The Common Good

We Won't Back Down from Beck

Ah, the evils of "social justice"! Until recently, I bet most of you didn't realize how dangerous that concept is, and we have Glenn Beck to thank for bringing it to our attention -- again, and again, and again. Last Friday, Beck used his radio show to once again promote his alarmist views of social justice advocates, including this warning about Sojourners' Jim Wallis:

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But when I say something like that, because there is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Tea Party and small government people, that immediately goes into church and state. Well, the church and state, you can't have the evil church because those evil Christians are going to gobble up the state and then the next thing you know you're going to have to have communion, you know, five days [a] week, otherwise you'll go to jail. And I don't know what they think is going to happen.

But that might happen if it was a progressive that was telling you these things. That's why Jim Wallis is so dangerous. All the preachers that surround the president, they are progressives and they are big government progressives. When you combine church and state, and you take a -- you take a big government and you combine it with the church, to get people to do the things that the state wants you to do, it always ends in mass death. (Click here to read the whole transcript.)

I'm guessing he feels he has to be so vocal in his criticism because, well, so many of us have been "taken in." I mean, since Beck started his attack on social justice last spring, we've heard from so many of you and so many religious leaders affirming the centrality of social justice to biblical teaching.

In a recent post, I noted that the largest Christian group in the world -- the Catholic Church -- is so committed to social justice that they have a specific body of material on social teaching. Why, Beck's own church, the Mormon church, has contacted us to let us know that Beck's "teaching" on social justice does not align with theirs. But Beck doesn't let any of that stop his comparisons of the struggle for social justice to Hitler's Germany.

According to Beck, there is only one brand of economic system that meets biblical teaching -- the kind that arises from unrestrained laissez-faire capitalism. Well, we tried that once here in the United States back in the latter part of the 19th and early 20th centuries. What did we get? Pretty much unrestrained pursuit of profits -- unrestrained to the point that there were no safe work place laws, no minimum wage, no 40-hour work week, no required overtime and holiday pay, no child labor laws, no product safety regulations, etc., etc. There was no balance of public and private power and the result was highly exploitative labor and trade tactics. There was, in short, no enforcement of social justice.

Do we really want to go back there? If you think the vision that Beck presents is good for the common person -- if you think that form of economy effectively promotes the common good, then you should do some research into the 1900s.

Or, we could sit idly by while the ideology Beck supports takes over, and we can experience first-hand a world in which the concern for social justice is purged from our economic paradigm. I'm thinking most of us common folk are not going to like it so well, though I am sure the economic elite, like Beck, will be quite happy with it.

That list of injustices that workers had to endure during the earlier period of inattention to social justice? Well, it was those "evil" progressives who stood up and insisted that work conditions had to be changed, had to be renegotiated to make sure that the playing field was at least fair, and that there was a balance of public and private power. The holders of private power howled in complaint, just as Beck is complaining now. However, the brave prophets of social justice did not let the fact that the other side had more money and power prevent them from speaking out and from changing the rules.

They did not let the opponents dissuade them from their sense of calling and their belief that the work they were doing was simply to take seriously the idea that we are not to twist scripture to be a support to our own self interest, but rather that we are to twist our own self interest until it aligns with God's intentions. They did not back down then, and I expect we will not now, regardless of how often the other side deploys its trite and hackneyed comparisons to Hitler.

Chuck Gutenson is the chief operating officer for Sojourners.

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