This article, by Bill Russell, a professor from Graceland University (the Community of Christ college) is a reprint of the 21 July 2010 installment of his ‘Political Scene’ column in the Lamoni Chronicle.
In past columns I have added my voice to that of many others who are anxious for a return to a politics in America where civil discourse is commonplace rather than rare. One of those voices is from the Mormon Church website: “The Church views with concern the politics of fear and rhetorical extremism that render civil discussion impossible. . . . The Church hopes that our democratic system will facilitate kinder and more reasoned exchanges among fellow Americans than we are now seeing.”
At the church’s most recent General Conference, Mormon Apostle Quentin L. Cook said: “Many in the world are afraid and angry with one another. While we understand these feelings, we need to be civil in our discourse and respectful in our interactions. This is especially true when we disagree. The Savior taught us to love even our enemies. The vast majority of our members heed this counsel. Yet there are some who feel that venting their personal anger or deeply held opinions is more important than conducting themselves as Jesus Christ lived and taught.”
It seems fairly clear to me that one person – and probably the main person — these communications were aimed at is Glenn Beck, himself an adult convert to Mormonism. A former alcoholic and cocaine addict, I think Beck’s conversion to the LDS Church made a lot of sense. The church’s strict teachings on alcohol and other drugs has probably helped Beck recover from these addictions.
A Mormon friend from California, Bob Rees, suggests in an article in the current issue of Sunstone magazine that Beck “has a propensity to polarize rather than unify, demonize rather than humanize, and sow discord rather than promote dialogue. . . President Obama is routinely described as a socialist, a fascist, a Maoist and a communist and his administration as something dark and seductively satanic.” Beck is perhaps the most divisive force in America today. I think only Rush Limbaugh could contend for that “honor.” In his television and radio shows, Beck continually expresses an irrational hostility toward President Obama and all other progressives in the political arena. Referring to the President, he has said “the enemy is in the house!” We have all seen signs at Tea Party events identifying Obama with Hitler, Marx, Lenin, Saddam Hussein, etc. These can be found on Beck’s blackboard.
Incredibly, Beck has said that the President “has a deep-seated hatred for white people, or the white culture.” You wonder if Beck has even bothered to look at the skin color of the Obama’s inner circle in the campaign and at the White House. I think his inner circle is too Caucasian.
When Beck is criticized he does not respond like an adult; rather he launches into scurrilous counter attacks, making up things that aren’t true. But they serve his cause. This nice Christian man calls his critics “idiots,” “bastards,” “dirtbags,” “thugs,” and “pinheads,” making civil discourse impossible. He even said: “I’m thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I’m wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it.”
“Instead of reflecting the message of the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, and the more enlightened teachings of the Restoration, Beck has latched on to some of the worst ideas from the Mormon fringe to shape his political and social persona,” according to Bob Rees, a former bishop. The long-held Latter-day Saint principles of respect for civil authorities are not to be found in Beck’s discourse.
Beck claims that Obama and the progressives are destroying America and destroying our Constitution. But if President Obama invited him to a “beer summit” (with Mormon punch, of course) like he did Professor Gates and the Boston police officer, Beck wouldn’t have the courage to discuss the Constitution with a former professor of Constitutional law at one of our top-half dozen law schools. He doesn’t engage in dialogue, especially with someone who disagrees with him and is a whole lot smarter.
As I pointed out in my September 22, 2009 column, Beck has resurrected Cleon Skousen, a radical right wing Mormon who the church finally denounced more than thirty years ago for his irresponsible charges. Local church leaders were told not to use any of Skousen’s writings. They were an embarrassment. With Skousen as mentor, it is not surprising that Beck identifies with the John Birch Society, and his pronouncements have been a key to its recent resurgence. The John Birch Society is a group that claimed that President Eisenhower was a communist, along with almost anyone to the left of Barry Goldwater, it seemed.
Rees sees close parallels between Beck and Senator Joseph McCarthy, who carried out witch hunts in the 1950s until finally the Senate censured him for his irresponsible behavior. But, as Rees says it, Beck has a “much more powerful media megaphone with which to sound his alarm.”
In McCarthy’s day, two Republican Senators took leading roles in censuring their fellow Republican colleague: Margaret Chase Smith of Maine and Arthur Watkins of Utah. But Watkins paid a price. McCarthy was popular in Utah and Watkins, a Mormon, was defeated in his next attempt to be re-elected. Similarly, Bob Bennett, a solid conservative Senator from Utah, now completing his third term, was trounced in the recent Republican caucuses and was not even be on the ballot in the Republican primary. Beck beat the drums to defeat Bennett. His sin? Bennett worked with Democrats to hammer out compromises so the public’s business could be done. He was also condemned as a “moderate” (which used to be a good word) but Bennett clearly is about as conservative as a Senator can get. But for Beck’s kind of conservative, Bennett is a RINO (Republican in Name Only). Beck said, “I may vote for a mouse over Bob Bennett.”
Many older Mormons remember all too well embarrassing bits of the Mormon past. Nineteenth century polygamy, twentieth century racism, and the close association some in the church had with Cleon Skousen and the John Birch Society come quickly to mind. They have hoped that these embarrassing segments of their history are a thing of the past, but Beck’s rhetoric has the danger of resurrecting the dark side. About one-tenth of American whites still believe in the doctrine of white supremacy, which most Americans believed fifty or sixty years ago.
Beck constantly condemns socialism and claims that Obama is trying to lead our nation into socialism. You wonder if he realizes that hundreds of thousands of Mormons live in socialist countries, are doing just fine, and are as free as Americans, if not more so.
Beck really lost it the day he told his readers, with swastika in one hand and a hammer and sickle in the other, “I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice,’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church website. If you find it, run as fast as you can.” This offended virtually every Christian denomination in America, and it deeply offended many Mormons. Economic and social justice are at the core of much of the biblical message and certainly the teachings of Jesus.
Bob Rees would like to see Glenn Beck conform more to the norms of Christianity, the Mormon Church, and civilized, democratic societies, but he isn’t hopeful. When a person is making more than thirty million a year with his vitriol, if the church leaders told him he needed to be a better Christian, and made Beck chose between his church and his fantastic profits, I don’t think he would chose the church.
Rees believes that “Beck needs to be held accountable for the increasing racist rhetoric expressed by those on the far right. As with McCarthy. . . , Beck’s incendiary campaign against the government will eventually implode, but before it does, a number of good people will be adversely affected, as will the LDS Church itself.”