Last week, Glenn Beck said something stupid.
I tried to find the transcript of his March 2, 2010, show on his website, but I couldn’t. So, here’s the relevant quote, thanks to the good folks at GetReligion:
I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church website. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes! …
If you have a priest that is pushing social justice, go find another parish. Go alert your bishop and tell them, “Excuse me are you down with this whole social justice thing?” If it’s my church, I’m alerting the church authorities: “Excuse me, what’s this social justice thing?” And if they say, “yeah, we’re all in that social justice thing”—I’m in the wrong place.
Over at the New York Times, Laurie Goodstein reported on the brouhaha over Beck’s words among Christians. Headline: “Outraged by Glenn Beck’s Salvo, Christians Fire Back.” As evidence of Christian outrage, Goodstein cited one evangelical, Jim Wallis, and one Mormon, Philip Barlow. I guess in the hallowed halls of the Times, a liberal evangelical and a Mormon professor constitute widespread Christian outrage.
Over at First Things, Joe Carter wrote:
I think if anyone else had made the remark it would have been hard to dismiss the anti-Catholic undertones. But Beck is a special case: He is too prone to say any dumb thing that pops into his head and too ignorant about history and religion to truly understand the implications of his statement. This doesn’t excuse him, of course, but it certainly is reason not to be too shocked when a self-professed “rodeo clown” advises people to leave their churches over Catholic “code words” like social justice.
In other words, if Beck were a tad smarter, he’d be an anti-Catholic bigot. I suppose this is what passes for a hermeneutics of charity over at First Things these days.
At Theophiliacs, my friend Shawn Wamsley’s day went straight to heck when he heard Jim Wallis talk about the controversy. I know the feeling, Shawn. It happens to me every time I listen to Jim Wallis talk too.
Speaking of Jim Wallis, he wrote the following response to Beck on his blog:
Glenn Beck says Christians should leave churches that use the word “social justice.” He says social justice is a code word for communism and Nazism.
But since the Catholic Church, the Black Churches, the Mainline Protestant churches, and more and more Evangelical and Pentecostal churches including Hispanic and Asian-American congregations all consider social justice central to biblical faith, Glenn Beck is telling all those Christians to leave their churches. Of course, Christians may disagree about what social justice means in our current political context — and that conversation is an important one — but the Bible is clear: from the Mosaic law of Jubilee, to the Hebrew prophets, to Jesus Christ, social justice is an integral part of God’s plan for humanity.
Beck says Christians should leave their social justice churches, so I say Christians should leave Glenn Beck. I don’t know if Beck is just strange, just trying to be controversial, or just trying to make money. But in any case, what he has said attacks the very heart of our Christian faith, and Christians should no longer watch his show. His show should now be in the same category as Howard Stern. Stern practices pornography and Beck denies the central teachings of Jesus and the Bible. So Christians should stop watching the Glenn Beck show and pray for him and Howard Stern.
Wallis even came up with a clever write-in campaign:
Dear Mr. Beck,
I’m a Christian who believes in the biblical call to social justice.
I stand in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets and the teachings of Jesus that demonstrate God’s will for justice in every aspect of our individual, social, and economic lives.
I hereby “report” myself to you, and promise to report myself to the appropriate church authorities. I hope you’ll be hearing from them as well.
Here’s my take on this controversy:
First, who cares! Glenn Beck is a Mormon. I would no more take advice from him on what Christians should believe, or which churches they should attend, than I would from that notorious atheist Christopher Hitchens.
Second, Beck’s definition of social justice is unbelievably narrow and intellectually cramped. Essentially, he interprets social justice as Communism or Nazism. On his television show, he held up the Hammer & Sickle alongside the Swastika and said both flew under the banner of “social justice.” Even if Commies and Nazis talked about “social justice,” that doesn’t mean social justice is a Communist or Nazi concept. What Beck fails to do is to give fair treatment to how Catholic and evangelical Christians use the phrase social justice. Hint: They’re not totalitarians, and shame on Beck for suggesting that anyone who talks about social justice is heading down that road!
Even that notoriously left-wing outfit, the Heritage Foundation—just kidding, folks—has a six-part video series: Seek Social Justice. People featured in the series are a veritable who’s who of conservative evangelicals and Catholics. If even they’re using the term…
Which brings me to Jim Wallis. Truth be told, I don’t like Glenn Beck’s politics. I don’t like Wallis’s either. And one of the reasons why is evident in Wallis’s response to Beck.
Go back to the blog post from Wallis I quoted above. Its second sentence says, “He [Beck] says social justice is a code word for communism and Nazism.” In other words, Wallis knew from the git-go that Beck was using a tendentious definition of social justice. Rather than correcting Beck’s tendency, however, he deftly changes the topic, creates a straw man of Beck’s position, then beats up on that for a while. Glenn Beck doesn’t hate poor people. He believes charity is an individual responsibility, not a government wealth-redistribution program. And he believes that government redistribution, if undertaken in the name of the gospel, is a perversion of the gospel.
According to Wallis, “social justice [is] central to biblical faith.” And “social justice is an integral part of God’s plan for humanity.” If you substitute “helping the poor through voluntary charity” for “social justice,” you have an accurate statement of Beck’s position, as far as I can tell. But simply for refusing to use the term “social justice,” Wallis lumps Beck in with Howard Stern, that “pornographer,” and asks everyone to “pray” for Beck.
How to put this delicately? Wallis’s response is intellectually dishonest, not to mention sleazy. With one pious hand folded in prayer, he manages to slanderously stab a guy in the back with his other hand. Beck is as bad as Howard Stern? Really?
I love how Wallis insinuates untoward motives for Beck’s statement: “I don’t know if Beck is just strange, just trying to be controversial, or just trying to make money.” But, of course, Wallis’s motives are pure as the driven snow. He’s not a progressive activist, or anything. He’s not got any books to sell or media appearances to make, or anything untoward like that. (See how easy it is to insinuate ill motives?)
I’ll wrap this puppy up. Glenn Beck, you’re wrong about social justice because you’ve too narrowly defined it and ignored the way Catholics and evangelicals talk about it and put it into practice. Jim Wallis, you’re wrong about Glenn Beck because instead of correcting him where he went wrong, you’ve perpetuated the “dispute about words” he started.
(What do I mean by “dispute about words?” Consider this statement by Wallis: “Of course, Christians may disagree about what social justice means in our current political context — and that conversation is an important one — but the Bible is clear: from the Mosaic law of Jubilee, to the Hebrew prophets, to Jesus Christ, social justice is an integral part of God’s plan for humanity.” In other words, everyone agrees that social justice is important, but no one knows what it means.)
I’m boycotting both of these guys, and I urge you to do the same.