Much has already been written about the decision by Liberty University, the institution founded by Baptist Jerry Falwell, to invite Mormon talk-show host Glenn Beck to be the speaker at its April 25th Convocation. The thrice-weekly events are described as the “largest weekly student gathering in North America” (I think I’ve got that verbatim) and include top Christian authors and pastors, but sometimes civic leaders as well.
You can watch the entire lecture here.
The hinge on which all the discussion turns is whether or not Mormonism can be considered a branch of Christianity, a marginal group, or an outright false cult. Most Evangelicals would place the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) outside the Christian camp.
James Duncan of the blog Pajama Pages goes to great lengths to demonstrate the central doctrinal differences, and also documents that the University, clearly knowing they had a potential tempest ready to boil, informed students that they would receive a $10 fine if they failed to attend, something that university apparently has the power to do.
I am in agreement with what Duncan is reporting, but want to point out that I was recently told by a University representative1 that in order to keep its accreditation, Liberty could not continue to have “Chapel” three times a week, so they came up with “Convocation,” a slightly different use of the term than the one with which some of us are familiar. The concept is that a variety of speakers are introduced thereby avoiding any backlash that the meetings constitute a campus church service.
Had Beck stuck to political analysis common to outside speakers, we wouldn’t be having this discussion; but instead he went a different route, presenting a faith message that was sermon-like in style.
Had the university presented a number of Convocations as part of a series on comparative religion, we wouldn’t be discussing this either, but that wasn’t the case, there was both tacit and overt endorsement, especially by making the lecture more than mandatory.
My greater concern is that this was one of the final Convocations of the year; it’s Beck’s Christian college graduation-styled speech that will stick with students.
I am sure that with Beck’s busy schedule, getting a speaker of his caliber was probably considered a coup by the administration, and perhaps the pivotal end-of-April date was all that was available. But for me, the sermon seemed somewhat lacking and perhaps even a bit awkward. There was Beck, reminding the audience occasionally that he comes from a different denomination, but trying to affirm is Evangelical compatibility through his belief in the atoning work of Christ on the cross.
But he spoke of the Grand Councils, Mormon terminology, and used other words which meant one thing to LDS followers but would be heard differently in Falwell’s Baptist backyard.
Despite the passion and skilled rhetoric, the message just rang hollow.
Were I a student there, I think I would have said, “Who do I make the $10 check out to?”
1 Liberty recruiter with a display at a spring event.