“And Jesus said to them, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” (Matthew 16:6).
On August 28, 2010, television talking head Glenn Beck delivered a speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. It was 47 years to the day after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his well-known “I Have a Dream” speech on those same steps. Both were addressing huge rallies; King’s was a march on Washington, DC for Civil Rights; Beck’s was a “Restoring Honor” rally.
I have read Dr. King’s address a number of times and still find it moving. It is a call for justice and freedom for his people, a freedom and a justice that had been denied them. It is a message of hope, the “dream” that someday this justice and freedom will be realized for and by all the people of America.
I confess that I have not read Glenn Beck’s speech. I have listened to bits and pieces of it on YouTube and excerpts on TV news. I really don’t care to hear or read any more. I have heard enough of this man and his political scandal mongering.
Ah, but this speech is different. In it, I’m told, he’s left politics behind and has a new aim of “restoring honor” to our nation, of restoring America to the values it once had.
What happened? Was Mr. Beck “converted”? Has he turned over a new leaf? As far as I know, there’s been no change, except in the topics of his speech. He is still a Mormon (even though he has condemned churches that teach or practice “social justice”).
So why have so many evangelical leaders jumped on his bandwagon or “enlisted” in his new “Black Robe Regiment”? According to a recent news article (in The Oklahoman, pages 1d and 3d, September 4, 2010), a number have.
“Richard Land, Southern Baptist executive was pleased.”
“Bishop Harry Jackson, a black evangelical leader was pleasantly surprised” that Beck said things “some of my close friends could have written.”
“Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr. was among the faith leaders to enlist …”
“ … some evangelical leaders say he sounded all the right religious notes.”
“Lou Engle, founder of The Call rallies across the country said Beck will get qualified support. ‘I think evangelicals will see him as a moral voice, not necessarily a spiritual voice.’”
Not all, of course, were so effusive in their praise. There were a number of voices of warning.
Probably the clearest summary of this unclear thinking was that of Stan Guthrie, editor-at-large for Christianity Today, “Most evangelicals are friendly toward the idea of Amercan civil religion, and I think Beck’s call sort of fit into that stream of history. I think that as long as he doesn’t get too specific about his Mormon faith … many people will be willing to get on board.”
And that to me appears to be the real problem here. A television talking head who has refashioned himself in the past, has refashioned himself once again, this time as a preacher of moral and religious revival in America. And it is a morality and religion of a generic sort. It is a selective morality. It is not an essentially Christian morality. It is not based on the morality of Jesus, the morality of the Bible. It is the morality of the small- g god of American civil religion, especially that held by the political right. It is more moralism than morality.
I fear that there is an element of Pharisaism in all of this. We should not forget that the Pharisees, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, were moralists too. For some reason, however, Jesus did not endorse them, even though, He would probably have agreed with some of their moral beliefs.
The Pharisees too, did not like the moral direction in which the people of their nation were going. They said of their own people, the Jews, “This crowd that doesn’t know the Law are cursed” (John 7:49). They “ … were confident in themselves that they were right and had contempt for the rest” (Luke 18:9).
I’m afraid we evangelicals have forgotten the meaning of the word “evangelical.” We are believers in and followers of, the “evangel”-- the gospel-- the good news of Jesus Christ, of His death and resurrection for the sins of humankind. We have forgotten our task, which is to love our neighbor and to seek his salvation in Christ. We are to BE moral, but we are not called upon to bring others under that morality, except through our example and the gospel.
“Let your light shine before people, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in the Heavens” (Matthew 5:16).