August 28th, 2010
08:50 PM ET
Among those surprised by all of conservative TV host Glenn Beck's recent religious talk - including at Saturday's Washington rally, where Beck said that "America today begins to turn back to God," - is the Rev. Richard Land, a Southern Baptist leader.
"I've been stunned," said Land, who directs public policy for the Southern Baptist Convention and who attended the Saturday rally at Beck's invitation.
"This guy's on secular radio and television," Land said Saturday, "but his shows sound like you're listening to the Trinity Broadcasting Network, only it's more orthodox and there's no appeal for money ... and today he sounded like Billy Graham."
Beck's speeches around his "Restoring Honor" rally have brimmed with religious language: "God dropped a giant sandbag on his head" to push him to organize the rally, he said Friday.
On Friday night, Beck held a religion-focused event at the Kennedy Center that was billed as Glenn Beck's Divine Destiny.
Beck's speech Saturday also evoked the feel of a religious revival.
"Look forward. Look West. Look to the heavens. Look to God and make your choice," he said.
Beck has also begun organizing top conservative religious leaders - mostly evangelicals - into a fledgling group called the Black Robed Regiment.
The organization, whose charter members convened in Washington this weekend, takes its name from American clergy sympathetic to the Revolution during the 1700s.
Beck's emerging role as a national leader for Christian conservatives is surprising not only because he has until recently stressed a libertarian ideology that is sometimes at odds with so-called family values conservatism, but also because Beck is a Mormon.
Many of the evangelicals who Beck is speaking to and organizing, including Land, don't believe he is a Christian. Mormons, who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, call themselves Christian.
"There's a long history of tensions between Mormons and evangelicals and some of that is flat-out theology," says John C. Green, an expert on religion and politics at the University of Akron. "Mormons have additional sacred texts (to the Bible) and a different conception of God."
"It's also competitive," Green said, "because evangelicals and Mormons are both proselytizing in the U.S. and around the world."
Some evangelicals criticized Christians for partnering with Beck this weekend because of his Mormon faith, provoking a number of evangelical political activists to pen defenses of their decision to join Beck.
But Evangelicals and Mormons have also stepped up cooperation around conservative political causes in recent years. In 2007 and 2008, presidential candidate Mitt Romney reached out strenuously to evangelical leaders, winning endorsements from the likes of Bob Jones III, a Christian fundamentalist.
Evangelicals and Mormons led the successful push to pass California's gay marriage ban, Proposition 8, in 2008. Activists from both traditions say they can set aside theological differences in the name of moral issues.
"The evangelicals participating in the Restore Honor event are not endorsing Glenn Beck's theology, nor is he asking them to," said Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition, who attended Saturday's rally.
"Together, we and millions of our fellow citizens are calling America back to its Judeo-Christian values of faith, hard work, individual initiative, the centrality of marriage and family, hope, charity, and relying on God and civic and faith-based organizations rather than government," said Reed, who leads the Faith and Freedom Coalition.
But Beck has sometimes upset religious conservatives. For instance, he said recently that opposing gay marriage is not a top issue for him.
Since launching his 9/12 Project last year, which is meant to "bring us all back to the place we were on September 12, 2001," Beck has gone in a more religious direction.
The second of the project's nine principles is "I believe in God and He is the Center of my Life."
The Southern Baptist Convention's Land, who hadn't talked to Beck before a few weeks ago, has started getting questions from the TV and radio personality about theological issues.
"I think he's moving - I think he's a person in spiritual motion and has been," Land said.
"He has said as much to us," Land said, referring to fellow pastors. "That he has moved in the direction of being more spiritual, more concerned with cultural issues and seeing that politics isn't the answer."
In discussing religious values, Beck generally speaks from a nondenominational perspective, avoiding specifically Mormon or evangelical references.
Beck's religious rhetoric appears to counter the prevailing conventional wisdom that the power of religious conservatives has been eclipsed by the Tea Party movement's small-government conservatives.
But Green says that "groups of religious people who care about social issues have not gone away."
"Some of their leaders faded but that group didn't disappear," he said. "They are waiting for new leaders and my sense is that Beck would like to be one of those leaders."
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.