On December 27th, 2008, the Mormon Times reports that the influential and prestigious pro-family lobby Focus on the Family has inexplicably caved in to pressure from a marginal group called Underground Apologetics and and pulled from its CitizenLink website an article about talk show host Glenn Beck's book "The Christmas Sweater". Underground Apologetics complained that Beck's LDS faith is a "cult" and "false religion" and shouldn't be promoted by a Christian ministry. Predictably, many Latter-day Saints are outraged; a lead-in story published by the Deseret News has already attracted 208 public comments. The Christian Post and Media Bistro also published stories.
Significant blog reaction from StopTheMormons and SimpleUtahMormonPolitics, whose editor has already read the book and discusses his impressions.
When contacted, a spokesperson for Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, CO confirmed that the article had been pulled and read a prepared statement for callers who had called about the Beck article:
"You are correct to note that Mr. Beck is a member of the Mormon church, and that we did not make mention of this fact in our interview with him. We do recognize the deep theological difference between evangelical theology and Mormon theology, and it would have been prudent for us at least to have pointed out these differences. Because of the confusion, we have removed the interview from CitizenLink."
Focus's answers to other questions was originally to be delayed until January 2nd. However, recognizing the potential for the erosion of Mormon-Evangelical ties, the leadership of Focus decided not to wait until January 2nd to follow up. On December 29th, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that Gary Schneeberger, vice president of media and public relations for Focus on the Family, said that "differences in the Mormon faith and the historical evangelical faith are not inconsequential." He further stated, "We can, and do, gladly cooperate with friends outside of the evangelical heritage on common causes; but in no case do we intend to alter our clear distinction as unwaveringly grounded in evangelical theology."
Schneeberger said the criticism from Underground Apologetics had "nothing to do with our decision to pull the article from publication" but admitted that "some from our base" were concerned that the interview aimed to signal theological compromise. "We regret having communicated in a way that has caused some confusion both from some within our evangelical base as well as from our friends, like Mr. Beck, who hold a sincere and devout Mormon faith," Schneeberger said. "We intended no insult; we merely miscalculated on how best to feature Glenn."
The LDS Church has wisely refrained from any comment on the matter. As for Glenn Beck, he has since posted the following statement on his website:
"The Christmas Sweater is a story about the idea of Christmas as a time for redemption and atonement. Whatever your beliefs about my religion, the concept of religious tolerance is too important to be sacrificed in response to pressure from special interest groups, especially when it means bowing to censorship. I'm humbled and grateful that hundreds of thousands of people from different faiths have read the book and have appreciated its uplifting message for themselves. At a time when the world is so full of fear, despair, and divisions, it is my hope that all of those who believe in a loving and peaceful God would stand together on the universal message of hope and forgiveness".
Triggering the controversy was a marginal group called Underground Apologetics. On December 22nd, after learning of the Beck article, they issued a release through Christian News Wire which read:
"Focus on the Family has a story on Glenn Beck, a Mormon, on their CitizenLink Web site. Glenn Beck was a CNN host and will move to Fox News in January. Beck is currently promoting his book, 'The Christmas Sweater.' The CitizenLink story focuses on Beck's faith and why he wrote 'The Christmas Sweater.'
"While Glenn's social views are compatible with many Christian views, his beliefs in Mormonism are not. Clearly, Mormonism is a cult. The CitizenLink story does not mention Beck's Mormon faith, however, the story makes it look as if Beck is a Christian who believes in the essential doctrines of the faith.
"Through the years, Focus on the Family has done great things to help the family and has brought attention to the many social ills that are attacking the family. However, to promote a Mormon as a Christian is not helpful to the cause of Jesus Christ. For Christians to influence society, Christians should be promoting the central issues of the faith properly without opening the door to false religions".
Underground Apologetics president Steve McConkey said in an interview that he had not read Beck's book, but understood its message. He felt that the work was suspect based on what he understands about Beck's faith. McConkey said he had not asked Dobson's ministry to remove the article from its site. An examination of Underground Apologetics website reveals that Mormons aren't the only ones in their crosshairs; they take cheap shots at Rick Warren and Franklin Graham as well. I guess they have their own private definition of Christianity about which no one else knows.
Because the Glenn Beck article is no longer available at citizenlink.org, the Mormon Times has republished it as part of their story. Here is also a link to an Amazon.com video about the book. Since the debut of Beck’s The Christmas Sweater six weeks ago, the 284-page hardcover has not only hit the New York Times Best-Sellers List but has also climbed up to No. 1 multiple times. In addition, a “living play” of the book also debuted in 420 movie theaters nationwide last week featuring theatrical animation, specially-created projections and a Christmas musical score from a 10-piece orchestra and Broadway gospel singer.
Based on a personal true story, The Christmas Sweater is a narrative of a boy named Eddie who embarks on a dark and painful journey on the road to manhood.
How should Latter-day Saints react to this development? Go back and read Glenn Beck's response - this best reflects how we should handle it. While it's regrettable that Focus on the Family deleted the article and acknowledged doctrinal differences, note that they did NOT refer to Mormonism as a cult or un-Christian. Thus we should not allow this incident to discolor our attitude towards Focus on the Family, which was a valuable partner to us in successfully promoting California Proposition 8 and which has worked hard for many years to promote pro-family values, reverse elective abortion, and stymie the relentless promotion and protection of the homosexual lifestyle. Focus on the Family remains one of the "good guys"; let's blow this off as a fluke. To attack Focus on the Family would risk severing the growing ties between Mormons and Evanglicals.
However, Underground Apologetics is not worthy of such consideration. They don't merely attack Mormonism; they attack other Christian pastors who do not share their point of view. There's little evidence on their cheesy, clunky website that they've taken any issue with the major social issues of the day. Their very name implies that they're a bunch of attention-starved insurgents who ought not to be taken seriously.