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Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this story, including in Tuesday's print edition, misattributed a statement about why conservative Christian leaders of the future are less likely to be clergy members. The statement was made by D. Michael Lindsay, a Rice University sociologist, not Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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Glenn Beck may be unlikely leader for conservative Christians

The Fox News conservative commentator exhorted a sprawling crowd on the Mall on Saturday to restore the traditional American value of honor.

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It wasn't the first time he had aimed withering criticism at Obama. In the days leading up to the rally, he described the president's religious beliefs as "liberation theology" that represented "a perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ as most Christians know it."

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To those who embrace it, liberation theology is a means to empower the poor, the weak and politically oppressed.

To some, Beck's show of his faith was a calculated political effort to unite religious and social conservatives as the midterm elections approach.

"No Republican is going to win the White House if those two aren't united," said D. Michael Lindsay, a Rice University sociologist who studies evangelical Protestant leaders. "Here's a chance to infuse the tea party with religious rhetoric, and extend an olive branch to those not as engaged with financial issues."

'Divine Destiny'

Longtime Beck-watchers said he has always made references to his faith journey, his conversion from Catholicism to Mormonism, his crediting God with saving him from drug and alcohol abuse, professional obscurity and "friendlessness." But in the runup to Saturday's rally, Beck talked publicly and privately about God working through him, calling a pre-rally event Friday "Divine Destiny" and lining up evangelical pastor John Hagee and other religious leaders to appear with him.

"I'm a little nervous about that kind of talk," said Janet Mefferd, a nationally syndicated Christian talk show host who said most callers Monday wanted to talk about Beck. "I know he means well and loves this country, but he doesn't know enough about theology to know what kind of effect he's having. Christians are hearing something different than what he thinks he's saying."

Although he doesn't consider Mormons to be Christians, Land said he agrees with Beck's basic premise that American society must be "rebuilt from the bottom up." Land accepted an invitation to be part of a group of more than 200 clergy members whom Beck calls his "Black Robed Regiment," a reference to pastors from the Revolutionary War who stirred up opposition to colonial rule.

Asked who would be considered conservative Christian leaders today - with Graham in his 90s and the recent death of Jerry Falwell - Land said that "leaders are leaders because people follow them. Obviously, Glenn Beck is a leader. He's in a category by himself. He's not a minister, he's not a politician."

Conservative Christian leaders of the future, Lindsay said, are less likely to be clergy members, because it's harder to be an overt partisan and keep your tax-exempt status. Among those considered top leaders, he said, are former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (R) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R).

This isn't the first time Beck's faith has been scrutinized. Prominent Mormons have occasionally criticized him as being an entertainer, not a theologian. After an interview in 2008 with Focus on the Family, the article was pulled because some of the group's supporters thought it was wrongly validating his conversion experience.

boorsteinm@washpost.com


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