Glenn Beck And Obama's Christianity

Conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck drew a huge crowd to the National Mall for a rally on Saturday. Attendees expressed alarm over the country's direction and government spending, but politics wasn't the only focus at the rally. Beck used the event as an opportunity to challenge President Obama's religious beliefs, saying Obama "is a guy who understands the world through liberation theology, which is oppressor and victim." NPR's Robert Siegel talks to Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Glenn Beck's big Washington rally over the weekend was many things. It was a benefit for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation; it was widely described as a Tea Party event; and it turned out to be, as much as anything, a call to faith - a religious rally.

Mr. GLENN BECK (Host, "The Glenn Beck Program"): Something that is beyond man is happening. America today begins to turn back to God.

(Soundbite of applause)

SIEGEL: What should we make of this latest mix of religion and politics? We're going to ask one of the guests at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday what he thinks. Dr. Richard Land has been president of the Southern Baptist Conventions Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission since 1988. He's considered one of the country's most influential evangelical Christians.

Welcome to the program, Dr. Land.

Dr. RICHARD LAND (President, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Southern Baptist Convention): Well, thank you. It's good to be with you.

SIEGEL: Let me ask you about that rally. A very partisan political figure, a man who has accused president Obama of being a racist, then questioned his Christianity, holds a big rally with - among others -former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Is the message here that God wants the Republicans to win in November?

Dr. LAND: Well, that certainly would not be the message you got from the rally. The rally did almost everything it could to not be political, and to be as ecumenical as possible.

We had rabbis praying. We had Catholic priests praying. We had Muslim imams praying and participating. We had Protestant Christians. And he kept saying over and over again: This is not a political event, and politics is not the answer. The answer is spiritual renewal and rebuilding a civil society one person; one family; one church, mosque, synagogue, temple and one community at a time.

SIEGEL: Are you concerned about what Glenn Beck has said, for example, on "FOX News Sunday," yesterday, more pointedly than from the podium on Saturday, that Americans do not recognize President Obama's brand of Christianity? And you share that belief, by the way.

Dr. LAND: Oh, I recognize it. To me, he's a very typical, mainline, liberal, Protestant Christian. I know lots of people like the president -and who have been deeply influenced by liberation theology.

I think liberation theology is wrong. I reject collective salvation as an oxymoron.

SIEGEL: And Mr. Beck's assertion that most Americans wouldn't recognize the kind of Christianity that President Obama practices - obviously, you would disagree with. You say we know what that is.

Dr. LAND: Well, I do. I do know what it is. And I disagree with it. But you know, it's a free country, and that's one reason we have freedom of religion. There were lots of differences of religion that were present at the rally. I mean, you know, you had Jewish rabbis and as you can imagine, I would have some differences of opinion with Jewish rabbis, and with Muslims and with Catholics.

But we were all there together, talking about the fact that we need we believe that America needs a return to a greater faith in God, that this country is in trouble, and it's in trouble at a very basic level. And it's going to have to be rebuilt at a very basic level - and that politics is not the answer.

SIEGEL: Glenn Beck is a Mormon. Is that brand of Christianity as distant, or more so, from yours than the National Council of Churches mainline Protestantism you...

Dr. LAND: Probably more so.

SIEGEL: More so.

Dr. LAND: And look, Glenn knows this. He said, look, I'm a Mormon. Most Christians don't think that I'm a Christian. And so, you know, I'll quote the pope, when he's talking about liberation theology.

I do not think Mormonism is an orthodox Christian faith, with a small O. I think perhaps the most charitable way for an evangelical Christian to look at Mormonism is to look at Mormonism as the fourth Abrahamic faith.

SIEGEL: Not a Christian faith.

Dr. LAND: Not a Christian faith.

SIEGEL: There's a refrain - that we should turn back, that the country has to restore something. In a political context, it's often: Take our country back. Where do apart from a prophetic strain, which always seems society wrong, sinful and in the wrong hands - when was the country lost, in your view? When did everybody turn away?

Dr. LAND: Well, you would get different answers from different people.

SIEGEL: What's your answer, though? What's your answer?

Dr. LAND: But my answer would be the '60s, that the nation took a wrong turn in the '60s. There were some good things that happened in the '60s, but a lot of bad things happened in the '60s.

And I certainly don't agree with the ethos of the sexual revolution and the moral relativism that came with it, and the divorce that came with it, and the illegitimacy that came with. I think that a country where we've gone from 5 percent of our children being born out of wedlock to 41 percent of our children being born out of wedlock, is a society that's taken a wrong turn.

SIEGEL: The wrong turn you're talking about is something that's been going on for much longer, and you would see it as much deeper and more profound, I think, than Barack Obama's election in 2008. That's what you're talking about.

Dr. LAND: Oh, of course, of course. Look, if you attended that rally, and if you watched it, this was not about Barack Obama. This is about a deep concern of tens of millions of Americans that the country has taken a fundamentally wrong turn and is headed in the wrong direction.

SIEGEL: Well, Dr. Land, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Dr. LAND: Okay.

SIEGEL: That's Dr. Richard Land - spoke to us from Nashville. He's president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

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