Have you heard of Glenn Beck? Glenn Beck is an American conservative radio and television host, political commentator, author, and entrepreneur. He is the host of The Glenn Beck Program, a nationally-syndicated talk-radio show that airs throughout the United States on Premiere Radio Networks. Beck is also the host of a self-titled cable-news show on Fox News Channel.
If you are like me, you haven’t heard of him. But judging from his $23 million a year salary, I must be in the minority.
On his March 2 radio show, Beck told listeners:
I beg you, look for the words “social justice” or “economic justice” on your church Web site. 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 I’m going to Jeremiah’s Wright’s church? Yes! Leave your church. Social justice and economic justice. They are code words. 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?” I don’t care what the church is. 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. ~ Glenn Beck
He goes on to say that these Progressives who espouse social justice are no different from Stalin and Hitler who said similar things while winning people over to their Communist ideologies. You can imagine the outrage by many evangelicals. One rebuttal by Jim Wallis made it on the front page of CNN.
The Reverend Jim Wallis (b. June 4, 1948, Detroit, Michigan) is an evangelical Christian writer and political activist, best known as the founder and editor of Sojourners magazine, and of the Washington, D.C.-based Christian community of the same name. Wallis actively eschews political labels, but his advocacy tends to focus on issues of peace and social justice, earning him his primary support from the religious left. Wallis is also known for his opposition to the religious right’s fiscal and foreign policies.
In that CNN article, Wallis had this to say — “He wants us to leave our churches, but we should leave him,” Wallis says of Beck. “When your political philosophy is to consistently favor the rich over the poor, you don’t want to hear about economic justice.” Wallis says he wants to go on Beck’s show to challenge the contention that churches shouldn’t preach economic and social justice.
“Social and economic justice is at the heart of Jesus’ message.” ~ Wallis
In that piece, another evangelical voice, Marty Duren (Southern Baptist Convention pastor), is also quoted. Duren says some conservative Christians have traditionally thought churches shouldn’t get involved in economic or social justice.
“For a long time, Southern Baptists and evangelicals were so focused on the return of Christ that what was happening in the real world was almost incidental. But within the last two decades, more evangelical Christians have come to believe that the Bible calls for economic and social justice. William Wilberforce, for example, is a 19th century British politician who helped abolish the slave trade in his country. He is now regarded as a hero for some evangelicals because he applied his faith to the economic and social justice issues of his day.” ~ Marty Duren
So what can we make of this debate? Did Jesus preach social justice or is saving souls all the matters in the end? Glenn Beck is a Mormon, Republican conservative making $23 million a year and through his talent as a communicator, he has been given a huge platform on which to dispense his opinions on many topics, including of all things, the Christian faith. And the fact that he makes that much money tells me 2 things. One, he is out of touch with poverty. Two, there must be many people out there who agree with his views. That’s a scary proposition.
I can identify myself in Pastor Marty Duren’s comments about evangelicals focusing so much on the return of Christ, and I would add, the saving of souls, that issues like social justice took a back seat. Even while I was a seminary student, I largely glossed over this topic because it seemed secondary to evangelism and the fulfillment of the Great Commission. In recent years, however, this issue of social justice has been steadily nagging at me, and I have to believe, the source of this nagging is God.
It started with a book I read a couple of years ago by N.T. Wright entitled, “Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church,” in which he challenges the notion of heaven as a place where our disembodied souls live eternally. Instead, the bodily resurrection of Christ and the portrait in Revelations of heaven coming down and the reigning Christ re-establishing a new heaven and a new earth means that for the believer, social justice issues matter immensely. Why? Because everything we do in this life contributes either directly to the advancement of God’s kingdom on earth (i.e. accomplishing a small part of administering social justice in the world), or at least, indirectly in terms of being a witness of what this future, eschatalogical heaven-on-earth will look like.
I have also been greatly influenced by the sermons of Pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Church. In one sermon I listened to, he said that the poor is not the responsibility of a committee within your church, but it is the responsibility of all believers. Keller has written extensively about this topic — here’s one I found today. If you google it, I am sure you can find many more.
I am still asking God for clarity on this topic because I believe it is an important one. But what I do know is that I can no longer over-spiritualize references to the poor in the Bible and conclude that these are referring to the “spiritually” poor. Though it is possible to apply those references in a spiritual way devotionally, I am growing in my conviction that many of these references to the poor and injustice in society are meant to be taken literally.
Once you are ready to take that step and read the Biblical references to the poor and injustice literally, I can guarantee you one thing — you will be disturbed by its implications for the believer. For example, if you take certain passages like Matthew 25:31-46 literally, the implications are rather chilling. During judgment, the sheep and the goats are divided into camps. One side consists of the righteous. The other side consists of those labeled as evil. And what separates the two? It says the righteous cared for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned. And the evil, it seems, are religious people who thought they were doing the ministry of Jesus but failed to do what Jesus actually desired. The amazing conclusion is that it is precisely these acts of social ministry and justice and compassion done unto the poor that Jesus received as acts done unto Himself.
What do others think?