Banging My Head Against the Wall


This is a bad idea:

Liberty University Selects Glenn Beck as Graduation Speaker

And the reason this is a bad idea is the same reason I don’t like chocolate cheesecake.


I like chocolate.  Not like my wife likes chocolate, you understand; I often will get some cinnamon-y dessert or some fruit-flavored one, whereas there will never be a moment in my wife’s life when, in a restaurant and faced with a choice, she will not opt for chocolate.  Never.  But I like chocolate.

I love cheesecake.  Favorite “splurge” restaurant?  Cheesecake Factory.  And if that doesn’t represent a “splurge” for you, welcome to my socio-economic class.

But know what I don’t like?  Never eat?  Yuk?  Chocolate cheesecake.  The two tastes were not designed by the Lord to go together, I’m convinced.  Cheesecake has that slightly sour-y taste.  Sour chocolate tastes nasty in my mouth.  This isn’t like chocolate and peanut butter, two more or less compatible tastes, or chocolate and banana: yum!  This is “no thanks, I’ll pass on dessert this evening, thanks.”

Glenn Beck speaking at Liberty University’s graduation is another  “chocolate cheesecake choice”.  I really, really hoped and thought we’d gotten past this with the passing of Dr. Falwell.  See, I’m a Liberty grad, for better, which is often, and for worse, which is occasionally.  Unlike many on both sides of the coin, I both deeply, deeply appreciate so much about Jerry Falwell and his legacy (sorry, my lefty friends), and cringed deeply on some fairly regular occasions at the things he’d say and do (sorry again, my righty, and particularly Liberty, friends).  I was most appalled when Dr. Falwell mixed politics—his particular brand of politics, which often, incidentally, wasn’t far off from mine—with Christian faith.  And this was often so evident in his choice for graduation speaker, with folks like Karl Rove, Sean Hannity, Newt Gingrich, and the like chosen.

See, here’s the rub: the long-standing motto of the university (although it appears to have been scrubbed from view, if my casual search of a moment ago says anything), has been, “Training Young Champions for Christ”.  Now, setting aside the fact that the use of the word “champion” in the Bible refers to Goliath—decidedly a non-member of the Religious Right, and most likely, not a fundamentalist either—the fact is that if you’re going to be so overt about your intentions, oughtn’t your choice of graduation speaker reflect that, and further, aren’t such choices quite telling about what you’re seeking to accomplish, and to give approval to?

An aside: I don’t have a problem with Glenn Beck, or Hannity, or Rove, or Ted Kennedy speaking at Liberty in some other forum (Teddy spoke there in the 80s, and I remember my home pastor having a serious concern about it.  I didn’t.).  Expose the kids—in a liberal arts setting—to a variety of points of view.

I also like Glenn Beck.  I don’t actually listen to him all that much, and no, I don’t subscribe to everything he says; he like Dr. Falwell sometimes says things that make me cringe.

Another aside: can grown-ups no longer act like grown-ups in this country?  Isn’t one part of being a mature individual the development of the ability to be discerning about things?  This cheeses me about contemporary discourse: people develop these entrenched, black-and-white positions, to the point where if I say, “yeah, I like Glenn Beck”, the automatic assumption is that I’m some automaton marching in lockstep with everything the man says.  On the converse, if I can’t find anything good to say about President Obama, then I’ve got a problem.  He seems to be a loving husband and great father (he apparently semi-snuck away recently to attend something one of his daughters was doing, eluding Secret Service to do it; I gained a bit of admiration for him for doing that!).  He sometimes—albeit fairly rarely, IMHO—does good things as president.  Is it a crime to say so?  To some these days, it appears that way.

OK…so I like Glenn Beck, and I’m a graduate of Liberty.  But like chocolate and cheesecake, Glenn Beck and Liberty don’t mix when it comes to him being a graduation speaker. Period.  Why?  Well, there are several reasons, but two in particular commend themselves: one, Mr. Beck is a Mormon.  I don’t begrudge him that; this is a free country, and this is not a post about Mormon theology, but we can simply suffice it to say that our two belief systems are not compatible on spiritual matters.  When Glenn talks about God on his radio show, it’s lowest-common-denominator stuff; I have no idea how much he understands about the theological differences between the LDS and evangelicals, and it doesn’t really matter, but his God-talk is very vanilla (maybe it has to be in that context; I don’t really fault him for it).  But the point is that evangelicals and Mormons evangelize each other, because we recognize that our faiths are that significantly different.  Why is a Mormon speaking at the graduation ceremony for is “the largest and fastest growing Christian Evangelical university in the world”?  And does his speaking there lend tacit approval to the idea that many have that there is little difference between our faiths?

Two, it seems clear to me that Glenn Beck is speaking there because of his political stance.  One of the things I’ve seen as a positive development at Liberty since the passing of Dr. Falwell is that Liberty has seemed to move to a less vocally-strident position on matters of politics.  I long believed that Dr. Falwell erred significantly when he focused so strongly on politics, to the neglect—if his Sunday morning messages were any indication—of the clear, consistent teaching of the Word of God.  He used to publish a rag called the Liberty Journal, which was a political hack piece that mentioned Jesus once in a while back on page 32.  It infuriated me so much that I three times tried to get them to stop sending it to me, but they ignored me (and don’t get me started on that subject).  The Liberty Journal went under—at least in the way he published it—with his passing; good riddance.  I had hoped that this signaled a retreat from the overemphasis on all things political, and I have seen good evidence that this is the case.  Alas, with this invitation of Beck, do we now see a return to this same old-style mixing of politics and faith?  Maybe I’m reading too much into it, sure, but to say the alarm bells aren’t going off big-time is an understatement.

Oh, and one more thing: please, no letters about “we evangelicals need to live out our faith in the public square, and our faith must impact our political choices.”  Duh.  Of course.  Read this blog any length of time and you know I believe that.  But that’s not what this is.

Oh, and I’ll take the Bananas Foster Cheesecake, thanks.


  1. Don on April 26, 2010 at 9:22 am

    I happen to like Chocolate cheesecake.

    • Byron on April 26, 2010 at 9:59 am

      And that, my friend, says a whole lot about you…I’m just not sure what.

  2. Don on May 3, 2010 at 8:10 am

    In the interest of “balance” Liberty University spokesman Johnnie Moore explains that Beck was chosen because in their estimation he is right for the event.

    “In this time period, where it seems like so many in the United States are embracing a larger government and socialist tendencies, Glenn Beck is one of the people out there who is sort of championing traditional American values and [the] perception of the United States of limited government and of freedom,” Moore explains.

    He also points out that Dr. Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Seminary and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, will be speaking at Liberty’s baccalaureate service.

    • Byron on May 3, 2010 at 8:16 am

      Of course that’s why they invited him, and why I like him. But it is interesting that I’m not the only one raising a voice of concern over the choice (though I honestly hadn’t heard of anybody else; didn’t know there was a controversy; thought I was just a voice crying…). Beck’s a great guy; Liberty’s a great school. Just like chocolate’s a great flavor and cheesecake’s a great dessert!

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