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 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Owens himself, however, said he has always “kind of rolled my eyes” at Beck’s outspoken views.

And when the 42-year-old Salt Lake City lawyer read that Beck publicly questioned President Obama’s “version of Christianity” the day after the Washington rally, he was so angry he penned a letter to the local newspaper.

“I think it’s arrogant of anyone to say whether someone is a Christian or not,” said Owens. “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’ comments speak to the mixed reviews that Beck’s higher profile has received among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some view Beck’s rise as a sign of Mormonism going mainstream, while others worry that he is a divisive figure who is unrepresentative of Mormon values.

Michael Otterson, managing director of public affairs for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said that opinion on Beck is just as divided among Mormons as it is elsewhere.


“Views on Glenn Beck would be right across the spectrum,” Otterson 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 have had success in both parties, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican.

“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” among 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 Barlow added that Beck’s claim that social justice is “a code word for Nazism and fascism” — and some of his more inflammatory remarks about his political adversaries — have turned off some members of the church.

“One wouldn’t describe Glenn Beck as always being civil in his descriptions of his opponents,” Barlow said, noting that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently issued a statement calling for “civil discourse” on the topic of immigration.

Mormons have faced considerable obstacles when it comes to politics and perceptions among the American public. A recently released Time Magazine poll showed that 29 percent of Americans hold unfavorable views of Mormons, compared with 43 percent who had unfavorable views of Muslims, 17 percent who felt unfavorably toward Catholics and 13 percent who viewed Jews unfavorably.

During his 2008 presidential bid, Romney’s Mormon faith was viewed by some as a liability. A Pew survey at the time showed that 25 percent of Americans — including 36 percent of evangelical Republicans — expressed reservations about voting for a Mormon for president.

And while Mormons consider themselves to be Christians, key tenets of the Latter-day Saints church are disputed by mainstream Christian denominations — a disparity that critics say adds to the irony of Beck questioning another person’s Christian faith.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently launched an ad campaign in nine markets across the country featuring 30-second TV ads in which everyday Mormons talk about their lives in an attempt to dispel myths about the faith.


There are more than a dozen Mormon members of Congress from across the political spectrum, from Reid on the left to Utah Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch and Robert Bennett on the right. But Beck, whose Washington rally last weekend drew upward of 87,000 people, may be the highest-profile Mormon on the national stage.

In public appearances and on his Fox News show, Beck has overtly made religion a central part of his message, although he rarely makes specific mention of his Mormon faith. (One such mention came in the “Fox News Sunday” appearance last week during which Beck took aim at Obama’s religious beliefs.)


Barlow noted that among some conservative Republicans, the fact that Beck is a Mormon may make Mormon candidates more appealing. But he added that many evangelical Christians remain resistant to the idea. There’s also the possibility that as Beck’s profile rises, so, too, will the views that Mormonism is synonymous with Beck’s brand of conservatism.

As Barlow put it, “There might be a few maverick Harry Reids out there,” but ultimately moderates and those on the left “are going to be seeing Mormonism running somewhere between Mitt Romney and Glenn Beck.”

Owens, the Salt Lake City lawyer, expressed concern that some may come to see Beck as representing the views of most Mormons.


“I know he doesn’t speak for the Mormon Church. And yet, everyone seems to know he’s LDS,” Owens said. “And when he’s so outspoken religiously, that bothers me, because I’m worried people in the public will mesh the two — Mormonism and him as a political commentator.”

Owens said that should Romney run for president in 2012, Beck could prove to be more of a liability.

“If I were Mitt Romney, I would think that Glenn Beck would be hurting my cause, because presidential candidates want to be liked, and he’s so divisive,” Owens said. “I wouldn’t want to be associated with someone who’s such a controversial figure.”


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