How Glenn Beck Became a Mormon
Glenn Beck is arguably one of the most influential Mormons in the media today. Broadcast on more than 400 stations, his nationally syndicated radio talk show is the third most popular in the US, and his afternoon television show on TheBlaze internet TV network has millions of viewers tuning in to hear what he has to say.
photo courtesy of Glenn Beck
Millions of people tune in to hear to his insightful, amusing, and sometimes controversial comments on politics, current events, and pop culture. But before Glenn joined the Church in 1999, his career and his personal life were in ruins. Fighting his way back from despair and self-destruction, he has found a new love, a new career path, and the lasting peace of the gospel.
A self-proclaimed conservative, Glenn Beck refuses to label himself as a Republican or a Democrat. On his radio and television shows, he ruffles feathers on a regular basis with his quick wit, sarcasm, and passionate opinions on issues ranging from illegal immigration to global warming to the war in Iraq. But when it comes to talking about the gospel and sharing his conversion story, Glenn is humble, soft-spoken, and emotional. His life has had more ups and downs than a rollercoaster ride, but Glenn is now firmly on the right path. Here's how he got there.
Glenn's dream of working in radio began at the tender age of eight. His mother had given him the album The Golden Years of Radio, and he became mesmerized by shows like "The Shadow" and "War of the Worlds." He grew up in Washington State and got his first job at a Seattle radio station when he was just thirteen years old. Soon he was working for three radio stations at the same time. His unique accomplishments, however, were overshadowed by his mother's suicide later that year.
Eventually, Glenn was fired from all three jobs--on the same day--but he quickly found himself back on the airwaves. By the time he graduated high school, Glenn was programming and doing the morning show at a local radio station.
The Mormon Factor
When Glenn was eighteen, he transferred to Salt Lake City. He shared an apartment with a returned missionary in nearby Provo, but he was not open to hearing the gospel, and his powerful personality had a negative influence on his roommate. "I was turning him to the dark side," Glenn said.
He transferred to radio station WPGC in Washington, D.C., six months later, where the newsman at the station was also LDS. Glenn began to build a friendship with him, but then fell in with a bad crowd and was fired. After months of searching for employment, Glenn found a job in Corpus Christi, Texas, as the program director and morning guy on a small radio station. He was in charge, except for one person above him. His new boss was also a member of the Church.
Glenn worked at the station for two years. Then, after moving around from city to city, he ended up in Baltimore. He was preparing to do a show with a writer/producer in New York City, but at the last minute things fell through and Glenn was on his own. With only five days before show time, Glenn frantically searched for a new partner. Finally, somebody said they knew the perfect guy. His name was Pat Gray--and yes, he was LDS. They liked each other the instant they met and have been best friends for nearly twenty years.
During the time Pat and Glenn were getting to know each other, Glenn describes himself as "a despicable human being." "I hated people because I hated myself," he says. "I once fired a guy for bringing me the wrong type of pen." For years, Glenn struggled to find meaning in his life and battled thoughts of suicide, so he depended on drugs and alcohol for an escape.
Because Glenn was miserable, he secretly wished that Pat would fail to live up to his standards--just as he had wished his previous LDS acquaintances would fail. In Glenn's mind, if they couldn't live their religion, then there was nothing wrong with him. But if they could, that meant he would have to take a look at himself, and that was something he didn't want to do. Pat knew his friend was searching for answers, but whenever he offered any, Glenn refused to listen.
At thirty years old, Glenn's drug and alcohol addiction spiraled out of control, and he lost everything--his wife, his job, his money, and any sense of who he was. With the help of Alcoholics Anonymous, he got sober and began a search for God and the meaning of life. He enrolled at Yale University to study theology, but he only lasted one semester, finding more questions than answers.
Then he met and fell in love with Tania, the woman who would become his second wife. "She wouldn't marry me unless we found a religion," Glenn recalls. He firmly believed that religion was only about money and power, but Tania insisted and he agreed. So began the search.
The Beck Family Church Tour
Glenn, Tania, and his two daughters from his previous marriage began attending every kind of church they could find. When Pat found out about their church tour, he insisted that they give The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a try.
"Mary [Glenn's oldest daughter, who has cerebral palsy] was the first one to feel the Spirit," said Glenn. "As we were walking out of the chapel, there was a Dunkin Donuts coffee calling my name. The girls didn't like the church tour at all, but Mary asked, 'Can we go back there?' It stopped us dead in our tracks. She said, 'I just feel so warm inside.'" Glenn agreed to keep going until someone said something that made him mad, which he thought was sure to happen.
No Stone Unturned
But it didn't happen, and soon Glenn was seriously investigating the Church. "There were bodies of missionaries at my front door," he laughs. "I think for seven months they were coming. The second, maybe the third discussion that we had, they turned white because I walked in with Mormon Doctrine. I had been reading it like a novel, and I was making notes because I wasn't going to join something I didn't firmly believe in. I really had turned over the stones and had really looked."
Then came the moment Glenn knew he was going to become a member. "I was sitting in Priesthood, and a guy who I had dubbed 'The Amazing Mr. Plastic Man'--because he was the happiest guy on the planet--was teaching the concept of Zion. It wasn't a concept that I had really seriously considered before. He asked, 'How can it happen?' Tears started to roll down his cheeks and he said, 'It can only happen if I truly love you and you love me.'"
