Glenn Beck was in Israel recently rallying Christian Zionists with his “Restoring Courage” tour, and while most of the discussion about his trip was the usual anti-Christian-conservative rhetoric from liberal Jews who don’t want to be associated with “those people,” Beck’s trip marked a pioneering moment towards a very different kind of religious reconciliation. In his excellent article on the trip (read the whole thing, as Instapundit would say) Zev Chafetz, an expert on the Christian Zionist movement, makes the following point:
Glenn Beck’s sojourn in Israel is not likely to stir much excitement on the streets of Jerusalem or Caesaria…But Beck’s real audience is, as he says, the United States’ Christian evangelicals.
Beck is not a minister of the gospel. (Some evangelicals even dispute that Mormons are Christians.) But he burns with the fire and ambition of a television evangelist. The old lions of the Christian right such as Falwell and Robertson are gone or going. The Rev. Hagee is past 70 and has had heart trouble. Beck is still in his 40s, and since leaving Fox News he is at loose ends. At the Christians United for Israel conference, he announced that he was joining the organization. Could a Mormon someday become the next great leader of the Christian right? If that is his goal, Beck’s best shot may come via Christian Zionism, and the journey begins this week in Jerusalem.
As Chafetz notes, despite their ideological similarities, Evangelicals and Mormons have had a rocky relationship. Elevated percentages of Evangelicals are hesitant to support a Mormon for president,with Pew and Quinnipiac Polls indicating that 31% of evangelicals would be less likely to vote for a Mormon while 38% would be “uncomfortable” with a Mormon president.(Notably, however, Democrats are a lot more likely to refuse to vote for a Mormon than either Republicans or Independents, at 27% vs 18% or 19%, respectively. In fact, considering that Republican don’t differ from independents on this question, it may be that significant progress may have already been made, with many members of the Christian Right still considering a Mormon candidate less than ideal but broadly being open to voting for them).
In rising towards the leadership of the Christian Zionist movement, among the most important political institutions associated with the Evangelical community, Beck might make significant strides towards bridging the political gap between Mormons and Evangelicals.
While this would be a good thing in and of itself, what remains to be seen is how fast and how far Beck gets. Can Evangelical ambivalence towards Mormons fade fast enough to noticeably improve Mitt Romney’s chances in the primaries? The general? Not at all? Only time will tell.