Liberty University and the Glenn Beck saga (Part 1)

Let me state upfront that, besides wearing my apologetic hat, I am a parent of a Liberty University (LU) graduate. My oldest daughter graduated on May 10, 2014, and we’re very proud of her accomplishment.

Beck LUI’m sure you don’t want to hear about my child, so let me explain the real purpose of this piece. On April 25, 2014, LU held its last convocation of the school year. Convocation is a three-times-a-week gathering of the student body. Among other things, musical worship, school announcements, and prayer are featured as well as an address from a special guest speaker. Convocation is not the same as a “chapel,” as Johnnie Moore, the senior vice-president for communications and the assistant to the president at LU, explained in an email sent to those who had complained about Beck’s appearance–an email that Religion News Service said was filled with “boilerplate verbiage that sounds like a sales pitch for potential students.” (See “Liberty University responds to complaints about Glenn Beck sermon” by Jonathan Merritt, posted 5/19/14.)

Moore wrote:

“You should remember that Liberty University’s Convocation is not a church service. We have explained over the decades repeatedly that convocation is an opportunity for students to hear from people of all faiths and from all walks of life.  Liberty has also made it clear repeatedly that it does not endorse any statements made by any convocation speaker.”

Thus, while many speakers are pastors and theologians, big-name politicians and businessmen (among others) are invited to impart their wisdom to the student body. Thinking about running for president some day? This is a good place to court the conservative votes. Being an evangelical Christian is not a requirement.

Featured at the April 25th convocation—the last one for the 2013/14 school year—was Glenn Beck, the TV/radio political commentator who happens to be a member of the LDS Church. Besides referring to Joseph Smith as a martyr and referencing the LDS doctrine of preexistence, Beck said,

“I share your faith. I am from a different denomination, and a denomination quite honestly that I’m sure can make many people at Liberty feel uncomfortable. I am a Mormon, but I share your faith in the atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ.”

A few hours after Beck spoke, my review of his talk was posted on MRM’s website: “What Glenn Beck didn’t explain at last month’s convocation talk at Liberty University.”

It just so happened that my wife and I had already scheduled a visit to LU’s campus from May 8-10 so we could participate in the school’s graduation activities. I wrote Moore, who graciously agreed to meet with us during our time in Lynchburg.  I knew it was a very busy time for the top brass, so I didn’t expect a long session with this LU mover and shaker who has daily contact with school president Jerry Falwell, Jr. At our appointed time, my wife and I were escorted into Moore’s office for the private conference.

After a few minutes of chitchat, I reiterated why I had come.  My bone of contention is that the welcoming of Glenn Beck at the final convocation could be confusing to both students and outside observers. The school is very proud about being a “university” and stresses its open-mindedness. Generally, I don’t have a problem with this approach, if it’s done in the right setting. Having worship music and prayers along with a full-fledged introductory endorsement by the president of the school for a Mormon speaker is just not wise.

In our half-hour conversation, I explained how I was defending LU against unfair criticism. For example, the main focus of one blog I read complained about how students were fined $10 for not attending Beck’s talk. This isn’t a fair criticism because students are fined $10 for missing any convocation, not just this one. It’s a school policy that remained consistent throughout the year.  However, I had heard a rumor that there were several students who were fined because they were offended and walked out in the middle of Beck’s  convocation; I have not been able to get this information confirmed, and the administrator doubted it happened. (Even if this did take place, a generous businessman who sat on the platform that day handed out $20 bills to each of the 10,000 students, so there still would have been half leftover after the fine was paid!)

For Mormon Coffee readers, let me share some of the main objections given by Johnnie Moore concerning my critique. My response to each point follows:

Why didn’t I come to the school first before publishing the review article at This is not a Matthew 18 situation. The critique is not specifically aimed against an individual.  Instead, it originated when a Mormon used LU’s pulpit (the administrator disagreed that the convocation platform is a “pulpit” but I’ll continue to use it, nonetheless) to present Mormonism as a Christian denomination. Moore said he received approximately 20 emails, all but one apparently opposing Beck’s appearance. (The one positive comment, he said, came from a Mormon student enrolled at LU.) He justified this overwhelming margin by claiming that only those who “complain” are the ones who send in their complaints. While that’s generally true, I mentioned how MRM received five emails from four LU students and one professor within 24 hours after my article hit the LU social media sites. Each writer was in complete agreement with my perspective and wrote to tell me so. No one wrote to disagree with my viewpoint. Isn’t that interesting?

