The number of flat out factual errors in Beck’s words is stunning. This is not even addressing any of his ideology or, for that matter, his theology.
In his defense, Beck does not claim to be a pastor or a theologian or really, as far as I can tell, a church leader of any kind. His ‘tours’ are listed on Wikipedia as “comedy tours” so while he does share his views on just about anything quite freely–a privilege rightly guaranteed him by the constitution–he is not actually claiming to be an authority on Christianity. And, yet, he is claiming a position of authority in his many public speaking venues and is using that power, in avertedly or not, to proclaim erroneous facts about the church. Quite likely many, many other erroneous things as well.
This is why Christian Education in the parish is SO IMPORTANT. There is no end to the number of people who will gladly proclaim, either intentionally or unintentionally, inaccurate information about Christianity, the church and the scriptures. Without a strong foundation in what we believe and who we are, Christians end up with a faith based on what they hear outside of their church rather than from their church.
Does it really matter, you may say, what some old pieces of scroll are all about? Do the actions of some guys over 16 centuries ago in some ‘council’ really matter to our church today? And I say it does matter–it matters a great deal. Beck and those like him, as well as most of us, would not hesitate to say that the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War, the Constitution and many other aspects of our nation’s history have a great deal to do with who we are as Americans. So, too, does the history of the church matter to who we are as Christians.
Countless numbers of people, most of them under the age of 40 but well past confirmation age, have come to me at times with questions that have challenged their faith or, quite often, prevented them from taking Christianity seriously any more. The overwhelming majority of them are not questions related to loss or pain or other life struggles we all face but are, instead, related to statements made by people like Glenn Beck and because they lack the strong foundation in Christianity they ought to have gotten from their church, they do not have the ability to filter out fact from fiction. No one of authority in their church ever taught them about how the canon of scripture was developed or how and why we believe and do the things we do and so, just like cable tv gives children the sex education we fail to give them, their faith is formed and disfigured by the very people whose ignorant rhetoric they should be able to discount altogether.
If we, both the ordained and laity of our churches, do not teach about our own faith, someone else will and will do so without any care for accuracy or truth. This goes for both children and adults. Not only are there many adults in our congregations who missed out on any kind of Christian Education as youth, we also have (if we are lucky) adult converts to Christianity. Additionally, education and formation in the faith do not have an end point or ‘graduation’ because they are life long activities. There is no real graduate of Sunday school. People in their later years also continue to need to participate in Christian Education and, perhaps most importantly, we need them to pass on their seasoned faith to us.
It is true that one can over-intellectualize faith and make it solely an act of the mind but I believe we are probably a long way from that error in most congregations these days. Jesus spoke of the greatest commandment and our loving God with all our heart, soul and mind–every part of us. And we do well to remember the formation in the faith of the whole person. It is in this way that we help one another to hear the words of someone like Glenn Beck and put them in their proper place.