In December 2009, talk show host Glenn Beck topped Billy Graham on Gallup’s list of most admired men. Many of Beck’s admirers are evangelical Protestant fans of talk radio or FOX News. In light of Beck’s strong Mormon faith, this development may mark a new era in evangelical-Mormon ecumenism.
During the 2008 primaries, surveys showed that many evangelicals were unable to accept the idea of a Mormon president. Despite a new dialogue between some Mormon and evangelical scholars, conservative Protestants were uncomfortable with many LDS beliefs and practices. By capturing a significant proportion of the FOX News fan base, Glenn Beck has succeeded where Mitt Romney failed.
To be sure, many conservative Protestants are unaware of Beck’s Mormon beliefs. Besides an on-air eulogy to the late LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley in 2008, the talk show host has downplayed any distinctively Mormon beliefs. Amidst the advertisements for gold coins on Beck’s FOX News program, products like An Unlikely Mormon: The Conversion Story of Glenn Beck are nowhere to be found.
In “How Mormonism Built Glenn Beck,” Joanna Brooks has explored the LDS influences on his thinking, though not many conservative Protestants read Religion Dispatches. While Salon.com has traced the connections between Beck’s views and the writings of Mormon Bircher W. Cleon Skousen, most evangelicals haven’t been paying attention.
In December 2008, Focus on the Family posted an interview with Beck before taking it down. Though the reversal is not surprising, the real news is that it happened at all. Likewise, many Protestant viewers may have visited the Faith & Inspiration section of www.glennbeck.com, a web site that celebrates family values and a generic civil religion. Last but not least, Beck’s books are selling well at Sam’s Club and more than a few evangelical Christian bookstores, a sure sign that he has integrated himself into the conservative mainstream. I wonder how many evangelicals put Beck’s The Christmas Sweater under the family tree.
According to the Deseret News, some Mormon scholars have articulated a critique of Beck’s conservatism, calling it anti-intellectual and unrepresentative of LDS political culture. Such criticism is unlikely to hurt Beck’s reputation among the partisans of the new Christian Right. Works such as Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind have uncovered a similar mindset among some evangelicals. If recent events are any guide, the marriage between politically conservative evangelicals and Glenn Beck may be a match made in heaven.