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Liberty University responds to complaints about Glenn Beck sermon

The evangelical super-school responds to complaints about Mormon Glenn Beck's sermon to students. - Photo courtesy of Taber Andrew Bain (http://bit.ly/SbCfFx)
The evangelical super-school responds to complaints about Mormon Glenn Beck's sermon to students. - Photo courtesy of Taber Andrew Bain  (http://bit.ly/SbCfFx)

The evangelical super-school responds to complaints about Mormon Glenn Beck’s sermon to students. – Photo courtesy of Taber Andrew Bain (http://bit.ly/SbCfFx)

Popular conservative television and radio host, Glenn Beck, created a stir last month when he preached a sermon threaded with Mormon theology at the evangelical Liberty University. During the talk, Beck referred to the Mormon doctrine of the Council of Heaven and showcased a valuable relic, the pocket watch of the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith. Some university alumni and donors were upset that the school allowed Beck to sermonize the students and contacted Liberty to place complaints. An email response was sent from the office of Johnnie Moore, senior vice-president for communications and assistant to the president at Liberty.

Most of the letter was boilerplate verbiage, but in the last paragraph Moore states that Beck may have had a “born again experience”:

First, I must apologize for my delayed reply to you.  As you well know, we just emerged from an unbelievable graduation weekend at Liberty. We had more than 34,000 people in attendance and we celebrated the graduation of more than 17,000 students. It was quite the celebration, and it consumed my time entirely until this very morning.

Secondly, I would like to thank you for expressing your concern. Liberty takes concerns like yours extremely seriously, and that’s why I’m writing to personally address your concerns.

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.

By contrast, our faculty are all required to profess Liberty’s statement of faith and to affirm our doctrinal statement.  Our students are all required to take many credit hours of theology and Bible courses, regardless of their major.  Our students have no question about what Liberty’s doctrinal statement is.  It is posted publicly for all to see. Our doctrinal statement is our public statement on Mormonism.  It is the same statement that Liberty was founded upon and it will never change.

College is about learning.  How can you defend what you believe if you don’t understand what others believe?  I believe our students are stronger in their faith because of our convocation speaker series and the wide diversity of views that they have been privileged to hear in person over the last few decades.

Our president, Jerry Falwell, Jr. actually spoke to this during his remarks at our 41st annual commencement exercises this weekend. You can watch those remarks here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_Uz82ZHAHg (Preview)

By the way, many conservative evangelical leaders who are closer to Beck than me have told me that they believe Beck has had a born again experience recently. I do not know his heart but our audience knows that he was speaking only for himself and expressing his personal opinions and beliefs, not those of Liberty University or even of Mormonism generally. As Jerry Falwell, Sr., our founder, often used to say about speakers at Liberty who had different views than him, Liberty students are smart enough to eat the fish and spit out the bones! I believe that’s as true today as it was in his day.

Some conservative evangelicals, many of whom believe Mormonism to be outside of orthodox Christianity, may squirm at the hinting that Beck is a Christian. But others won’t blink. Thirty-one percent of Americans say Mormons are not Christians, but only 45 percent of white evangelical Protestants agree.

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.

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