The Common Good

Glenn Beck: Does He Really Matter?

In the course of our various responses and challenges to Glenn Beck, some have questioned why we have bothered. It is a fair question. After all, the critiques of social justice he offers are not particularly new nor are they particularly insightful. In fact, one has yet to hear a sustained argument (you know, with premises, conclusions, and the like), and instead we tend to get innuendo, misdirection, and assertions.

Virtually every strand of Christian faith has social justice of the kind Sojourners defends as a constituent part. Of course, the largest strand of Christian faith in the world, Roman Catholicism, makes social teaching a central component, and more than one pope has weighed in on the importance of both charity and just societal structures that are mindful and protective of what Scripture calls "the least of these." So, with all that, why bother to respond to Beck?

Well, unfortunately, we live in a time when up is being called down and down is being called up; a time when innuendo and misrepresentation are substituted successfully for reasoned discourse; a time when many Americans are deeply frustrated and angry. Under those conditions, fear and frustration often trump our common sense, our ability to discuss our disagreements in a reasonable fashion gets lost, and common sense easily falls by the wayside. Fear and self interest too frequently cause us to abandon the "better angels" of our nature and turn our backs on the "common good." The nature of the times coupled with Sojourners' mission to articulate the biblical call to social justice makes it imperative that we respond even to challenges like those tossed out by Glenn Beck.

We realize, of course, that hard-core Beck fans and hard-core libertarians are not going to change their minds, no matter what we say. Similarly, no amount of blustery assertion on Beck's part is going to change the minds of those who rightly see social justice not as something one adds to the Christian life, but rather see it as part and parcel of what it means to follow the Crucified One. However, as I have discovered over the years, there are many, many Christians who are intuitively committed to social justice, but through no fault of their own, have never heard social justice articulated in a clear, compelling fashion. There are also those who lean toward social justice, but are still in discernment mode. The former badly need an encouraging voice, and the latter badly need reasoned and respectful dialogue. Both are things Sojourners is committed to providing.

It is precisely because of the troubled times in which we find ourselves that one might even give thanks for someone like Glenn Beck and his raising the issues that he has. Why? Because, from his platform and with his audience, we are presented with the opportunity to articulate the biblical call to social justice to a broader audience, to some of those very folk in the last two categories above. His critiques elevate the notion of social justice to a wider audience, and our very calling requires us to take advantage of that and leverage the gospel's call to be about social justice.

It is our hope that reasoned discourse can be the outcome, a fair weighing of the competing views, so that folks might understand better the options and what is at stake. In fact, Jim Wallis continues to offer himself for open debate with Beck on the subject. What a boon it would be to America's theo-political discourse if the two could meet for a spirited debate about their differing views on scripture's vision of a just society!

In spite of -- and perhaps because of -- Beck's challenges, our constituency has grown, more folks have become committed to social justice and for that, we give thanks to God. And for these reasons, we will continue to see responding to challenges to the gospel's call to justice a center piece of our ministry.

Chuck Gutenson is the chief operating officer for Sojourners.

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