You might not have guessed that a Mormon and a Seventh-day Adventist could be so similar, but radio and television personality Glenn Beck and pastor-evangelist Doug Batchelor could almost have been twins separated at birth.
Beck grew up in a troubled home. His parents divorced when he was thirteen years old. By the time he was eighteen, Beck had taken to alcohol use to escape his painful circumstances. He would go on to use drugs regularly, and was later treated for alcoholism. He reports having felt suicidal throughout his growing up years. Beck describes his former self as a "hard-drinking, hard-living, hard-talking man." Then he converted.
Likewise, Batchelor's parents' marriage failed when he was young. He also resorted to substance abuse and says that he had thoughts of suicide from the time he was seven years old. Batchelor was a homeless drug-using caveman. Then he converted.
For both men, life followed a downward trajectory of destructive behaviors until both experienced dramatic, life-changing religious conversions. Both Beck and Batchelor went on "church tours," searching for a congregation that worked for them. In both cases, they ended up attending and joining churches because of personal invitations from friends.
Neither Beck nor Batchelor finished college, but both went on to very successful careers that involve public speaking, specifically in broadcast media. Glenn Beck's syndicated radio program reaches millions of listeners nationwide, and Fox News's Glenn Beck show has an equally large audience. Batchelor's Bible Answers Live radio program is also carried by numerous radio stations, and his Amazing Facts program recently launched its own satellite television channel. Both men use their popularity to promote conservative causes, and both have sparked controversy with somewhat flippant remarks about women while speaking publicly (Beck by saying "[I]f you're an ugly woman, you're probably a progressive as well," and Batchelor by famously suggesting in a sermon that feminists are angry lesbians that want to be men).
Additionally, while neither one completed higher education, both have created their own educational institutes: Beck University and the Amazing Facts Center of Evangelism, respectively.
One could go on about the similarities: both men now belong to conservative, mid-nineteenth century denominations with strong eschatological consciousnesses birthed by charismatic visionaries, and both were deeply influenced by conspiratorial, apocalyptic thinkers. Both have made sales of their conversion stories; Beck's DVD "An Unlikely Mormon: The Conversion Story of Glenn Beck" is available here, and Doug Batchelor's "The Richest Caveman" is here.
Of the many remarkable convergences of the two men's stories, perhaps the most intriguing is what I'm calling the Damascus Syndrome--the dramatic shift from "wild," destructive living apart from religion to impassioned adherence to religious (and political) conservatism, manifest in promotion of "traditional values" through media. This pendulum swing conversion is a phenomenon repeated surprisingly often in Adventism, whose rapid growth today is primarily in developing nations and among adult converts to the faith.
The "living in the world" to prominent moral leader narrative applies to a number of Adventists.
David Asscherick is a self-described former punk rocker and extreme sports enthusiast who converted to Adventism, became a pastor without completing college, started the ARISE Institute, and reaches wide audiences through speaking engagements and the 3 Angels Broadcasting Network.
[In a subsequent email exchange, Asscherick points out that unlike Batchelor or Beck, there was "no substance-driven escapism, no "hard-drinking, hard-living, hard-talking" ...no consistent 'suicidal' tendencies, no 'downward trajectory of destructive behaviors,' no homelessness..."]
Louis Torres played with several rock 'n' roll bands including the Vampires and Bill Haley and the Comets. After converting to Adventism, he quit music, became a pastor (with no mention in public records of having attended college), and founded the Mission College of Evangelism.
One might also mention prominent Adventist evangelists like Steve Wohlberg of White Horse Media, Walter Veith of Amazing Discoveries (also on satellite TV) and countless others (even Clifford Goldstein). In every case, some variation of the Damascus Syndrome applies.
This anecdotal evidence suggests a strong correlation between "wild" living, conversion, and zealous promotion of a distinctly conservative religious ideology, which is truly an amazing fact.
Other noteworthy evangelistically-minded Adventist converts include Shawn Boonstra, Ty Gibson, Kenneth Cox and Brian Neumann.