Glenn Beck, the Churches, and “Social Justice”

As I’ve already mentioned, Glenn Beck is underfire for criticizing churches that emphasize “social justice,” noting that it was “social justice” that has attracted lots of Christians to socialism (liberation theology) and national socialism (Fr. Charles Coughlin). Leftist Christians like Jim Wallis and Fr. James Martin are outraged, as are some “conservatives” at First Things.

Beck has elaborated.

Social justice was the rallying cry — economic justice and social justice — the rallying cry on both the communist front and the fascist front. That is not an American idea. And if we don’t get off the social justice economic justice bandwagon, if you are not aware of what this is, you are in grave danger. All of our faiths — my faith your faith — whatever your church is, this is infecting all of them.

That site has a number of clips, including one where Beck’s associate reads off some criticisms of Jim Wallis (in response to Wallis’ criticism of Beck). This is the source for what they said of Wallis.

Wallis is a prime example of a leftward leaning Christian who advocates “social justice.” He has tremendous influence on mainline Protestants and Catholics, and is having increasing influence on evangelicals.

Let’s look now at what some denominations understand by “social justice.”

Go to the webpage of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Click on “social justice issues” in the left hand column. You’ll see a long list of issues and programs:

•  Arms Control
•  Campaign/Human Development
•  Catholic Social Ministry Gathering
•  Catholic Social Teaching
•  Debt
•  Death Penalty
•  Domestic Issues
•  Economic Justice
•  Environment
•  Faith-Based Initiative
•  Faithful Citizenship
•  Health
•  Housing
•  Government Liaison
•  Immigration
•  International Issues
•  Iraq
•  Justice, Peace & Human Dev.
•  Labor Issues
•  Middle East
•  Migrants & Refugees
•  Nonviolence
•  Poverty
•  Social Dev. & World Peace
•  Social Security
•  Trafficking
•  Welfare

Go to the webpage of the United Church of Christ. Click on “change the world” at the top. Click on “justice” and then “justice issues” (observing the other links on your way there). Their list includes these and more:

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Click on “faith in action” at the top, and go to “justice.” Then the Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodist Church, etc.

You’ll see on each of these pages a similar agenda, all defended on the basis that “social justice” is said to be an essential part of the Gospel. All are also based on the conviction that Christians must change the policies of governments, to bring them in line with the values of the kingdom of God.

But what did Jesus say when he was face to face with a representative of the Roman government of his day–a man who was nervous about potential threats to the Roman system? He said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” He said to his followers (Mark 14:7) “For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them….”  He told his followers that they would be judged on how they treated the poor and those in need. But he never told them to change Roman policy. He never gave any advice to Rome or its representatives. He sought to change the hearts of individuals. He told them to be salt and light. But he never commanded them to advocate any social justice agenda before any government.

10 thoughts on “Glenn Beck, the Churches, and “Social Justice”

  1. Yes, but Mr. Beck sited the churches that you the words, “social justice” He has face fire from all spectrum of Christians and rightly so. I am not in favor of Government control of social justice, but when he said the Gospel is about “you,” he revealed a fundamental weakness in understanding who Jesus is.

    visit http://www.life-and-faith.org for a more through analysis of how Mr. Beck does not understand the Gospel.

  2. But that Roman govt. was not a democracy. If you say that as a Christian citizen in a democratic country you are not to pursue justice you are saying that there is one area in your life where you are to be unjust (immoral, unethical).

    • So when did Jesus complain that it wasn’t a democracy? Where does he say that makes a difference? Where does he tell us that we should expect civil governments to conform with religious understandings of morality? Jesus called us to personal responsibility–he did not call us to change any government.

      • But it’s not quite that simple. We live in an era where, unlike Israel, we are not under the heavenly theocracy nor do believers have complete control of the government; but unlike early Christians in Rome, we are not completely without control and responsibility. The fact of the matter is, we do have some say in the government and laws, and that say must be exercised justly. As it says in Isaiah 10:1-2 —

        Woe to those who make unjust laws,
        to those who issue oppressive decrees,
        To deprive the poor of their rights
        and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people,
        making widows their prey
        and robbing the fatherless.

