The tempest in a teapot seems to have settled down. But for a week or so at the end of December (2008) the media went a bit wild with the Focus on the Family/Glenn Beck story. If you were distracted by Christmas and missed it, here’s what happened.
On December 19th the evangelical Christian ministry Focus on the Family posted an interview with LDS conservative cultural commentator Glenn Beck on Focus’ web site CitizenLink.org. The interview centered on Mr. Beck’s new book, The Christmas Sweater. According to the author, the book is a metaphor of the atonement of Christ.
A few days later the Christian apologetics ministry, Underground Apologetics, issued a press release through Christian Newswire (which you can read at Christian Research Network)
explaining why it was a disappointment to find an evangelical Christian ministry promoting—without qualification—the faith of a Latter-day Saint. The release noted Mr. Beck’s Christian-compatible social views and praised the work of Focus on the Family, then said,
“However, to promote a Mormon as a Christian is not helpful to the cause of Jesus Christ. For Christians to influence society, Christians should be promoting the central issues of the faith properly without opening the door to false religions…Christians are to stand up against the social ills of society, however, we are to put Christ first and His essential biblical truths.”
Becoming aware of the Glenn Beck interview at CitizenLink, supporters of Focus on the Family contacted the ministry to express their concern that Focus’ inclusion of the article might be understood to imply “theological compromise.” Focus on the Family removed the article from the web site and prepared a statement that was then read to all concerned callers:
“You are correct to note that Mr. Beck is a member of the Mormon church, and that we did not make mention of this fact in our interview with him. We do recognize the deep theological difference between evangelical theology and Mormon theology, and it would have been prudent for us at least to have pointed out these differences. Because of the confusion, we have removed the interview from CitizenLink.”
Focus on the Family’s vice president of media and public relations, Gary Schneeberger, further clarified,
“differences in the Mormon faith and the historical evangelical faith are not inconsequential. We can, and do, gladly cooperate with friends outside of the evangelical heritage on common causes; but in no case do we intend to alter our clear distinction as unwaveringly grounded in evangelical theology.”
Focus on the Family’s decision to pull the Glenn Beck article was welcomed by the evangelical community, but it let loose a tempest among Mormons. Glenn Beck responded,
“Whatever your beliefs about my religion, the concept of religious tolerance is too important to be sacrificed in response to pressure from special interest groups, especially when it means bowing to censorship.”
Others have accused Focus on the Family of all sorts of nefarious things. A small sampling from the comments left at Deseret News:
“Boy I just lost any respect I had for ‘Focus on the Family’. I thought they were first and foremost a conservative voice for family values and how to foster families… Now I find out they are first and foremost a religiousity based publication that can’t tolerate any opinions, points of view or people who are not identical to them.”
“To my Mormon friends and family — the right wing conservative Christian Churches despise you.”
“Surprise, now that Prop 8 is over the evangelicals happily throw the Mormons right back under the bus.”
“Either Dobson and Company feel the Christmas Sweater is a book with a good message or they don’t. But when they say we liked it until we found out the author was a Mormon–well that’s just bigotry, plain and simple.”
“I am not going to support [someone] as BIGOT as Dobson and his evangelical preachers. We Mormons should not even listen to his shows or buy his books. He doesn’t deserve our business!”
“Dobson is a bigot, and anti-mormon, period!”
Here’s the thing. Focus on the Family’s Mission Statement is:
“To cooperate with the Holy Spirit in sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with as many people as possible by nurturing and defending the God-ordained institution of the family and promoting biblical truths worldwide.”
Please note that the stated primary mission of the organization is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Focus on the Family has always been clear on its position that Mormon theology is significantly different from the historical evangelical faith. But because the ministry had the audacity to make sure that people did not become confused on that point, the ministry and its founder are being vilified.
Focus on the Family did not censor Glenn Beck’s book. It did not call Mormonism a cult. It did not even state that Mormonism is not Christian. It merely clarified that Mormonism and evangelical Christianity have significant doctrinal differences, and that Focus on the Family would not compromise its commitment to evangelical theology.
Interestingly, there are no articles (that I know of) on the official LDS web site that promote the faith of evangelical Christians. (Censorship!) LDS.org contains articles and statements suggesting that there are important differences between Mormonism and historic Christianity. (Intolerance!) In one article entitled “Core Beliefs,” the religious views of people of non-LDS faiths are called “divergent.” (Anti-others!)
Isn’t it time to stop name-calling and think?