As you know, on August 28, hundreds of thousands of people gathered on the National Mall for what organizer Glenn Beck called a “Restoring Honor” rally.
The stated goal of the rally was to “to pay tribute to America’s military personnel and others ‘who embody our nation’s founding principles of integrity, truth and honor.’” Beck told the crowd that “something beyond imagination is happening . . . America today begins to turn back to God.”
While I hope and pray that is the case, I do have some concerns.
Evangelicals figured prominently in the rally, both in the crowd and on the podium. That’s not surprising: We value truth, integrity and honor and, of course, pray for America to “turn back to God.”
But as theologian Russell Moore wrote, the sight of a “Mormon television star [standing] in front of the Lincoln Memorial and [calling] American Christians to revival” was, to put it mildly, disconcerting. Even worse, Moore wrote, was the fact that “evangelicals [are] cheering that they’ve heard the gospel, right there in the nation’s capital.”
Well, I’m not sure which gospel they heard.
Please understand, I’m not raining on anyone’s parade. And I’m not here to criticize what Beck is trying to do. I love him as a television commentator and political critic. And I believe he is a man who loves his country and wants the best for it.
But because Beck is not a Christian leader, I couldn’t help but wonder what the willingness of Christians to follow him says about the state of our own leadership.
Even setting aside his Mormonism, Beck isn’t exactly solid on issues we hold dear: the sanctity of life, the traditional family, and the erosion of religious freedom.
In Beck’s words, “we have bigger fish to fry” than these issues. He told Bill O’Reilly that America is a “symphony.” So those who raise these issues, like signers of the Manhattan Declaration, are insisting on playing their “clarinets” to detriment of the country.
It grieves me that Beck has taken this position, particularly because it’s out of step with his own church. The Mormon church has been a great ally in the fight to defend marriage.
Which leaves this question: What “God” are we supposed to “turn back” to? As Moore put it, the answer Beck gives, is, “at best, a generically theistic civil religion.”
And that’s what the Restoring Honor rally was: an appeal to civil religion. And that’s OK. Civil religion has its place. But it’s never to be confused with the real thing.
Glenn Beck is stepping into a leadership vacuum, and for that I applaud him. But folks, that means it’s time for Christians to become leaders ourselves. 2 Chronicles 7:14 tells God’s people to humble themselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from our wicked ways. This is the biblically prescribed way for transforming societies.
The Bible doesn’t specify how exactly God will “heal our land,” but part of the answer will be in our setting a godly example for others, and in our doing the gospel in every walk of life, and in defending truth. The power of transformed lives, of people who no longer live for themselves but for God and their neighbor, has been the way Christianity has always shaped societies throughout its history.
And that’s a power that mere civil religion cannot possess.