In his pivotal address to the Southern Baptists in 1960, John F. Kennedy cautioned those suspicious of his Catholic faith, "Today, I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you -- until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril." But with his furious assault this weekend against President Obama's faith, Glenn Beck didn't merely ignore JFK's warning and the biblical admonition to judge not lest ye be judged. In declaring his followers' judgment of Obama, "People aren't recognizing his version of Christianity," the Mormon Beck could have been describing himself.
"I don't know what that is, other than it's not Muslim, it's not Christian. It's a perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ as most Christians know it."
Sadly for the Fox News host, as many of his Tea Bagging allies view his Mormon faith in precisely the same terms.
As CNN reported on Friday, "Some evangelicals on defensive over partnering with Glenn Beck, a Mormon." And as ThinkProgress noted, a Christian NewsWire press release titled "Glenn Beck's Mormonism Will Not Lead to Revival" was harsher still:
Glenn Beck promotes a false gospel. However, many of his political ideas can help America. ... Mormonism is not a Christian denomination but a cult of Christianity. ... Many endorse false gospels including Mormonism.
If that language of condemnation sounds familiar, it should. As former Massachusetts Governor and LDS member Mitt Romney ramped up his 2008 presidential run, Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network offered a similar primer in a document titled, "How Do I Recognize a Cult?" Mormon religious beliefs, CBN concluded, "are, to put is simply, wrong":
Mormonism teaches that God is not the only deity and that we all have the potential of becoming gods. (Ibid., p. 576.) (Remember that Satan's fall came about because he wanted to be like God.)... There has been constant revision of Mormon doctrine over the years, as church leaders have changed their minds on a number of subjects including polygamy, which was once sanctioned by the church.
In summary, the Mormon church is a prosperous, growing organization that has produced many people of exemplary character. But when it comes to spiritual matters, the Mormons are far from the truth.
As the 2008 GOP primaries approached, Mitt Romney faced an enormous hurdle among the heavily evangelical Republican base. A December 2007 Pew Research Poll found that 45% of evangelicals did not consider Mormons to be Christians. 25% were less likely to vote for an LDS candidate as a result. (A Gallup was also a warning to John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, where a candidate who was "72 years of age" or "married three times" was less likely than a Mormon to get Americans' backing.) So, it came as no surprise that on December 6, 2007, Romney tried to follow in JFK's footsteps with his speech, Faith in America."
In a speech that featured only one mention of the word "Mormon," Romney sought to walk a tightrope, proclaiming his own religion's just place in the American pantheon of faith without in any way describing it. Ironically, Romney took pains to sing the praises of the rites (and stereotypes) of other faiths while excluding his own:
"I believe that every faith I have encountered draws its adherents closer to God. And in every faith I have come to know, there are features I wish were in my own: I love the profound ceremony of the Catholic Mass, the approachability of God in the prayers of the Evangelicals, the tenderness of spirit among the Pentecostals, the confident independence of the Lutherans, the ancient traditions of the Jews, unchanged through the ages, and the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims."
But when it came to his core message, Romney stressed the Constitution was on his side:
"There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith."
Too bad Mitt Romney, like Glenn Beck, advocates a religious test of his own.
To be sure, atheists and agnostics have no place in leading Mitt Romney's America. That meaning was unambiguous in Romney's 2006 declaration to Fox News that "People in this country want a person of faith to lead them as their president." The former Massachusetts Governor made the point even more broadly today, proclaiming simply "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom." Columnist and former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan observed the omission in Romney's 2007 speech, concluding "he would have lost the idiot vote" if GOP primary voters thought "this Romney character likes to laud atheists."
But it is not merely the unbelievers who would be disempowered and disenfranchised by Romney even as his Mormon brethren would welcomed among America's chosen faiths. The roughly five to seven million Muslims in America, too, are second class citizens in Romney USA.
As Mansoor Ijaz wrote in the Christian Science Monitor:
I asked Mr. Romney whether he would consider including qualified Americans of the Islamic faith in his cabinet as advisers on national security matters, given his position that "jihadism" is the principal foreign policy threat facing America today. He answered, "...based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified. But of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration."
(Despite Romney's protestations that he was misquoted, Ijaz stands by his account.)
This is not to say that the Glenn Beck and Mitt Romney won't succeed with their strange political bedfellows. After all, supposed cult member Romney gave the May 2007 commencement address at Pat Robertson's Regent University, during which he praised "Dr. Robertson's dedication to strengthening and then nurturing the pillars of this community and our country." Three years later, Beck himself spoke to the graduates of the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, telling them, among other things, "shoot to kill."
But as CNN detailed, the suspicion of Beck's own faith among his would-be allies runs deep. Brannon Howse, a conservative writer and founder of Worldview Weekend, announced, ""While I applaud and agree with many of Glenn Beck's conservative and constitutional views, that does not give me or any other Bible-believing Christian justification to compromise Biblical truth by spiritually joining Beck."
And so it goes. As Glenn Beck touts that "return to God," many of his political fellow travelers demand Muslim Americans renounce their freedom of religion in lower Manhattan. Others target mosques in Tennessee and elsewhere. All involved would do well to heed the words of President Kennedy from that day in Houston 50 years ago:
"For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been -- and may someday be again -- a Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian, or a Baptist."
Or a Mormon.
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)