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“Where we disagree we should try to put the best possible construction on the position of the other, while never trimming the truth,” wrote Fr. Neuhaus , “That will become more important as Mormons become more of a presence, both in this country and the world.”

I was reminded of Neuhaus’s wise words after some of the feedback I received on my posts about Glenn Beck and the recent “Restore Honor” rally. I realize I may not have been as far as I could be about the issue. While I have deep reservations about the significance and effects of the event, I wanted to be as fair as possible by highlighting a counterbalancing perspective.

Greg West, a Mormon activist, presents just such an opposing view—though not in the way you might expect. Like me, West thinks the rally was religious, rather than political and that one of the most substantial effects is that is makes Mormonism more palatable to Christians :

No matter what people tell you about Glenn Beck, he’s the real thing. He isn’t a put-on. He is a believer in God and in the American religion. That religion is the belief that all men are endowed by a Divine Creator with inalienable rights. It is a doctrine that transcends sectarianism and denomination. Beck’s program was very much a religious revival, not a political rally. He called together patriotic Americans from all over the United States. For a moment, he was able to reach across boundaries of race and creed and bring people together—and together, they cried out to God for mercy, forgiveness, and his assistance.

[ . . . ]

I believe that Glenn Beck’s desire, in some measure, was to create a “King Benjamin moment.” The Book of Mormon relates a landmark gathering of some of the ancient inhabitants of the Americas to hear the words of one King Benjamin. Benjamin declared principles of piety, humility, service, and faith to his people. He preached to them repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, who would be born in centuries to come, relative to his time. The result was a turning back to God by his audience that brought the Holy Spirit upon them. It was a moment of national renewal and personal recommitment to do good in God’s name. This was Beck’s template for the event that took place today.

As a Mormon, I have to consider an unintended message throughout Beck’s work, which has culminated in this event. That message is: “Mormons are Christian believers.” Despite nearly two centuries of misrepresentation and religious envy by sectarian Christianity, Beck has achieved the visibility, prominence, and has had the time day after day, week after week, to speak openly and truly about his core beliefs.

While I obviously disagree with West’s view that this is a laudatory shift (my views align with those expressed by Neuhaus in ” Are Mormons Christian? “), I think he is absolutely correct that Beck is causing evangelicals and Catholics to think that Mormons are Christian believers.

While I am in favor of co-belligerency on social issues with all religious conservatives, I wonder if this type of religious rally is blurring the doctrinal and historical distinctives in a way that are detrimental to both faiths. After all, as Neuhaus notes, Mormons believe that non-Mormons who call themselves Christians are “members of ‘the great and abominable church’ that was built by frauds and impostors after the death of the first apostles.”

Am I wrong to be concerned? Should we set aside our core religious beliefs when advocating non-sectarian civil religion? Is that something any of us—evangelicals, Catholics, Mormons, Mainline Protestants—should be comfortable with?

(Link via: Gene Veith )

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