Because I’m part of LU’s family (as a parent of an LU student), I shouldn’t have written a public article criticizing the school. Glenn Beck’s talk was a public event, aired on live Internet stream through both Beck’s media company and LU.  Instead of complaining about the messenger, the school ought to deal with the message many concerned people such as myself are sending. That message is that nobody from another religion should be allowed to speak on spiritual topics from LU’s  platform, especially when the backdrop reads “Training Champions for Christ since 1971.” Peter was criticized by Paul—an event even reported in the Bible (see Gal. 2)—and it was a positive event as Peter recognized his error and the two did reconcile. Families that “pretend” everything is fine do no favors and ought to be considered dysfunctional. Shouldn’t we as Christians believe that honesty is the healthy policy? To suggest that my public criticism of Beck’s invitation is an attack on LU misses the mark.

Bloggers don’t represent an accurate assessment.  I disagree. Generally, the variety of bloggers out there seem to represent the spectrum of views. While Moore had read my blog, he said he refused to look at the others concerning Beck’s visit to LU. Doing so, he said, was a waste of time. Pretending that what people are saying in the public forums is not important seems to be a naïve way of addressing a very delicate situation. Understanding the perspective of these folks should be important, one would think, so that any misconceptions could be addressed. It’s a missed opportunity to understand just what people are thinking.

The perception the critics (of Beck’s appearance) have is wrong. While Moore is certainly more educated than I am in the field of public relations—he said he received an award last year for his PR expertise—I did take PR classes in college and even minored in marketing to go with my major in advertising. Back in the early 1980s (I’m dating myself), I was taught that the general public perception is true, whether or not it is accurate. The way to tackle an improper perception is to provide further explanation. Through clarification, it is possible to change outsiders’ impressions to be more in line with reality. Unfortunately, the school is hoping that sitting on their proverbial hands will make the negativity go away, which is the same approach the school used in the spring of 2010 when people complained about Beck being selected as a keynote speaker to address the LU graduation audience. Time tends to provide a reason for people to give up, but they don’t all forget.

On Thursday this article will conclude with a discussion of my responses to four more objections raised by LU’s Johnnie Moore.

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9 Responses to Liberty University and the Glenn Beck saga (Part 1)

  1. falcon says:

    I don’t know? So the point is you shouldn’t have complained publicly?
    I’d say that’s a pretty normal response from a PR guy.
    Quite frankly, as open minded as I am, I don’t think I could have handled Beck. I’d have paid my ten bucks and stayed in the dorm. I tune in his radio program occasionally and find the guy so self-righteous and wimpy that I get nauseated.
    And guess what? He’s now pushing a book he’s written on a topic of unknown facts about American history. I’ve always wondered why the guy doesn’t spend some time researching Mormon history.

    Sorry for my rant but as you can see, I’m not a Glenn Beck fan.

  2. falcon says:

    Has Liberty University started to “drift”?
    Sort of reminds me of that song from the musical “Wicked”. What is it? “Popular”.

    I hope I never get so inclusive and open minded that I forget exactly what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God. But here’s the deal. We should know it! Too many, wishing to be popular, forget that there is sin, that we are to reject it and not give it a new name or perspective.

    For any one interested, I’m posting the link to Beck’s talk.

    “…….the Mormon talk show host told the students that “no one in the Grand Councils” sent them to earth just to make a living. Beck was referring to the Mormon belief that human souls pre-existed in heaven, and that a gathering of heavenly beings known as the Grand Councils, send certain individuals to earth to accomplish a special purpose.”

    “Beck’s comments were met with cheers and applause during several points in his speech, and was given a standing ovation by many in attendance upon his conclusion.”

    “Liberty University, which is considered to be the nation’s largest Christian university and whose motto is “Training Champions for Christ” has been under fire for continuing to drift from biblical Christianity.”

    “As previously reported, concerns were expressed last month after the university minimized objections to the utilization of a homosexual advocate to teach students choreography in its presentation of Mary Poppins. Many also expressed disagreement when Brandon Ambrosino, a Liberty student that came out as an open homosexual on campus, was allowed to enroll as a graduate student in Liberty’s seminary program.”

  3. Rick B says:

    The Article quoted Glen Beck as saying

    “I share your faith. I am from a different denomination, and a denomination quite honestly that I’m sure can make many people at Liberty feel uncomfortable.

    Wow, Glen Beck just flat out lied, or has shown how truly ignorant he really is.
    How many LDS on this website over the years have been telling us, they are the true Church all because of the issue of Christian denominations? They claim due to our many denominations it shows they are the real church. Yet we need to remind them about all the Mormon off shoot groups.

    Plus, If I had to guess, Glen Beck would follow in lock step agreement with the LDS that RLDS, and FLDS and other off shoot Mormon groups cannot simply be called Christian or LDS denominations.

    Why can he say he shares our faith, yet teach a different gospel?
    Glen either lied or is ignorant since HIS leaders have said these things, yet what Glen says seems to be at odds.