Wiping tears from his eyes, Glenn continues his story saying, "During that Priesthood lesson I realized I was at a crossroads. There was no reason why I shouldn't join the Church, other than I didn't want to be a Mormon. And I thought, 'Are you really going to let coffee, swearing, rated-R movies, and all that stop you?'"
Pat baptized Glenn on October 23, 1999--an experience that would be extremely emotional for them both. "It was the longest baptism ever," Glenn recalls with tears streaming down his face. "We were standing in the water and he couldn't get the words out. He had watched me struggle for so long. He'd waited for so long. And I couldn't stop crying. I had seen just a glimpse of the power of the Lord and His promises if you walk in His footsteps. I thought, 'If I do this, He'll carry my load.' I couldn't wait for that to happen."
By joining the Church, Glenn finally found meaning in his life and a new outlook. "The great thing about the gospel is that we know the end of the story," he says. "That's why I've changed. I still have high levels of stress, but not like before. As long as I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, to the best of my ability, striving diligently to follow the Lord's footsteps, I can lose my job. The money, the house, it's a total byproduct. It's an extra little perk, where ten years ago it would have been all about that. My perspective has totally changed."
For two years prior to his baptism, Glenn had desperately searched for an agent to represent him, but to no avail. "I had destroyed my career," he explains. "Then, the day after I was baptized, the phone rang and it was the number-one agent in New York. He said, 'I hear you're looking for someone to represent you. You've got a lot of baggage, but I hear you're trying to change. I need to do some homework and I'll call you back.'"
Three days after his baptism, Glenn was offered his first radio talk show at a station in Tampa, Florida. He inherited eighteenth place in the ratings, but within a year, Glenn had given the radio station its first number-one program. His show was nationally syndicated in 2002, and is now heard on more than 400 stations. In May 2006, Glenn's television show debuted on CNN. In 2009, he moved to Fox News, and in 2011, he moved his program to TheBlaze network,which he created.
A Mormon in the Media
With his new radio talk show, Glenn hesitated to share his religion with his listeners. "For the first two years, I didn't say that I was a member of the Church," confesses Glenn. "Then somebody challenged me on the air and said, 'You're a Mormon and you won't even admit it.' But it was for the exact opposite reason that people might think. It wasn't because I was ashamed. It was because I didn't want anyone to look at me and say, 'Well he's a Mormon, so all Mormons must be like that.'"
He explains, "I struggle every day. I struggle not to fall back into old patterns. I struggle with my language. I don't want people to think I'm an example." And because he struggles, Glenn says he closely watches the men in his ward and tries to emulate them. "I am so blessed to be going to the ward I am. I am surrounded by remarkable men who are not only successful in business, they are spiritual giants."
Work and Family
Another matter Glenn struggles with is finding the strength to get through each work week. His job is extremely demanding to say the least, and he is the first to admit that it takes a toll on him. "It's like a cliff I have to scale every Monday morning and then keep going for five days," he says. Once at the studio, he spends two hours planning content for both his radio and television shows before his three-hour radio program begins.
With such a hectic schedule, Glenn and Tania are both protective of their family's time together. "My wife insists that we don't live in the city, and it's turned out to be the best thing. I have to leave the office at a certain time if I want to be home for dinner," says Glenn. "I can't leave a minute later."
Once he's home for the evening, Glenn says work is off limits. "My home is a compound. I tell people that they have all day with me, so don't call me at home." And the weekends are no exception. "I do nothing on the weekends work related--and absolutely not on Sunday. If it weren't for the Sabbath, I'd be dead. I couldn't do it because one day would just run into the next, and it would never stop. My family time is sacred."
Because of Glenn's tumultuous past and his life in the spotlight, he says he wrestles with how to teach his four children not to repeat his mistakes. "There's no way I can't be honest with my kids. My life is an open book. Suicide runs in my family. Alcoholism runs in my family. Luckily, the older ones have been able to see my problems and to see the difference in me." He continues, "Mistakes are a part of life. I want to teach my kids that it's how you recover from them that's important."
Despite his work and family obligations, Glenn believes his wife has the more difficult task of nurturing and caring for their children. "My job is laden with booby traps, but I told my wife that she has the harder job," he says. "She has the greatest blessings, but whenever there are great blessings, it's because you have massive responsibilities. The country doesn't understand that. They think it's demeaning to women if we have a traditional family, but there are massive responsibilities with motherhood."
Principles and Politics
Glenn talks about politics on his radio and television shows every day. That combined with the fact that he's a member of the Church in a high-profile career has people anxiously waiting to see which of the 2008 presidential candidates he will support. But he says it's a mistake for people to assume that just because he's a Mormon, he will vote for a Mormon candidate.
"Honestly, I haven't made up my mind yet," he says. "My sister recently made the comment, 'I suppose you're voting for Mitt Romney because he's a Mormon.' I said, 'So is Harry Reid, but I don't agree with him. And Harry Reid and Orrin Hatch don't agree. As members of the Church, we agree on principles, not necessarily on policies."
He continues, "It's up to us as individuals to stand for universal principles. As a country, we're intentionally being separated left and right, and it will continue to happen unless we start expecting the good from each other."