Bill Press Challenges Glenn Beck to ‘Liberation Theology’ Debate


On his radio show yesterday, Glenn Beck criticized progressive radio host Bill Press over remarks Press made on Countdown that were critical of Beck’s analysis of President Obama’s religion. Press said of Beck “We don’t need a Mormon to teach Christians what the gospels are all about.” Beck then reiterated his criticism of the president’s faith, and said he would welcome a correction “if I’m wrong.”

Press, who Beck also said had apparently “(n)ever gotten anywhere near the Gospels,” studied 10 years for the priesthood, and has a degree in theology. He tells Mediaite that he’s happy to correct Beck in a one-on-one debate on liberation theology, anywhere, anytime.

The day after the “Restoring Honor” rally, Glenn Beck appeared on Fox News Sunday, where he stood by his statement that President Obama’s faith is a “perversion of the Christian gospel.”

In response, Bill Press appeared on Countdown to point out that Beck, who is a Mormon, faces similar criticism from some evangelical Christians who don’t recognize Mormons as Christians, and took a parting shot at Beck’s criticism of Obama by saying “We don’t need a Mormon to teach Christians what the gospels are all about.” (a remark to which I objected in my column.)

Beck then complained on his show about Press’ attack, before then continuing to criticize the President’s faith, which he claims is “liberation theology.” Here are some of the issues he seems to take with liberation theology, which he described to Chris Wallace as “Marxism disguised as religion.”:

You see, it’s all about victims and victim-hood; oppressors and the oppressed; reparations, not repentance; collectivism, not individual salvation.

I don’t know what that is, other than it’s not Muslim, it’s not Christian. It’s a perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ as most Christians know it.

Beck has said of his views on liberation theology, “If I’m wrong, I’ll correct it.” To that end, Press has offered to debate Beck on the subject: (via email)

As a firm believer in liberation theology, I’m sick and tired of hearing Glenn Beck, who is himself a Mormon, condemn it as a Marxist form of Christianity and a perversion of the gospels. In the same breath, Beck always adds: If I’m wrong, just tell me. OK, I accept his challenge. And, in return, I challenge him to a debate on liberation theology: anywhere, anytime, on his radio show or mine, or on his television show. Let’s settle it once and for all: Is liberation theology inspired by Jesus Christ or Karl Marx? We’ll find out if Beck is willing to debate someone who really knows what he’s talking about.

Press laid the groundwork in his column today, taking on Beck’s notion of liberation theology. The entire column goes into the origins of liberation theology, but this section sums it up well:

Just read the Gospels, Matthew 25, where Jesus tells his followers how God will separate the sheep from the goats on Judgment Day. “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. … I needed clothes, and you clothed me.” When did we do all that, they asked? And, in response, these defining words: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

According to liberation theology, in other words, Christianity is not about whether you believe in this doctrine or that. It’s whether you imitate Jesus in helping “liberate” the poor from social, economic, and political hardship. That’s not a perversion of the Gospel. It IS the Gospel.

One could argue that, to the beneficiary of an uneven playing field, it’s easy to see how social justice can look like “Marxism,” just as where the mouse sees salvation, the hawk sees starvation. This is the peril of having anyone’s spiritual beliefs defined by outsiders.

Press goes on to cite his theological bona fides, before doubling down on his previous shot at Beck’s Mormonism:

…after high school, I joined the seminary. I studied 10 years for the Catholic priesthood as a member of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. I taught high school religion. And, as part of my training, I received a degree in theology from the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, where I studied Scripture in Latin and Greek. So, yes, I know the Gospels.

As a Christian, however, I would never dare tell a Jew how to practice Judaism, nor a Muslim how to practice Islam. And I repeat: We don’t need a Mormon, especially one named Glenn Beck, to teach Christians what the Gospel is all about.

For the record, I’m no theological expert, but I don’t see how Bill Press has any more right to question Beck’s Christianity than Beck has to question Obama’s. Conversely, it’s unclear how Beck can object to Press’ statement, while continuing to question the authenticity of the President’s faith.

Just as Beck seeks to understand liberation theology, he and Press could help to dispel misconceptions about Beck’s faith. Everyone has the right to believe as they see fit, but in a civilized society, they also deserve to define their own beliefs, rather than have them defined by outsiders. That’s true for Glenn Beck, for Bill Press, and for Barack Obama.

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