    Read 1 Nephi 14:10 “behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the lamb of god, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the lamb of god belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.”

    Brigham Young: “with a regard to true theology, a more ignorant people never lived than the present so-called christian world” (Journal of discourses 8:199).

    3rd president John Taylor (Brigham young quotes Mr Taylor) “Brother Taylor has just said that the religions of the day were hatched in hell, the eggs were laid in hell, hatched on its borders, and kicked onto the earth” (J.O.D 6:176).

    Heber C. Kimball “Christians-those poor, miserable priests brother Brigham was speaking about-some of them are the biggest whoremasters there are on the earth” (J.O.D 5:89).

    In bearing testimony of Jesus Christ, President [Gordon B.] Hinckley spoke of those outside the [LDS] Church who say Latter-day Saints “do not believe in the traditional Christ. No, I don’t. The traditional Christ of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak. For the Christ of whom I speak has been revealed in this the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. He, together with His Father, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith in the year 1820, and when Joseph left the grove that day, he knew more of the nature of God than all the learned ministers of the gospel of the ages.” (Church News, June 20, 1998, 7)

    “It is true that many of the Christian churches worship a different Jesus Christ than is worshipped by the Mormons or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (LDS Seventy Bernard P. Brockbank, Ensign, May 1977, p.26 ).

    Remember LDS, Your False Prophet claims that a man cannot be saved in Ignorance. So if Glen is Ignorant of all these things, then he cannot be saved. If he is not ignorant and he knows all this, then he is a liar and deceiving people, and he cannot be saved. Put your your trust in JESUS, Not some man.

  4. Mike R says:

    On one hand I think that students at this level can hear from a variety of well known personalities
    ( non christian ) without their christian faith being damaged . Liberty University I’m sure has a
    qualified personnel on campus to answer any confusion that might arise in students minds .

    One issue of concern with a Mormon speaker is when they would say , as Beck did , that
    ” I share your faith . I am from a different denomination … but I share your faith in the
    atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ .”
    Now no doubt Beck really believes this , but what has his leaders taught about this ? That’s
    what people need to know because Mr. Beck is not a General authority of the Mormon church ,
    he’s only a rank and file member . Quite frankly , what Beck said was to obfuscate . His church
    has worked overtime in the last 20 years in order to gain public approval and acceptance, and
    so in public statements by well known Mormons or church authorities their comments are
    carefully worded . Thankfully there has arisen more christian ministries like MRM which have
    made available to the public what Mormon leaders have taught since 1830 , and there has also
    been some conscientious Mormons who have written about issues that the church leadership
    has been reluctant to discuss in public interviews . So the skilled persons who run the church
    PR dept are finding their job a bit more difficult these days .

    I have found Mr Becks’ T.V. program to be informative concerning his take on providing
    answers to our country’s political drift towards liberalism and the problems that causes .
    But has he done the same kind of research into his church’s leaders and what they have taught ?
    It appears that , given how he presents Mormonism , he is not telling his audience what
    newsman Paul Harvey used to call ” the rest of the story ” .

  5. MJP says:

    You know, I am OK with Beck coming to Liberty to speak. I am not OK with allowing him, unchallenged, to basically say he is one of us. Allow him to come and speak, fine, but if he is going to claim we are no different, or close enough to be the same (just different denominations) the school should post a respectful response putting forth important differences between Christianity and Mormonism.

    Oh well.

  6. Mike R says:

    Mr. Beck was at full missionary mode while at Liberty University . Hopefully any students
    who don’t know enough about Mormonism to be inoculated against it’s clever ability to
    influence people to believe it is the true church of Jesus Christ will seek out MRM or some
    one on campus who can inform them with facts .

  7. falcon says:

    I think that this could be a great teachable moment for the folks at Liberty if they handled it properly. Think of all of the discussion that could be generated from Beck’s presentation. Start with his claims and desire for everyone to be the same in their beliefs. Then talk about whether or not the LDS religion is actually the same as Christianity. Follow it all up with a discussion regarding the modern day tactics of the LDS church to blur the lines and get people into their baptismal font.

    I guess if I had had a chance to ask Mr. Beck a question I’d ask him if it’s all the same, why does anyone need the LDS church? It’s just another variety of the same thing, right?
    Young people are drawn to speakers who have a lot of conviction, confidence and enthusiasm. That’s why cults prey on the idealism, lack of world experience and emotional vulnerability of young adults. Hopefully those at Liberty have been trained to know when someone is selling them wolf tickets and when they’re shooting straight!

  8. erusselljohnson says:

    MRM is in talks with the Liberty Bible department about coming to the school next year. So Falcon, spot on.

  9. Pingback: Liberty University and the Glenn Beck saga (Part 2) | Mormon Coffee

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