Common Cause
By John D. Turner
12 Sep 2010

Atonement: As used in the scriptures, to atone is to suffer the penalty for sins, thereby removing the effects of sin from the repentant sinner and allowing him or her to be reconciled to God. Jesus Christ was the only one capable of carrying out the Atonement for all mankind. Because of His Atonement, all people will be resurrected, and those who obey His gospel will receive the gift of eternal life with God. – Gospel Library, Gospel Topics, The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints

I didn’t know exactly what to name this article. I could title it “Glenn Beck 2”, or even “What it means to be Mormon 7, I suppose. And yet, though both pertain to what is in my heart and mind, neither would be accurate. This article is sparked in part, by something I read on Meridian Magazine, in response to the recent Glenn Beck rally, “Restoring Honor.” It also has to do with what is for me and my church, a bedrock issue; the Atonement of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer.

In my church, the first Sunday of the month is Fast and Testimony Sunday. It is a day when we abstain from eating two meals, and donate the money we would have spent to those less fortunate. This is called a “fast offering”, and is different from the regular tithes which we also pay. It is also the day where members of the congregation stand in front of all and bear their testimonies. This is strictly voluntary. No one makes you bear your testimony, and I have seen Sundays where there are long moments of silence.

I have had the honor to be called to be the Priesthood Group Leader at the Lackland Military Branch. Lackland AFB is where all basic trainees for the United States Air Force are trained. We have a branch of the Church there to administer to the needs of the young (or not so young) Latter-Day Saint men and women who have volunteered to serve our nation in the United States Air Force.

Each Sunday we have anywhere from 140 to 200 souls in attendance; mostly trainees, but including parents who have come to see their sons and daughters graduate from basic training, individuals in technical training, and others who are here TDY for various schools and classes. Not all are members of the Church. Some are investigators. Some are just curious. Some are looking for a place to sack out for an hour or two. As “Priesthood Group Leader”, essentially I lead the men’s group Sunday school meeting. This isn’t entirely accurate, but it is close enough.

After our Sunday school meeting, we have sacrament meeting, where the sacrament is blessed and passed. Normally, we would then have talks on gospel topics; what you might call a “sermon” in other venues. On Fast Sunday however, the time is used for bearing of testimonies. I bear witness that this is a special Sunday for me. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the testimonies are from the trainees.

As you may expect, basic training is a life changing experience. For many, if not most, it is the most difficult thing they have ever done in their lives. For many, it is their first real time away from home, completely on their own without their families. Depending on where they come from, it may be the first time they have been in an environment where they are truly in the minority as Latter-day Saints. Like many people of faith, when stripped from their support groups and thrust into the unknown, where daily physical and mental challenges are the norm, they turn to their scriptures for comfort. Their testimonies are things of beauty that I never tire of hearing.

These men and women have found the Lord; for some it is a new experience. For others, it is the renewing of communications that may have become faint over the years. I can’t tell you how many times I heard the word “atonement” at fast and testimony meetings.

The branch meets at 0700, and the meeting must be concluded in its entirety by 0845 so that the chapel can be made ready for the next faith group meeting which starts at 0900. That is a Spanish speaking Catholic service, and there is much activity during those 15 minutes in between, as all our accouterments are put away and the Catholic religious symbols are brought out.

I mention this because my home ward meets at 1230. Normally I don’t attend my home ward, as I have already taken sacrament at the branch. This month however, I did attend; and had another rich and satisfying spiritual experience. Among those who bore their testimonies this day were two brethren recently returned from deployment in Afghanistan. Both were medical doctors. They served in various places. In some cases, they were the only Latter-day Saint in the area. One in particular spoke movingly of being the only one in attendance for Sunday sacrament meeting; how grateful he was to be back in the company of fellow saints, and the importance of fellowship.

One of Glenn’s “trademarks” is the fact that he frequently is moved to tears while on the air. Frequently he is derided for this; many think it part of his “shtick”. I don’t know if Glenn has a “shtick”. Personally, I suspect not. But I can tell you where the emotion comes from; it comes when one is moved by the Spirit of the Lord. This good brother, who bore his testimony so movingly this day, was in tears throughout most of it. And he was not the only one. This is one of the reasons why, particularly on fast and testimony Sunday, there is always a box of Kleenex on the stand as well. It’s not just for the sisters…

Incidentally, once again, I am unable to tell you exactly how many times the word “atonement” was used, but it was used - many times.

