The Common Good

On Faith on Glenn Beck, and a Video PSA for Social Justice Christians

100419-video-social-justice-christianLast week, The Washington Post's On Faith site devoted their weekly Q&A to the debate over social justice which they titled, "Wallis vs. Beck: The politics of social justice." Jim offered his thoughts on the question last week, and did a video interview as well, but we thought it would be good to highlight some of the responses from across the spectrum. Here are some samplings.

Stu Burguiere, executive producer of The Glenn Beck Program:

Like everyone else in America, Glenn Beck thinks "social justice" --if it's defined as charitable outreach to the poor--is a good idea. He supports it, he believes in it, he does it.

So, what's the problem? I mean, "social justice" seems like such an innocuous phrase, right? It paints a picture of fairness. I guess that's why Father Charles Coughlin used it when naming his National Union for Social Justice and his publication Social Justice Weekly. Coughlin was an anti-Semitic religious broadcaster in the 1930s, and he used the banner of social justice to attack capitalism, warn of Jewish plots against "Christian civilization", and to promote his adoration for Italian Fascist Benito Mussolini.

Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Trustee at Payne Theological Seminary:

Wise guys seem to get the most play in print and broadcast media. Wise guys are the ones who sling words around with unbalanced fierceness instead of using reasoned conviction. Wise guys are those who are more interested in the victory of their opinions rather than the victory of truth. ...

Wise people tend to blend the right amount of knowledge and experience that appeal to our higher nature. Wise people strive to bring people together rather than drive people apart. They move into the midst of strife bringing peace to disorder. Wise people know the difference between confidence and arrogance while handling the truth as they know and believe it to be, and with humility in what they do not know. Wise people don't sell as well. Wise people don't always get print space or air time.

Al Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:

To assert that a call for social justice is reason for faithful Christians to flee their churches is nonsense, given the Bible's overwhelming affirmation that justice is one of God's own foremost concerns.

But, there is more going on here. Glenn Beck's statements lacked nuance, fair consideration, and context. It was reckless to use a national media platform to rail against social justice in such a manner, leaving Beck with little defense against a tidal wave of biblical mandates.

A closer look at his statements reveals a political context. He made a specific reference to Rev. Jeremiah Wright and to other priests or preachers who would use "social justice" and "economic justice" as "code words." Is there anything to this?

Of course there is. Regrettably, there is no shortage of preachers who have traded the Gospel for a platform of political and economic change, most often packaged as a call for social justice. ...

There is more to that story, however. The church is not to adopt a social reform platform as its message, but the faithful church, wherever it is found, is itself a social reform movement precisely because it is populated by redeemed sinners who are called to faithfulness in following Christ. The Gospel is not a message of social salvation, but it does have social implications.

Faithful Christians can debate the proper and most effective means of organizing the political structure and the economic markets. Bringing all these things into submission to Christ is no easy task, and the Gospel must not be tied to any political system, regime, or platform. Justice is our concern because it is God's concern, but it is no easy task to know how best to seek justice in this fallen world.

Professor Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite of Chicago Theological Seminary:

While I deeply appreciate the reasoned approach of Al Mohler, as opposed to Glenn Beck's ranting, I have to disagree with Mohler's separation of the Gospel from the primacy of the care of the poor. Mohler claims "The apostles launched no social reform movement. Instead, they preached the Gospel of Christ and planted Gospel churches. Our task is to follow Christ's command and the example of the apostles."

According to the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament, however, to follow the example of the apostles means everybody pool their money and take care of the poor. And the reason the early church did this, the text gives us to understand, is because it was central to their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. It was the way the believers showed the grace given them through their belief. There is no separation in Acts between living in the joy of the resurrection and sharing what you have. It's the same thing. Now that's not exactly socialism, but it is exactly the Gospel. What Christians have failed to do is to keep these parts of the Gospel message together. ...

Columnist and Fox News commentator Cal Thomas:

Conservatives present a half-empty gospel when they share their faith, but do not perform good works in order to demonstrate their faith is real. Liberals are equally in error when they present a half-empty gospel of calling upon government to do more, but failing to share the gospel of God's love in Jesus Christ.

Pastor Susan K. Smith of Advent United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio:

One of my members said to me one day that God meant for some people to be poor. She had been a member of a church where the prosperity gospel was preached, and truly believed that God sanctioned not only that some people be poor, but that they stay poor.

OK, but even if that was the case (which I don't believe), would this same God want those who could help the poor to look the other way, to shove mercy offerings at them while allowing corrupt political systems which are designed to keep separation between wealth and poverty ...to go unchallenged?

Martin Marty, author and professor emeritus of the University of Chicago:

Would all the Christians and the churches which accept any benefits of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, tax exemption and other such programs cut them off tomorrow? They all involve the government and all were backed by "social and economics minded" leaders and followers in churches, often against the odds raised and symbolized by the Glenn Becks of their past. ...

Biblical verses wisely do remind readers, "Put not your trust in princes." That usually means governments; "princes" in the media, banking, punditry, universities, and, yes, churches demand scrutiny, and their programs deserve careful evaluation, as well. But those who say that you have taken care of biblical injunctions if you simply keep government out of everything face biblical reminders with which they have to contend: The Hebrew prophets all dealt with "nations," and the apostle Paul, writing to people suffering under Nero, also said that civil "authority...is God's servant for your good (Romans 13:4). Paul even goes so far in 13:6 to urge believers to "pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants." Come on, Paul, don't press your luck in Beck's world!

Sharon Brous, founding rabbi of IKAR, a Jewish Spiritual Community in Los Angeles:

I'd like to start by thanking Glenn Beck for mobilizing the faith-based social justice movement. His incendiary rant, coupled with his cruel personal attacks and threats against Rev. Jim Wallis ("the hammer is coming... and when the hammer comes, it's gonna be hammering hard ..."), has united and galvanized Jews, Christians and Muslims around the country who see justice as an essential element of religious life and are unwilling to passively accept its mockery and denigration. (See www.socialjusticechristian.com and HaikuGlennBeck.com two great examples.)

Speaking of www.socialjusticechristian.com, here's their public service announcement, featuring "social justice Christians" from all walks of life:

And finally, to sign Sojourners' petition to tell Glenn Beck that you're a "social justice Christian," click here.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler is the Web Editor for Sojourners and a photographer whose work can be seen at www.ryarodrickbeiler.com.

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