What I Saw at the Rally, Part 2: Whose God?

by Derrick G. Jeter

Note: Previously, I had written an article about what I witnessed at the Restoring Honor rally, which occurred on the National Mall on August, 28, 2010 (“What I Saw at the Rally, Part 1: A View from the Cheap Seats”). In this article I’d like to discuss Beck’s use of “faith” and “God,” which was a dominate theme at the rally.
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“America today begins to turn back to God.”
So Glenn Beck sang out at the Restoring Honor rally. I certainly hope so. But I suspect in the excitement of the moment—and speaking to half a million people is enough to get anyone excited—the reality of that declaration will prove, unfortunately, overblown.
Whether America began to turn back to God on August 28, 2010, or not, many Christians have asked the question: whose God is America turning back to? Beck had a stage-full leaders from different religious traditions—various Protestant Christian denominations, Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam. Beck himself is a Mormon. It is understandable that Christian critics have raised the question of whose God is in view. I share this concern.
While I’d readily link arms with any of the religious leaders who appeared on stage that Saturday morning to promote integrity, honor, truthfulness, personal responsibility, and the need for and importance of faith (in general), I’d have to unlink arms on the specifics concerning the nature of faith and whose God we should have faith in. Christians must always guard against the soft peddling of God. And I suspect the imam representing Islam would agree with me. The God of the Bible and Allah of the Koran are not one in the same. Logic demands that both he and I may be wrong about who God is, but both cannot be right. One of us may speak true, but one of us must speak false. We need not kill each other to determine who is true and who is false, but we must not pretend that both represent the reality of God.
If this is true of Christianity and Islam, it is true of Christianity and Mormonism—much to the chagrin of Mormons. Mormons view themselves as Christians, but they are not. Jesus, according to Mormon theology, is not the second Person of the Trinity (in the Godhead) who took on human flesh to die for the sins of humanity and physically rose from the dead as the conqueror of death and sin. Rather Jesus was the firstborn spirit child of the “Heavenly Father” (god) who became mortal through a physical union with Mary. The basis of salvation for Mormons includes the renunciation of sin, baptism, receiving the Holy Spirit, partaking in Temple rites, and obedience to divinely revealed commandments. Not so orthodox Christianity. Salvation from sin and death is by divine grace alone, through faith alone. As a Mormon, Glenn Beck acknowledges that simple faith in the atoning death and resurrection of Christ is not enough to save a human soul. In an interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, Beck spoke of his faith and confessed: “You have to change your heart as well [as believe in the atonement of Jesus].” [1] This is not biblical Christianity. This is salvation by doing good and being good. Christianity advocates good works, but never as a means of salvation, only as a result of salvation.
With such a stark disparity between Christianity and Mormonism you can see why Christian critics had heartburn over so many Christians attending the Restoring Honor rally, especially when Beck and others spoke of America turning back to God. But again, the question is whose God?
Having attended the rally and listened to Beck and others speak of God, my impression was not that Beck was proselytizing for Mormon theology (any more than the other speakers were evangelizing for their views of God), but proselytizing for a civic theology. The current cultural impact of the word “God” in America—unless “God” is linked to something particular like the Ten Commandments, a menorah, or a nativity—is something akin to a fly landing on the back of a bison. The bison’s hide might ripple for a second, but it goes on chewing its cud without a thought as to why a slight shiver ran up its spine. This uncritical perspective of God occurs every day in myriad ways: “God bless America,” “In God We Trust,” “One nation under God.” How many of us really think about these mottos in theological terms? I suspect few. Now, granted, those who attended the rally were probably more theological attuned to the fact that Americans are not as religious as the founding generation, but we’d be hard pressed to argue that these folks were in any grave danger of abandoning evangelical Christianity for Mormonism. The greater danger, if there was one, would be the blurring of the lines between biblical Christianity and civil religion, where the God of the Bible is viewed as the red state God of conservatism as we understand it politically. In other words, the danger in Beck’s message, as I understand his central message, is staying on this side of patriotic idolatry—the religion that says God is on our side because the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were divinely inspired documents.
Many patriotic Christians, in their zeal to see America turn back to God, have unwittingly stepped over this dividing line between patriotism and idolatry. We must tread lightly here. We must never let our politics or our patriotism determine our theology. The issue isn’t whether God is on our side but whether we are on His. Christians must never forget that the Messiah will come on a white steed, not in a white airplane (popularly known as Air Force One). The Messiah isn’t an American, He’s an Israelite.
For followers of Christ, He must come first, country second. With this in mind, the message of America returning to God must mean America becoming Christianized—for a revival to occur in our land (more about this in a third article). And while anything is possible with God—for He can do as He pleases—the realistic possibility, more than most of us would like to concede, is slight. During the generation of our Founders religion equated to Christianity, even if not ever single individual was a follower of Christ, distinguishing the culture as “Christian.” But that was a more homogenous time. We live in a pluralized culture, where all faith claims receive equal respect as truth. The fact that Beck had so many different religious traditions represented on stage was, at the very least, a nod to our cultural sensitivity not to favor one religion over another. But even if the whole of America turned back to the biblical and Christian God that mere fact would not obligate God to bless America. God is not a politicians, He doesn’t operate quid pro quo. If we were to return to God it would be because His Spirit has moved in the hearts and minds of His church, first, and then through a saving work throughout the general population. Even then, we’d turn to God in faith because it is our responsibility before a gracious and just God, not because we believe such a turning would save our country from political or cultural sins.
This wasn’t the message of the Restoring Honor rally. But it’s the message all followers of Christ must hear—especially those Christians who love their country and their God, and wish see their country turn back to their God.
[1] Glenn Beck, Fox News Sunday, August 28, 1010, http://video.foxnews.com/v/4323951/glenn-beck-on-fox-news-sunday, accessed September 13, 2010.