I mention this use of the word “atonement” for a reason. As I wrote earlier, I was reading an article on Meridian Magazine concerning the recent Glenn Beck rally. There were four different articles/blogs referenced. Two were by evangelicals. One expressed his concern that any evangelical could share the stage in a religious setting with a Mormon. In fact, he likened it to a fictional story “from the pages of an evangelical apocalyptic novel about the end –times.” His blog was quite short and to the point; “Thou Shalt Not Consort With Mormons.” It is ok to work with them “on various issues, as citizens working for the common good,” but not in a religious context of any stripe.

Mormons, after all, are not Christian; at least according to evangelicals.

The other article was quite lengthy, and was penned by an evangelical who was on the stage with Glenn at the rally. The main reason why it was longer was that it contained his rationale for why he was there consorting in a religious vein with one who belongs to a faith that his group does not consider to be part of the Christian “club.”

In case you were unaware, Glenn Beck is a Mormon.

It was a good article. It laid out a logical foundation for why it was OK for him, an evangelical to be on stage with Glenn Beck, a Mormon. In a very long paragraph, he explained that despite the fact that he had squared his appearance with his religious beliefs, which he was very careful to say had not been compromised, others might not feel the same, and that was OK too. He referred to this as “Others may; you cannot.” He might be surprised to learn that many in our church have a similar philosophy.

You would have thought that he was trying to explain to his fellow evangelicals why he had decided to set foot on stage with Satan himself. In point of fact, from his perspective, that is exactly what he was doing. It was a very well thought out, very well-reasoned piece. I am sure he is very sincere in his beliefs. I am positive he has a testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ and the Atonement, and the role it plays in his life.

The author painstakingly laid out his relationship with Glenn. He was very careful in his observations and how he described them. I have told my kids on many occasions that what they do matters. People who would care less about what they do if they were Methodists or Presbyterians are remarkably observant once they find out you are Mormon. It’s truly amazing, and I would hardly have believed it myself had I not, myself, experienced the phenomenon first hand.

He laid out, in an enumerated list, the exact times he has had contact, however fleeting, with Glenn (there were six). Then he notes that he has “listened and watched very carefully regarding clues to Glenn’s spiritual condition.” He has interviewed “several people who have been with him and have talked very specifically with him regarding his own personal salvation.”

He goes on to say:

“Glenn has said unequivocally that that he relies on the atonement of Jesus on the cross for forgiveness for his sins, and those are almost the exact words. Few people use the term atonement. Glenn did.”

There’s that word. “Atonement.” The one that impressed the author so much. The one that he says few people use. The one Glenn used.

The same word I hear at least once somewhere every Sunday when I go to church; usually more than once.

He talks about the show awhile back where Glenn laid out, on his infamous chalk board, what the author called “the clearest explanation of the crucifixion and the resurrection that I have ever heard on national TV.” He called fellow evangelical James Robison and asked “did you see that?” Robison replied that he had just got off the phone with Richard Land (Southern Baptist), who said “he had never expected to hear the Gospel so clear on secular television.”

Richard Land, incidentally, has previously publicly denied Glenn to his face, membership in the “Christian Club” on national television.

It’s funny. I remember that show. I was watching it at home with my family. I remember making the comment that I felt like I was in Sunday school and there was my Sunday school teacher, in front of the chalkboard, giving yet another lesson on the atonement. I also remember making the comment that if Glenn wasn’t careful someone was going to accuse him of “teaching Mormon theology.”

Dr. James Garlow, the man writing the article goes on to say that

“I have interviewed persons who have talked specifically with Glenn about his personal salvation – persons extremely well known in Christianity – and they have affirmed (using language evangelicals understand), "Glenn is saved." He understands receiving Christ as savior.”

He then immediately puts in the disclaimer “I have never discussed with Glenn this topic.”

A disclaimer is necessary; Dr. Garlow has just made the amazing (for an evangelical) declaration that Glenn Beck, a Mormon, is saved. But how can that be? Mormon’s aren’t Christian – ask any evangelical. You can’t be saved unless you are a Christian. And yet, he says Glenn Beck is saved; and Glenn Beck is Mormon.

But Garlow isn’t saying that all Mormons are saved; just that Glenn is. So obviously, there must be something about Glenn that is different from other Mormons. Something that makes him unique. Something that makes him capable of being saved while other Mormons are damned.

And Garlow has an explanation.

