Glenn Beck is right. He said "social justice" isn't in the Bible. (At least I think that's part of what he said in his recent Fox News rant.) But that's the true, the phrase "social justice" is not to be found in the sacred texts of Judaism or Christianity. Lots of words that are key to our faith are not found in the Bible. "Easter" is not there. Neither is "Christmas." Some theological words -- such as "Trinity" -- aren't there. And tried-and-true church traditions -- such as "potluck supper," "committee meeting," or "Sunday School." For that matter, "air conditioning," "automobile," and the "Dallas Cowboys" won't be found in the Bible either.
But, Glenn Beck is very, very wrong. To say that Christians should flee from churches that preach social justice (I know Beck said that: I heard it with my own boggled ears) demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the call of the church.
Even though the exact words "social justice" are not found in the Bible, the scriptures are full of examples of, definitions of, and calls to social justice.
The farmer-prophet Micah defined religion, at its core, as "doing justice" (along with loving kindness and walking humbly). The poet-prophet Isaiah painted a picture of the world as God sees it: where enemies lie down together, where weapons become garden tools. The carpenter-preacher Jesus said to give clothes to poor people, feed the hungry, and care for the sick (among other things). The writer James said that religion is about caring for orphans and widows in their distress. Each of these things is social justice. Each of these is a call to make society more just. That's what we faith-followers are supposed to do.
Yes, there are other aspects of Christianity. And, sure, maybe some people sometimes get carried away with their social justice work. And the relationship of church and state in doing justice can be tricky. But anyway you look at it, the work of social justice is central to the call of the church.
In fact, to take a page from Glenn Beck's suggestions and turn it around, I would tell people to take a look at their churches. If they don't hear -- or better yet, see -- social justice in the works, don't leave. Instead, get busy. Go to work. Make society more just. Care for God's people.
Here's where Mr. Beck really missed the boat: he talked about churches where social justice is preached. As a professional, paid preacher, I would like to think that preaching is all that's needed. How cool would that be if I could stroll into the pulpit a time or two a week, hold forth on feeding the poor, and -- poof! -- there would be chicken enchiladas in every pot, health care for all, affordable housing, fair wages for good work, good schools, and equal rights. Alas, no preacher I know is that good. (Certainly I'm not.)
So, don't tell Mr. Beck, but churches that preach social justice are no big deal. Church people who do social justice are, well, that's a different story -- in fact, that's "the old, old story of Jesus and his love" (as one hymn writer put it). So, the real work of social justice is church people lobbying members of Congress, talking to city council members, building cross-boundary coalitions, hammering out solutions with educators. That's social justice. It's hard work. It's needed.
One more word about Glenn Beck's controversy over social justice... I should have seen it coming. A few months ago, our church started a yoga group. The very next week, Pat Robertson and crew said yoga was a tool of the devil. Last week, a church member emailed me about beginning a social justice group at our church. Within days, Glenn Beck says to flee social justice churches. Maybe we should have a pro-war rally at church so that Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly would become pacifists. If we declare universal health care to be the work of the anti-Christ, would John Boehner and Michelle Bachman decide it's the birthright of all Americans? Maybe we should just stick to the social justice that Jesus set forth.....