Mormons have mixed views of Beck's rise

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By Felicia Sonmez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 3, 2010

Like conservative commentator Glenn Beck, Stephen Owens is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His in-laws traveled from Utah to Washington last weekend to join Beck's rally at the Lincoln Memorial.

Owens, however, said he has always "kind of rolled my eyes" at Beck's views.

And when the Salt Lake City lawyer read that Beck publicly questioned President Obama's "version of Christianity" the day after the rally, he was so angry that he wrote a letter to the local newspaper.

"I think it's arrogant of anyone to say whether someone is a Christian or not," said Owens, a 42-year-old Democrat. "My view of that is, if someone says, 'I follow the teachings of Jesus Christ,' then they're Christian, and who am I to say, 'No, you're not,' let alone [to] the president of our country? I was offended at that."

Owens's comments reflect the mixed opinions that members of the Mormon Church have of Beck's higher profile. Some see his rise as a sign of Mormonism going mainstream, while others worry that he is a divisive figure who does not represent Mormon values.

Michael Otterson, managing director of public affairs for the church, said that opinion of Beck is just as divided among Mormons as it is elsewhere.

"Views on Glenn Beck would be right across the spectrum," he said. "It depends on where individual Latter-day Saints are. Some would embrace him completely and others would no doubt be at odds."

Otterson also noted that there are more than 6 million Mormons in the United States and that prominent Mormons in the political arena run the ideological gamut - from Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R).

"It really underscores that members of the church are free to have their separate political views and express them whatever way they like," Otterson said, adding that Beck "would be the very first person to say that he does not speak for the church."

Philip Barlow, the Arrington chair of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University, said that Beck is "something of a polarizing figure" in the Mormon community.

Barlow noted that Beck's statement that the Constitution is an "inspired document," his calls for limited government and his emphasis on not exiling God from the public sphere "have considerable sympathy in Mormonism."

But he added that Beck's claim that social justice is "a code word for Nazism and fascism," as well as his some of his more inflammatory remarks about his political adversaries, have turned off some members of the church.


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