The Common Good

Glenn Beck on Martin Luther King and Gandhi

100325-glenn-beck-mlkGiven Glenn Beck's threat that "the hammer is coming," I have been keeping my eyes and ears open to see and hear what attacks he might next make on us or the growing movement of Christians who share with us the call to faith-based social justice. Well, imagine my delight when I heard Glenn offer words of praise on his show last night for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi! For people like me, who first felt drawn to the struggle for social justice over the sins of racism, Dr. King remains more than a mentor. He was deeply committed to the transformation (one of Glenn Beck's bad words) of unjust societal structures, recognizing that love also marches for justice. For Dr. King, as for me, engaging the struggle for social justice was not something we add to the gospel of Jesus, but rather is integral to what it means to follow Christ.

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I was heartened to hear Beck affirm the nonviolence of King, but I would also like to remind him of King's tireless commitment to social justice. Dr. King was the archetypal "social justice Christian," and the one from whom most of the rest of us have drawn inspiration. So then, what's so wrong with "social justice Christians?" King inspired me to build movements for change, not to build big and tyrannical governments as Beck has been charging us as wanting to do. King clearly called for more than private charity: he called for the changing of structures and yes, for using the "government" to end racial segregation and establish voting rights for our African-American citizens. And it was King acting in what he believed to be obedience to God, not a preference for totalitarian governments, that led to remarkable achievements of helping to realize a more just society.

But Beck should remember that the primary attack on Dr. King in the fifties and sixties was that he was a "Marxist" and a "Communist." Billboards throughout the South depicted King at a "communist training camp," which, of course, wasn't true. So Glenn, you should be much more careful whom you label as communist, Marxist, or socialist -- or whom you accuse of using the term "progressive" as just a clever guise for hiding totalitarian communist intentions. Dr. King was the leading "progressive" in our nation's history, and a progressive Christian at that. So thank you for lifting him up as a model, but be careful whom you call a communist.

Perhaps you should stop throwing all those words around on your show every night, against whomever you disagree with, even the president. Wouldn't it be better to actually look at what people really think and say (not the doctored and edited clips you keep using)? And by the way, my offer of a civil and respectful conversation with you on the meaning of social justice still stands.

Beck went on to praise the work of Gandhi, another of my heroes. It was Dr. King who once said that the gospel of Jesus gave him the motivation for his work, and Gandhi who gave him the method -- nonviolent resistance. For my whole ministry, I have shared with King and Gandhi that dual commitment -- both to resist unjust social structures and to use nonviolence as the means of change. When I was a young activist in the 1960s -- the people and the period that Beck criticized tonight -- I was a disciple of King and strongly opposed the violence of those in groups like the Weather Underground. By the way Glenn, I was never a member of SDS (Students for Democratic Society -- another Fox research fact that should have been checked!), but I did indeed march for civil rights and against the war in Vietnam -- just as King did.

So I offer a hearty amen to Beck's praise for these two giants of social justice. In fact, I can go a step further. Glenn encouraged his listeners to refrain from the use of violence, no matter how high their frustrations may get. I second that. To all on both sides of contentious issues, let us never be so bereft of ideas, creativity, courage, and civility (remember that word that both King and Gandhi always demonstrated), and never resort to violence in the attempt to make our points. And given that violent threats against members of Congress who voted for the health-care bill are now being reported, that message of nonviolence and civility couldn't be more timely.

portrait-jim-wallisJim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy, CEO of Sojourners and blogs at www.godspolitics.com.

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