Glenn Beck the Spiritual Leader?

Glenn Beck is best known as a conservative news commentator and host of The Glenn Beck Program.  In recent months, he has made comments and taken actions that lead many to believe he is seeking or has assumed a new role as a religious leader.  During his March 2 radio program he said:

I beg you, look for the words “social justice” or “economic justice” on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes! If I’m going to Jeremiah’s Wright’s church? Yes! Leave your church. Social justice and economic justice. They are code words. If you have a priest that is pushing social justice, go find another parish. Go alert your bishop and tell them, “Excuse me are you down with this whole social justice thing?” I don’t care what the church is. If it’s my church, I’m alerting the church authorities: “Excuse me, what’s this social justice thing?” And if they say, “Yeah, we’re all in that social justice thing,” I’m in the wrong place.

He more fully assumed that role by leading last weekend’s Restoring Honor rally, which was held on the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial.  While it is widely accepted that 250,000 attended King’s speech, there is no agreement about the number who were this past weekend.   The official permit for the event allowed for 300,000.  Actual attendance reports vary from 87,000 by CBS News  to 300,000 by NBC News to as many as 650,000 according to Beck. At this event, Beck sounded far more like a spiritual leader than a political commentator, which has caused many Christians (from those on the far right to those on the far left and many in between) to ask questions about his longer term intentions. 

On September 2, Jim Wallis, CEO of Sojourners, wrote an open letter to Glenn Beck, which has since been republished on numerous sites.  For those who have not yet or may not ever read the entire letter, two excepts will provide a clear understanding of Wallis’ view of Beck’s changing role:

I think we got off on the wrong foot. I listened to your speech last Saturday and heard a lot of things that we agree on. In fact, I have used some of the same language of our need to turn to God, and the values of “faith, hope, and charity” (love). What I would like to find out, and others would too, is what you mean by that language. Until last weekend, you have consistently described yourself primarily as an entertainer, and the public has known you as a talk show host. But last Saturday, you sounded more like an evangelist or revivalist on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. . .

Before, I thought you were just another cable news talk show host. But now, you are using the language of a spiritual and even a religious leader. You acted as though you now want people to look to you for that kind of spiritual leadership. But to invoke the name of God and the vocation of a spiritual leader has consequences. It brings with it a whole new level of responsibility and accountability. It will require a more civil and even humble tone than you are used to. It will likely mean saying some different things and, certainly, saying many things differently than you have in the past. Pundits and talk show hosts say things that divide, create conflict, and get good ratings. They appeal more to fear than to hope. But spiritual leaders try to avoid vitriol and bombastic language, and to rather seek to find common ground and bring people together to find real solutions to real problems.


So What?

After Glenn Beck made the remark about social justice on March 2, I saw his name in print many times a day for several news cycles. As one who believes that individual Christians and Christian communities are called to engage in social justice, I was encouraged to read many thoughtful articles and participate in some online discussion about what the term means and its role for those who seek to follow Jesus. 

On the subject of Glenn Beck the religious leader, I am left with more questions than answers. 

  • I feel certain his move to be more involved as a religious leader is quite intentional, but have no idea toward what end he may be working.   
  • I am aware of his Roman Catholic upbringing and his conversion in 1999 to the Mormon faith, yet unsure his past religious experience is predictive of his future.
  • I am encouraged and surprised he chose to stand with 240 religious leaders including those of a variety of faith traditions, yet unsure how deep the dialogue is or will become.
  • I am perplexed by his re-creation of the Black Robe Brigade and wonder about the longer term mission of such a group.
  • I would consider a prolonged conversation between Glenn Beck and Jim Wallis a  big step in a healthy direction, yet have no real hope such a meeting will take place.

Do you believe Beck is moving toward or has already taken on the role of religious leader?  If so, how does this matter?

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