Elmer Smith: Let's go back ... way Beck

Posted: August 31, 2010

THOUSANDS of pilgrims who once wandered in darkness were led to the light Saturday by God's man of the airwaves. At least, that's what happened at the "Restoring Honor" rally, to hear Glenn Beck tell it.

"For too long, this country has wandered in darkness," Beck told a crowd estimated at between 87,000 and a half million.

Not to worry, though. The anointed one has set us on a right path. "America today turns back to God," he declared. That was a load off my mind, until the next day when Beck turned back to his original calling, beating up on President Obama.

On "Fox News Sunday," he preached that the president "understands the world through liberation theology, which is oppressor and victim. . . . It's a perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ as most Christians know it."

Now that's the Glenn Beck we have come to know and, ahh . . . . Well, anyway, we know him.

His real messianic mission is to lead his people back to an America that all of them seem to remember wistfully, if inaccurately. Whenever I hear one of these sign-waving, anti-Obama zealots say that they want to take their country back, my question is: How far?

What is it that they want to go back to: a simpler time when "real" Americans all worshipped the same way on the same day, or to those longed-for days of yore when men who looked like Barack Obama knew their place, which was not in the Oval Office.

Doctor King had delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech exactly 47 years earlier on the same spot where Beck showcased his brand of patriotism and Christianity Saturday.

You would have thought that one of his legion of researchers would have stumbled upon that coincidence before the date was settled. But Beck at first claimed that he didn't know about the anniversary. His willful ignorance didn't keep him from perverting the March on Washington for his purposes.

Beck urged his crowd to "reclaim" the civil-rights movement, which he said had nothing to do with seeking government help for people in need. The coup de grace was Alveda King, an obscure twig on the King family tree, whose pro-life views put her in league with many Beck followers. He and she conveniently ignored that the marchers went to Washington to make specific demands on the government.

In a purposely overlooked portion of the "Dream" speech, King made it clear that they were there to demand economic programs to help lift poor people of all races and national origins from the deprivations of poverty.

"And so we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand, the riches of freedom and the security of justice," King told a rapt audience 47 years ago.

They won't like to hear this, but Beck's rally had more in common with the Million Man March than the march on Washington. That's the one where hundreds of thousands of mostly Christian men converged on the Mall to hear a Muslim minister regale them with his knowledge of Christian scripture.

Divorced from its patriotic and political roots, Beck's brand of so-called Christianity would put him at odds with most of those evangelicals who link their politics to their religious beliefs.

Beck, an avowed Mormon, appropriates traditional Christian values. But two days after his rally, the Internet is crackling with brushback from evangelicals who believe that Mormons are cultists. But it won't matter. Beck's people know better than to look too closely. They know that the devil is in the details.

Send e-mail to smithel@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2512. For recent columns: http://go.philly.com/smith

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