What Glenn Beck Doesn't Understand About Biblical Social Justice

By Jim Wallis 3-24-2010

100324-glenn-beck-social-justiceWhen Glenn Beck promised to devote a whole week of his television show to come after me, I wasn't sure he really meant it. I guess he did. Last night he began to make good on the threat he made on his radio show that "the hammer will fall."

I confess to having never really watched Glenn Beck's show before being told that he equated the term "social justice, highly respected in the Christian world and embedded in all of our traditions," with Communism, Marxism, Nazism, and a completely totalitarian view of government. He said "social justice" is a "perversion of the gospel" and told Christians to leave their churches if they heard that term used by their pastors or even found it on the Web site! Whew.

I responded on my blog that instead of leaving all our churches, maybe we should just stop watching his show and the insults against a teaching at the core of the gospel and integral to biblical faith, and I suggested that instead of turning pastors and priests in to "church authorities," we turn ourselves in to Glenn Beck (since our church authorities also regard social justice as core to their faith). Well, he apparently got angry and promised that the hammer would "pound over and over through the night" on "your cute little organization and the cute little people who work for you." Some of them are indeed very cute, but they felt a little uneasy about the context of the compliment.

But tonight's first installment of the hammer proved that Beck isn't just angry or merely misguided; he really does completely misunderstand the Christian teaching of social justice and is indeed insulting us.

I was glad he gave us his definition of "social justice" and put it up right on his famous blackboard. "My definition of social justice," he wrote in chalk, is "the forced redistribution of wealth, with a hostility to individual property, under the guise of charity and/or justice." Well, somebody needs to tell Mr. Beck that virtually no church in America, or the world, would support anything close to that as a definition of social justice. Beck needs to hear some good church teaching -- including from his own Mormon church members who fundamentally disagree with him and have said so.

He did say that caring for the poor was good, and he does it himself, but only in individual ways, and that anything more than that is a slippery slope first to "socialism," then "forced re-distribution of wealth," then full-out "Marxism." It was all in cool diagrams and triangles on his blackboard, which he said just came to him before the show. I can believe that. Again, somebody should take Mr. Beck to a good Catholic Education Congress, like the one I spoke at last weekend in Los Angeles, where 25,000 Christians talked excitedly about the vital relationship between personal and social responsibility.

Then he nailed me. He accused me of saying that faith-based initiatives and their resources were inadequate to reduce poverty by themselves. Guilty as charged. The quote was likely in the context of calling Christians to take such actions and lead by example (something I have preached and tried to practice for almost four decades) but that we will be most effective when we also work in partnership with other sectors: the private market, the rest of civil society, and even the GOVERNMENT! Would somebody please tell Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army that they are really supporting Marxism if they partner with the public sector?

Then Beck played a tape which exposed me saying that "redistribution" (the word in the English language that most seems to scare him) was part of the gospel message. He could have mentioned the gospel stories of the Rich Young Ruler, of Lazarus and the Rich Man, or the stern warnings of Jesus in Matthew 25 that we will be judged by "our treatment of the least of these." But he didn't. He did make a brief reference to Christ's teaching that it would be harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle; but he didn't seem to get it.

Instead Beck said that what I meant was

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