Friday, March 12, 2010

The Great Glen Beck ‘Social Justice’ Debate

Glen Beck is an interesting guy.  I have listened to him sporadically over the last several years.  When I first heard him he was a kind of talk show funny man.  He did some very funny political parody and satire.  But he was normally very (very) light on substance.

Something happened to Beck a little over a year ago.  It was clearly linked to the election of Obama and the radical statist group that took over Congress.  It seemed to awaken Beck from his humorous slumbers.

It’s not that he is no longer funny – he is, very much so sometimes.  But he seems to have begun to study political history, some economics, and a few related topics.  Over that last few months it has been intriguing to hear – when I have the opportunity – Beck ‘discover’ all sorts of things that some of us have known for a long time.  He seems so genuinely surprised by his discoveries that it is, in a way, cute.

Beck has discovered things like the following:  the so-called “progressives” of the early 20th century were in fact statists whose ideas were the precursors to modern “liberals” of the “leftist” variety.  He discovered that the great dividing line in political ideas is statism vs. liberty, and that both communists and fascists are on the statist side of that line.

Glen Beck has been doing lots of homework lately, stumbling upon all sorts of things in the process.  Just this week he seems to have discovered that “social justice” as it is usually conceived is neither social nor just.  When callers talked about their churches advocating “social justice” Beck told them that “social justice” is not compatible with Christianity and that good people should abandon “social justice” churches.  (Christianity Today published a nice account of all this.)

This has launched a firestorm of criticism.  As you might expect, Jim Wallis of Sojourners fame was irate, saying:

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.

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.

Glen Beck is a Mormon who thinks Mormonism is a version of Christianity, while Jim Wallis is a statist socialist who thinks socialism is the essence of Christianity.  But on the point of “social justice” being at odds with the Christian faith, the Mormon gets it right, while the statist socialist gets every so wrong.

Peruse the Sojourners website and newsletters, and one thing becomes very clear very quickly:  to Jim Wallis, “social justice” necessarily includes statist coercion.  The link Wallis includes for the “heart of our Christian faith” (above) will take you to an online reference to Luke 4:18-19 where Jesus talks about His mission to “to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”  Where, pray tell, is there any reference here or anywhere else in New Testament urging Christians to lobby the government for ever more statist programs of legalized theft and wealth redistribution?

If “social justice” simply meant Christian charity of material goods, this should not be controversial.  But the “social justice” crown never means that.  In fact, they typically hate the idea of Christian charity.  Christian charity implies individual ownership and gifts by willing individuals to the needy.  “Social justice” people despise that whole idea.  They begin with the Marxist assumption that the mere fact of an uneven distribution of wealth means that the ‘haves’ have exploited the ‘have nots’ to get what they have.

Jim Wallis and his friends never even attempt to hide this assumption, and it is the key assumption through which they filter everything in the Bible to get their theological views.  These views are very theological, but not at all Christian.

These views are not Christian because they are not at all non-violent.  When you first realize this, it is a bit surprising in light of the fact that the “social justice” crowd loves to proclaim their commitment to “non-violence” when it come to things like civil defense and capital punishment.  But when it comes to redistributing wealth, the “social justice” people are ever ready to have the state impose by force their latest scheme of wealth redistribution.  Of course, to redistribute wealth you must first take it from people – something the Bible condemns as theft, a most important form of true injustice.  Historically speaking, state-imposed theft leads to a destruction of economic society.  Thus, “social justice” is neither social nor just.

This is something that Glen Beck understands, but Jim Wallis does not.  The extent to which anti-social injustice views have infiltrated many churches is shameful.  Just browse the websites of most mainline denominations and you will find things like this from the United Church of Christ website:

Churches are already doing a lot to take care of needy people directly through charity work. . . But Christians devote much less effort to influencing what governments do.

God, however, requires both charity and justice, and justice can often be achieved only through the mechanism of government.

Government is not the only or always the best instrument to deal with injustice. But it is one of the institutions created by God part of God's providence for the welfare of people. Because we live in a democracy, a nation with a government "of the people," we have a special privilege and responsibility to use the power of our citizenship to promote public justice and reduce hunger.

If you give of what you have to feed the poor, and urge your neighbors to do likewise, that is a Christ-like action.  But if you lobby the government to force people to redistribute wealth to the poor, that is a Chairman Mao-like action.  The fact that it is “for the poor” is morally insignificant if the means is legalized theft.

Even though Glen Beck is part of something (Mormonism) that is not a Christian church, he has discerned that Christians should abandon groups that advocate anti-social injustice.  Good for you, Glen Beck!

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