Monday, May 24, 2010

Glenn Beck and GW's "Sacred Fire"

I just found out, via Josh Hoisington at American Creation, that Peter Lillback's George Washington's Sacred Fire is at #2 on Amazon, chiefly because of Glenn Beck's promotion of it. Beck has also, of late, promoted David Barton's work.

I've had much to say of the book over the past few years. I'm not going to rehash it here.

What I find interesting is the Barton/Lillback/Beck connection. Glenn Beck, though a political and religious conservative like Barton and Lillback, is also a Mormon. Mormons think of themselves as "Christian" and think of the American Founding as a divinely inspired event. I get the impression that many Mormons think of the Founders as proto-Mormon. And I've written that Mormonism incorporates some of the theologically eccentric non-orthodox elements of the American Founding into their teachings. (Such things as American Indians are the Lost Tribes of Israel; that God is a material being; and Franklin's idea that gods rule over solar systems.)

Obviously Beck, as a Mormon, cares not about proving the orthodox Trinitarian dynamic of the American Founding. Rather he's more concerned with proving America's Founders weren't atheist or strict deists, that they were more "religious" in a broad, ecumenical "Judeo-Christian" sense where Mormonism is another "Judeo-Christian" creed. And much of the stuff that Barton and Lillback have uncovered is useful in that regard.

However, evangelicals like Barton and Lillback are, or are supposed to be, more spiritually discerned than to let Mormons in their political-theological tent. How comfortable should they be with Beck in their tent and vice-versa? We often hear the term "Judeo-Christian" bandied about and used interchangeably with "Christian." What do those terms mean? Does Mormonism "fit"? A number of orthodox Christians have defined "Judeo-Christianity," when I pressed them, as orthodox Christianity where Judaism gets to tag along because of the special place the Jews have as an antecedent to historic Christianity.

Well, not only do Mormons not "fit" according to that understanding of "Judeo-Christianity," but neither do many "key" American Founders, arguably George Washington. But they all do fit in a broader understanding of "Judeo-Christianity" that includes Jews, orthodox Christians, Mormons, Swedenborgs, Jehovah's Witnesses, Arians, Socinians and various Trinity deniers, perhaps even Muslims.

I think Barton, Lillback and Beck need to be pressed on this. It irks me when politicized figures [mis]use the American Founding and religion and try and claim ownership for their own political authority. Lillback has said of George Washington to at least one evangelical revival, that he was "one of us." Well is Glenn Beck one of "you"? The "us" question relates to where the theological line is drawn. Not an atheist? Not a strict deist? Sure. Orthodox Trinitarian Christian? No. At least with Washington, not proven by Lillback or anyone else.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Hehe. It's a Christian-y Nation.

Brad Hart said...

I still love that term, Tom. "Christian-y" is, thus far, the best I have heard.

Jon, I often wonder how familiar Glenn Beck is with Mormon doctrine. I actually think that he does want to portray the founders in the same way that Barton, Lillback, etc. do.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yeah, Brad, you brought "Christian-y" back the other day. It does seem to fit.

Here's a Beck transcript on with an accredited historian, Dr. Thomas Kidd of Baylor

about Great Awakening preacher George Whitefield. It's not all culture warriors or clergymen such as Barton and Lillback, and it would be unfair to paint the whole picture that way.

KIDD: "...if you ever get a chance and go back and look at Franklin's autobiography, he has a nice section in there about his relationship with Whitefield.

And it's funny because they were different on religion."

BECK: Right.

KIDD: Even though Franklin believed in God, he believed in Providence, but skeptical about traditional Christianity.

BECK: Right.

So let's be fair to Beck. He's not overselling, at least not here.

A little later:

TOM OCCHIPINTI, HIGH SCHOOL ENGLISH TEACHER: Yes, I guess I'm starting to learn more about him as the show is progressing, but there is still a part of my understanding that is dark. He affected the culture and the spiritual nature of the American spirit. What part — except maybe indirectly, but is there a more direct part that he played in the political landscape itself?

He died if I'm not mistaken in 1770, six years before the revolution. Was there something to be had that had a direct impact on the political future of the country, or was it just through — I don't mean to diminish it when I say "just." Was it through the culture, the society and the spirit of the country?

JEROME MAHAFFEY [Indiana University East associate professor of communications]: Well, you're correct. It was through the culture and society. He had probably a very profound impact on a lot of people. Not everyone, but many. perhaps even a majority of American society. Yet as his ministry, as his enterprise, it's been called, the years passed by, he became more and more politically active for the Whig Party.

BECK: Which is the one — that's like the libertarians.

