Dinsdag 07/07/2020

Glenn Beck Acts as a Bridge Between Romney and Evangelical Christians

THE NEW YORK TIMES

On radio and on his Internet network, the influential conservative pundit Glenn Beck frequently invokes God, religious freedom and the founding fathers, but he does not regularly discuss his own Mormon faith.

But in early September, he broke with practice and hosted a special one-hour show, asking his audience, "Does Mitt Romney's Mormonism make him too scary or weird to be elected to president of the United States?"

Mr. Beck has not always supported Mr. Romney. ("I think he's an honorable man, but I don't trust him," he said last year.) But as perhaps the best-known Mormon after the Republican presidential candidate and a major influence on evangelical Christians, Mr. Beck has emerged as an unlikely theological bridge between the first Mormon presidential nominee and a critical electorate. At the same time, Mr. Beck's defense of his and Mr. Romney's shared faith speaks to the long-frayed relationship between evangelical Christians and Mormons and raises the question of whether evangelicals will ultimately put aside religious differences and vote on common conservative issues.

During his special program, Mr. Beck took questions from mostly evangelical Christian listeners, colorfully debunking misperceptions about Mormo-nism. The "magic underwear" was compared to a skullcap, and Mr. Beck insisted that polygamy was seen as a "perversion" in the modern church.

"It's not weird to be a Mormon," he assured his listeners at the end of the program, "and it's not weird to be president if you're Mormon."

Although Mr. Beck's national media profile has waned since he left Fox News last year, his support among his core audience remains strong. The Glenn Beck Program is typically the third-most-popular talk-news radio show, after TheRush Limbaugh Show and The Sean Hannity Show. In September, an agreement was reached with Dish Network to bring Mr. Beck's online network, The Blaze, to traditional television.

Mr. Beck's unique position as both a Mormon and a prominent voice among evangelicals has been too tempting for Mr. Romney's campaign to pass up. Campaign officials have quietly courted Mr. Beck, according to a person briefed on his meetings with campaign surrogates who could not discuss private conversations publicly. Mr. Beck declined to comment.

Last month, Mr. Beck, along with former Vice President Dick Cheney and Mr. Romney's son Josh, headlined a Dallas fund-raiser that brought in more than $250,000 for the Romney Victory committee, and on Friday Mr. Beck held a rally in Columbus, Ohio, intended to influence voters in that swing state. On Saturday, he attended Mr. Romney's rally in Dubuque, Iowa.

Stalwart conservatives who support the Romney-Ryan ticket, like Representative Louie Gohmert, Republican of Texas and Rick Santorum, a former senator and Republican presidential candidate, have appeared on Mr. Beck's program not so much to tout Mr. Romney as to discuss hot-button political issues like the handling of the attack on the United States mission in Benghazi, Libya.

Mostly Mr. Beck has helped Mr. Romney by directly addressing his devout Mormon faith, something the candidate himself rarely does. "I believe Mr. Romney prays on his knees every day," Mr. Beck said recently on his radio program. "I believe he is being guided." He has also said that a Romney victory would be "a sign from God."

Mr. Romney already enjoys a commanding lead among white evangelical Protestant voters - 76 percent to 17 percent for President Obama, according to a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey released on Monday, and 54 percent to Mr. Obama's 39 percent among Protestant voters. Influential Christian leaders including the Rev. Billy Graham and Ralph Reed have endorsed Mr. Romney.

But deep-rooted tensions between Mormons and evangelical Christians persist, and could affect the turnout tomorrow, several evangelical leaders said.

"Romney has staked out issues that are aligned with evangelicals," said Bryan Fischer, director of issue analysis for the conservative nonprofit American Family Association. But, he added, Mr. Romney's faith may ultimately present a problem in the voting booth. "It's still an issue for some evangelicals and may influence their voting decision on Nov. 6," he said. "There are a number of evangelicals who will not vote for someone who doesn't adhere to orthodox Christianity."

Mr. Beck and Mr. Romney's relationship dates to before the presidential campaign when they crossed paths at events in Salt Lake City. In 2009, Mr. Romney called Mr. Beck "my friend and a statesman in his own right" when he announced Mr. Beck via video at a fund-raiser.

Born a Roman Catholic, Mr. Beck converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1999 before he married his second wife. His story of born-again transformation from drug addict and alcoholic to best-selling author, as well as his rants against big government, made him a favorite among conservatives.

But that doesn't mean they accept him as their own. Mr. Beck has come under fire from religious leaders, especially after his 2010 Restoring Honor rally in Washington, which evangelical leaders suggested was a Mormon tent revival masquerading as a political event. Denny Burk, a professor of biblical studies at Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky, called it "Mormon-American-pie-populist politics."

Russell D. Moore, dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said, "It's sad to see so many Christians confusing Mormon politics or American nationalism with the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

Mr. Fischer said of the complicated relationship between evangelical Christians and Mormons that "evangelicals appreciate what Glenn Beck has done in refocusing attention on the values of our founding fathers," but "that doesn't mean evangelicals regard him as a Christian."

The Romney campaign has tried to reach out to evangelicals by focusing on conservative issues like opposition to abortion, rather than on Mr. Romney's own religious beliefs. "I think when people of other faiths decide to focus more on common values and less on common theology, they can get quite comfortable with Mitt Romney," said Mark DeMoss, an evangelical Christian and a senior adviser to Mr. Romney.

The fear of making Mormonism mainstream is, however, perhaps the biggest difference between evangelicals' willingness to accept a Mormon TV pundit who shares their views, as opposed to a Mormon presidential candidate.

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