        I agree wholeheartedly that the mission of the Gospel is a very personal one — one that cannot be enacted through legislation — but I scarcely think we should throw up our hands and shirk our responsibilities as democratic citizens.

      • Mithun–Isaiah is written within the context of God’s covenant with Israel. Isaiah, and prophets like Amos, are reprimanding the rulers of Israel for their violations of the covenant. The United States has no such covenant with God. It is not bound by the terms of the Torah. We cannot take prophetic denuncations based on the covenant as a guide for how nations today are to act.

        Now, the Calvinist worldview thinks nations do have covenants with God–and that the Torah should be binding upon them. That’s why Calvinism has always led to theocracies. That’s why it is Calvinists (like the United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Calvinist-leaning evangelicals) who are most eager to impose religious rules on nations today (whether the rules they want to impose are liberal or conservative).

        As individuals, we do have responsibility for our actions. We are citizens of a democracy, and “rendering unto Caesar” can mean participation in that process. We cannot help but be guided by our views of what is right and wrong when we do so. But this s different than churches organizing themselves to lobby for “economic justice” as if it were part of the gospel they are called to proclaim.

  3. The early Adventists, active in such issues as temperance and abolition, would take exception to your premise, to say little of all the activists in the 19th and 20th centuries motivated by Christianity in such areas as civil and human rights. The first Adventist General Conference president, John Byington, aided runaway slaves and appears to have been part of the Underground Railroad.

    • It seems to me they did it more as individuals–encouraging other individuals to speak up, because of the magnitude of the evil involved. The Adventist church wasn’t organized until after the Emancipation Proclamation.

      As a church, their emphasis was on telling the government to stay out of religion. They did not see it was part of the church’s mission to create a just society, or to call the state to obey the Bible. They didn’t see that the church has a mandate of creating the kingdom of God now. They saw those who did that as Babylon–the harlot on the beast.

  4. If that’s all you’re saying — that churches shouldn’t conflate fighting poverty with the whole Gospel — then I would agree. But if you mean to say that we shouldn’t pursue justice as individual Christians and citizens, or even as a collective body, — whether that justice be for the fetus or for the inner city poor — then I think I have to disagree.

    And I would also note: No, Harvard hasn’t turned me into a communist.

  5. I think you are missing my point. I wasn’t comparing democracies vs. other kinds of govts as to which is better or which “Jesus likes better.” Nor was I suggesting or even hinting that you ought to have a reasonable expectation that the govt will rule justly any particular percentage of the time.

    I was simply pointing out that in this country, which happens to actually be democratic (not a pure democracy but having democratic institutions such as the ballot box), if you choose in one area of your life to make unjust decisions you are walling off that area of your life from the requirement that you behave justly. Did Jesus say that your choices are only to be moral ones in areas of your life other than your role as a citizen of a democratic republic?

    You could respond “Jesus didn’t mention democratic republics” but He didn’t mention cars either. Does that mean you should drive in an immoral fashion? He didn’t mention the internet, does that mean it’s acceptable to view porn as long as you only do it online?

    Your understanding of justice seems strange to me. I think you would understand it better if you understood the word “just” to be more or less synonymous with “moral” and “ethical.” The just thing is the right thing to do, by definition. Of course that doesn’t negate repentance or the forgiveness that the blood of Christ has paid for when we behave unjustly.

    • I don’t think Jesus has a “right” answer to health care, or most of the other “justice” issues that are meant by those churches that promote “social justice.” And to say that answers that align with a certain political philosophy are by default the “right” is arrogance–and not the church’s business. As it is actually used by churches, “social justice” means socialism–and that’s not right (in more ways than one).

      Jesus said his kingdom is not of this world, thus he had no argument with Pilate. Those pushing “social justice” in the real world of today are saying his kingdom is of this world.

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