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How Mormonism Created Glenn Beck

With Glenn Beck now a mainstay in the national debate, the public is getting exposure to a peculiar strain of religious political conservatism rooted in Mormon culture.

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It’s true that his Mormonism sometimes gets Beck into trouble with evangelical Christians, who have long antagonized Mormons by denying the authenticity of their belief in Jesus Christ and deriding the Mormon Church as a cult. Last December, James Dobson’s Focus on the Family Web site pulled a Beck  column, citing concerns about his Mormon ties. Still, Beck’s spectacular rise suggests that evangelical conservatives (especially those under 40 who may not remember the anti-Mormon cult crusades of the 1980s) are increasingly willing to set aside their reservations about Mormons when it suits their pragmatic and political interests.

Glenn Beck marks an unprecedented national mainstreaming of a peculiar strand of religious political conservatism rooted in, and once isolated to, the Mormon culture regions of the American West. That Mormons are capable of leveraging disproportionate political influence with decisive results was one of the great lessons of California’s 2008 election season, wherein  readily-mobilized Mormons, who make up 2% of California’s population, contributed more than 50% of the individual donations to the successful anti-marriage equality Proposition 8 campaign, and a sizeable majority of its on-the-ground efforts.

How much traction Glenn Beck can muster remains to be seen. But if the American religious right has sometimes been imagined as a monolithic product of the evangelical Deep South and Bible Belt, the rise of Glenn Beck suggests that those who would understand American conservatism might also look West, toward Salt Lake City.

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