Glenn, you see, is a convert. He was raised as a Catholic (another religion evangelicals disagree with, but are willing to admit to “the club”.) He pretty much messed up his life with alcohol, losing everything. He was down and out. Then he met the Mormons. They got him straightened out and turned his life around. Glenn’s “Mormon ties are not profoundly deep rooted,” explains Garlow. He is just grateful for the help they gave him. Oh yes, and his wife is a strong Mormon, which gives him a good reason to stick with the faith.

Remember, by his own admission, Dr. Garlow has never discussed this topic with Glenn.

So, the reason Glenn Beck, a Mormon, can be saved is because Glenn Beck is really a closet Christian. His Mormon faith is a thin veneer covering what is, at the core, Christian beliefs.

This may give Garlow some comfort. And perhaps it gives him some cover with his fellow evangelicals as well. But it misses on several levels. First, it is clear that he has never read any of Glenn’s books. If he had, he would have read Glenn’s conversion experience. And he would realize that his rationalization of how Glenn, a Mormon, can be saved is completely wrong.

First off, Glenn did lose everything to alcohol. That includes his first wife. The woman he is now married to is his second wife. And she was not a Mormon when they met; neither of them was; both are converts. Glenn didn’t want to join the Mormon Church. In that, his conversion story is very similar to mine. But he found something there that he could not deny, and it changed his life.

Second, Glenn’s testimony of the atonement is not unique among Mormons. It is very common. It is one of the basic teachings of our church. If Dr. Garlow would leave his basic prejudice against our church behind and actually attend a sacrament meeting or two (the entire block, sacrament meeting, Sunday school, and Priesthood meeting would be nice), he might find a whole congregation full of spirit filled believers in Christ.

Yes, there are serious doctrinal differences between us; there are doctrinal differences between all Christian sects. That is why there are so many sects. But our core belief in salvation through the atonement of Christ is very basic, and that we share. And it is on that basis that Dr. Garlow and associates have proclaimed Glenn “saved.”

Glenn Beck is saved because he has a personal testimony of the atonement of Jesus Christ. Not because he is a Baptist, or a Methodist, or an Evangelical, or a Mormon. He is a follower of Jesus Christ.

It is not my intent to get into a big theological discussion here. I just find it funny, all the soul searching, all the rationalization, all the explaining, just to be able to stand on the same stage as a man who at the heart of the matter has the same basic belief in the atonement of Jesus Christ. They were standing on the same stage as people who definitely didn’t; Jews and Muslims. Yet they were concerned about the figurative 800 pound Mormon on the stage. Amazing...

You know, the forces we are contesting with don’t give a hangnail about the doctrinal differences between evangelicals and Mormons. They disagree with both of us. They don’t like either of our sets of beliefs. We are in a cultural war against what I believe are the forces of darkness. Surely, they are forces inimical to my beliefs and the America I love. We don’t have the time and energy to waste on this. We need to work together.

In case anyone missed the message, Beck’s Friday night Kennedy Center event, and the “Restoring Honor” rally weren’t about religious doctrine. It wasn’t a Mormon event. It wasn’t a political event. It wasn’t about endorsing Glenn’s faith or anyone else’s except at a very, very basic level that everyone on the stage could agree with. America needs to get back to God.

It was about rediscovering our foundational roots. It was about basic, bedrock issues that have to be addressed. Glenn has been criticized for stating that the homosexual agenda and abortion are not his primary concerns. He’s right. These are symptoms of the problem. Once we get the basics back in place, the rest will follow. Otherwise we will exhaust ourselves applying bandages to mortal wounds and congratulating ourselves with our efforts while the patient dies on the table.

It means that if you attend an Evangelical church, a Baptist church, a Mormon church, or a Jewish synagogue, or a Muslim mosque, so be it. Someday, we will die. We will go to the judgment spoken of in Revelations, and we will find out whose doctrine was right, whose was wrong, and what difference, if any, it makes in the grand scheme of things.

Until then, we are just human beings, creations of Heavenly Father, trying our best to get back to him in the end. We need to spend more time and effort doing what Christ commanded us to do in Matthew 5:48, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

An impossible task you may say. Yes. But a worthy goal. Let’s spend more time worrying about personally following Christ’s examples and teachings, and less time worrying about what specific doctrines, arrived at centuries after Christ’s death, one does or does not embrace.

And above all, let’s worry about taking our country back while we still can.