MAHAFFEY: They were — yes.

BECK: They were the freedom.

MAHAFFEY: And they wanted a strong parliament, the people having a say in making of the laws. The Tories, of course, were the pro-king party.


KIDD: I just wanted to follow up on this issue about Whitefield's political involvement. As the 1760s went on, he did become very overtly involved with crisis between Britain and the colonies.

In fact, he may have been one of the earliest people from Britain to start warning the colonists that there was trouble coming. There are reports that in 1764, he came to America and said there is trouble coming from Britain. And your golden days are at an end, is the quote of what he said. Began warning people ahead of time this was coming.

MAHAFFEY: He called it, "There is a deep laid plot against your civil and religious liberties."

BECK: Hang on, hang on. There is a — what is it again?

MAHAFFEY: A deep laid plot.

BECK: There is a deep laid plot.

Well, that's Beck. But read it in context.

A little further:

So when he goes back to England and his there with his good friend, Franklin. When Franklin testifies before parliament on the colony's behalf because of their protests against the Stamp Act, and Whitefield I think behind the scenes is advocating against the Stamp Act.

By the time he get to Whitefield's passing in 1770, on his last trip to America, he dies in Massachusetts. The funeral sermons by the colonial pastors are saying, he is largely to thank for the repeal of the Stamp Act and they say, he was a true patriot, not just in words but also in actions. So they interpreted him as having a very significant role in the resistance.

Joe Winpisinger said...


You are bringing soteriology into a place it need not go. The founders knew better. Barton does it first I know and we do need some of this to balance that out. But too much of it muddies the waters and hurts the cause of truth.

Jonathan Rowe said...

You say I'm muddying but I'm asking for clarification. Clarification includes things like "no Mormonism is not Christianity," OR, "while I disagree with Mormon theology, it is still 'Christianity,' or I wouldn't call it, 'not Christianity.'"

These are truth answers I demand from these folks, if they are going to blur the line between politics and theology and use the American Founding for their political theological purposes.

Tom Van Dyke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Van Dyke said...

Jon, the irony I observe here is that you're using [Protestant] sectarianism as a weapon, the very weapon that the Founders consciously steered clear of as divisive if not murderous, per the religious/sectarian wars in Europe.

As a matter of historical fact, Protestants produce sects by the sackful. This was well-recognized at the Founding.

But it's you who sows discord here, like some orthodox clergyman of the Founding era, fighting for the soteriological ["salvation"] truth of his sect, as if everybody outside it is going to hell. Fighting for customers. The Founders showed their ass to such hucksters, and well done. America wasn't that kind of party.

Roman Catholicism tried that riff against Protestantism way back in that day---"no salvation outside the Church." That didn't get far.

Well, the RCC has mellowed on that in 2010, although you haven't. The "Church" is a lot bigger, soteriologically speaking, than Catholicism. Sects are sects, so be it.

In fact, it's not even heresy in Roman Catholicism to believe that all men, each man, each soul, will somehow make their peace with God in a universal reconciliation.

So if even those hardhead and absolutist Papists could be that mellow, why are you so combative? I'm just not feeling you here. Mormons are well within love of God, and accept both Old and New Testaments as God's revelation to man. So what if they added a 3rd Testament, the Book of Mormon? It has no disputes with the first two.

Theologico-politically speaking, there's no conflict here, and the theologico-political "problem" of Western history, religion and the Founding being the subject of this blog. Mormons and papists, the extremes, are apparently all on the same page.

If they don't have a theologico-political problem with each other, then you, as neither a papist nor a Mormon, nor as a Protestant, have no standing here.

And if hyper-Calvinist Dr. Gregg Frazer wants to enter in here, he's always cordially invited to participate at AC. But as in the Founding itself, questions of salvation and "true belief" are kicked to the curb. Neither the Founding nor this blog can say anything meaningful about soteriology, and we like it that way. God will sort us all out when it comes to the Next World, if there is one. In the meantime, in This World, In God We Trust, until further notice.

Jonathan Rowe said...


All I am asking for is clarity and you properly answered the question.

If Barton and Lillback are going to go there with Beck, they should properly answer the question as well. And, if on the other hand, Barton and Lillback are going to be featured speakers in evangelical churches (churches that one day will give lectures on how "Mormons aren't Christians" and the next day feature Barton quoting John Adams' "general principles" quotation) they need to know exactly what we are dealing with as well.

King of Ireland said...

I think they are blurring the line between sotierology and political theory. One has nothing to do with the other. I have come around to your rightness in pointing these things out but when you bring Frazer in it muddies the waters because he does the same damn thing.