Glenn Beck picked a fight with the nation’s churches when he said that “social justice” is a “code word” for “communism” and “Nazism,” and that Christians should leave their churches if they preach, practice, or even have the phrase “social justice” on their Web sites. Contrary to Beck’s claim that “social justice is a perversion of the gospel,” he has now learned that Christians across the theological and political spectrum believe that social justice is central to the teachings of Jesus, and at the heart of biblical faith. Because Christians couldn’t “turn in” their pastors to “church authorities” as Beck suggested (the pope would have to turn himself in to ... himself), many have started turning themselves in to Glenn Beck as “social justice Christians”—50,000 at last count.
The news networks, the cable and radio talk shows, and even Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have reported or spoofed Beck’s attempt to discredit the whole concept of social justice, but all that seems to just make him angrier. What he doesn’t realize is that a commitment to social justice unites churches of different doctrinal and political beliefs; if Christians were to leave those churches, they would have to leave their Catholic churches, black churches, Latino churches, evangelical and Pentecostal churches, and mainline Protestant churches. Beck’s own Mormon Church’s theologians and leaders have made it clear that they too believe social justice is integral to their faith, and that they disagree with the famous talk show host and want it known that he doesn’t speak for them.
Most would agree that the term has sometimes been used to support ideologies of the Left and the Right, but a range of people from liberal ministers to Southern Baptist theologians have defended the integrity of social justice as core to Christian faith and have disagreed with Beck’s attack. In fact denominational leaders are reporting that their pastors are actually preaching more on social justice than before, just because Beck told them not to. Social justice as a personal commitment both to serve the poor and to attack the conditions that lead to poverty is one of the most passionate beliefs of a younger generation of Christians, and one of their most compelling attractions to Jesus Christ.
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