractiveto him,” says Quinn. “I think he’s now sharing with America what originally attracted him to Mormonism.”

Even if Shipps and Quinn are right, though, that doesn’t mean that Beck’s faith is insignificant. After all, thanks to Beck’s chosen LDS influences, he’s currently interpreting the first years of the 21st century via a melodramatic, anxiety-soaked worldview that was established 50 years ago—and which, in turn, was itself grounded in Mormon scripture and the LDS Church’s 19th-century travails. Given this intellectual lineage, is it any wonder that Beck and his fans tend to regard fundamentally political problems— health-care reform, say—as apocalyptic battles between good and evil?

Among some Mormons, meanwhile, there’s fear that Beck’s ascent could reinvigorate a strain of Mormon thought that’s been fading away. Rory Swensen is co-chair of the board of directors of the Sunstone Education Foundation, which publishes the independent, liberal-leaning journal Sunstone; he also writes for the Mormon blog Times and Seasons. In a best-case scenario, Swensen says, Beck’s ascendance could foster discussion of the notion—repeatedly endorsed by the LDS Church hierarchy—that Mormonism doesn’t require allegiance to any political party, even though most Mormons tend to vote Republican.

That said, Swensen worries that Beck could help throw the LDS Church into a sort of ideological time warp. “Mormons tend to be one or two generations behind the broader culture, which is frustrating—a church that espouses prophetic inspiration should be the headlights on issues affecting the oppressed and the downtrodden, not the taillights,” he argues. “On civil rights, we were about 30 years too late. We’re fighting gay marriage right now, but I think you’re going to see the broader culture adopt it—and about 30 years later, we’ll find some way to make it work.”

That’s his hope, anyway. But, Swensen adds, “With Beck tapping into and exploiting mid-20th-century fears of anti-communism and anti-fascism, we might see a resurgence in that culture within Mormonism—and another generation of LDS leaders like Ezra Taft Benson.”

Mitt Romney’s politics are radically different from Swensen’s— but as the Massachusetts former governor girds for another run at the White House, he should probably be concerned, too.

During the 2008 campaign, Romney wooed Christian conservatives by arguing that the doctrinal particulars of his faith weren’t important. What mattered instead, Romney claimed, was that he had faith—that he wasn’t a godless secularist. “While differences in theology exist between the churches in America,” Romney said in his December 2007 speech on faith, “we share a common creed of moral convictions. And where the affairs of our nation are concerned, it’s usually a sound rule to focus on the latter.”

But, as Beck’s example shows, shared moral conviction can mask radically different ideas about important subjects. If the media start examining Beck’s Mormon influences in detail, they just might follow suit with Romney.

cleon_skousen_2.jpgBack in 2007, after Romney cited Skousen during a radio interview, the National Review’s Mark Hemingway—himself a former Mormon—struck a deeply skeptical note in a piece titled “Romney’s Radical Roots.” Skousen’s anticommunism, Hemingway wrote, was “so irrational in its paranoia that it would have made Whittaker Chambers blush. … For better and for worse, Romney’s familiarity with Cleon Skousen does convincingly demonstrate that Mitt Romney is not far removed and indeed well-acquainted with a radical and firebrand conservatism—even if it is of the variety he might want to keep chained to a radiator in the attic.”

That’s precisely the sort of talk that Romney’s speech on faith was supposed to quash. Instead, thanks to the converted zealotry of Glenn Beck, the conversation might just be getting started.

This story originally appeared in the Boston Phoenix.

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Posted // February 25,2011 at 00:34

As a non-Utahn convert to the LDS church and a liberal/progressive (morally conservative, fiscally liberal) person, I have ambivalent feelings about this article.

Glen Beck may choose to make references to my religion, being a member himself, but I don't feel he represents my religion and I don't want people to think he does.

The LDS church does not choose it's members' political party. There are good and bad people in all political parties, just as there are good and bad people in all religions.

I don't want LDS members to think that Republican is a synonym for LDS. It's so not. I don't want anyone else to think that either.


Posted // February 24,2010 at 22:27

I think this article is funny the basics of it are that Glenn uses his faith and religion in his political views. Why is that bad. Wouldn't a jew catholic prodistent ect ect ect ... do the same of course your beleifs will affect vour political views. just funny.


Posted // December 16,2009 at 16:53

I'm sure that there is plently of room within Mormonism for differing opinions on many issues. Skousen ending up being right on the mark with a lot of his so-called "conspiracy theories" about communism and over the top with other ideas.

This article appears to be more about smearing and belittling ideas and people with whom the author strongly disagrees. Religious people everywhere had ideas similar to Skousen's back in the days of McCarthysm. Beck has been a principal player in the opposition to what he sees as both republican and democratic irresponsiblity and abuse of power.One can always measure the effectiveness of a political player by the matching level of diatribe and vitriole against that person.

Beck has been right about the financial collapse which he warned about years ago and is misquoted and blasted often. Media seldom take little time to criticize him in a way that significantly addresses his main points . Name-calling and smearing requieres little intellectual capacities.

I'm still waiting.


Posted // December 10,2009 at 08:33

Yeah, and Paul Dunn and his fake pro baseball and military career that he used to work like a $2 whore to the faithful until he was found out to be a disgusting liar.

Growing up in SLC in the 50's and 60's, I came to know Cleon Skousen's reputation for being part McCarthy, part John Birch and part political savant who always seemed to have a small crowd of groupies extolling his virtues even though, to a young boy, they seemed so out of line with life in America. These guys even looked uptight with that throwback-to-the-20's banker look.

I know Mormons are most fearful of other Mormons. I can still get a rise out of LDS friends by threatening to "tell your bishop." A childhood taunt that still packs an echo of a wallop. You always seem to need a voice because if you raise your own voice, the Taliban will descend. And by the time you find a voice to represent your inner-most feelings and opinions, it comes out in clowns like Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, Buttars, et al. You compromise your Christian values to lay down with hateful fools because they provide an outlet for your repressed, sanitized version of the world.

Come to the darkside! Embrace homosexuality (outside the ward closet, that is) and free will and true freedom and liberty. Those things don't come because someone tells you about them. They come about because you do the work beyond listening and reading from the sidelines.


Posted // December 9,2009 at 08:15

Finally, someone tells it like it is! Glenn Beck is a hero to so many people like Mitt12. You know, angry, vulgar, fake Mormons who post anonymously on websites so they can ply their rascist, hate-trade and then go to church on Sundays and try to blend in with normal people for two hours.

The rest of your rant, Mitt12, is childish, inarticulate bullshit, not unlike your Dry Drunk fake hero spews every day and your entire argument flushed down the drain when you pulled the PC handle.

My sincere hope, Mitt12, is that your other fake hero runs in 2012 so that you and your tribe of inbred Orcs can hide under the bed while the national press goes about painfully econstructing that hypocrite and his religion. Of course, his own party is the biggest problem. They don't want to endorse a fake hero who will embarass them, lose for them and re-inform the notion that Republicans have no candidates.

Why don't you grow some real balls and examine your reality. Attacking CW because you believe in nonsense all the way around is the work of a true, classless pussy. CW just held the mirror for you.


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