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Jerry Falwell and Glenn Beck: Politics and religion can make strange bedfellows

Would Jerry Falwell roll over in his grave?
Would Jerry Falwell roll over in his grave?
Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images

Listeners to the popular Glenn Beck Radio Show may have almost veered off the road if they were driving as Beck’s graduation address at Liberty University streamed live over the air on April 25. According to an article by Jonathan Merritt on the Religion News Service today, Beck actually took this opportunity to preach a sermon “rife with Mormon theology” at the fundamentalist Baptist school founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell. Liberty is now led by his son, Jerry Falwell, Jr., and there are questions about this controversial decision.

Glenn Beck’s listening audience is predominantly politically conservative, and many of those are also Conservative Christians who support Beck’s political views despite his Mormonism. Issues like freedom, morals, the Constitution and the American dream are a rallying cry that unites patriotic voters. However, the odd and unusual religion contained in the additional scriptures held as holy by the Mormon faith are rarely considered as remotely Christian by Beck’s Christian listeners.

In the shocking speech at the Lynchburg, Va., college, Beck spent an inordinate amount of time discussing the very controversial founder of the religion, Joseph Smith, a man whose name will never be associated as a church father within a Christian Church. Beck discussed Smith’s struggle with the law as martyrdom. He challenged the students to live their lives like Smith, and he showed them a pocket watch that Smith supposedly offered to the police to pay off taxes that he owed before he was “martyred.” Beck collects historical items relating not only to religion but the history of the United States.

During the graduation address, Beck attempted to persuade the graduating seniors, many headed into Christian service, that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Mormons, was merely another denomination within their own Christian church. Few Christian churches, either Protestant or Catholic, accept that categorization. Merritt, a graduate of Liberty, muses about whether this was just more of the school’s tendency to face controversy head-on in the political realm or if Mormonism is actually becoming more mainstream.

Warren Throckmorton writes on today that he thinks that Liberty University often puts politics before religion. Liberty's tendency to fall into this was also given a nod by Merritt, but Throckmorton thinks that the school has crossed the line this time. The average small-town, church-going donor to the college, built to equip “champions for Christ,” may describe the situation in a much more common vernacular. They may wonder if Jerry Falwell is rolling over in his grave! But, remembering the late Rev. Falwell's level of political involvement through the Moral Majority, perhaps he would not object to a pragmatic partnership such as this. Regardless, there are many Christian people who even listen to Glenn Beck regularly that do not think that politics trumps theology.