A wide spot in my imagination.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Glenn Beck is right .... and very, very, wrong

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.....


  1. Glenn Beck doesn't care one way or the other about social justice, he cares about driving viewership for his TV show. If we want to give a clear message about how we feel about Glenn Beck, the best approach might be through his sponsors.

    Let his sponsors know that you think Social Justice IS an important issue, and since they obviously don't, you will henceforth be redirecting the money you would have spent with them to Social Justice Projects.

    I don't know if this list is up to date, but the most recent list of Beck sponsors along with contact information seems to be this:


    - Roger

  2. Here is the message I just sent to the CEO of Carbonite, an on-line back-up service I have been using. Feel free to copy and modify!

    To: David Friend
    CEO, Carbonite

    Dear David,
    I have just renewed my subscription with Carbonite. I have been quite pleased with your service.

    However I was dismayed to learn that your company is a supporter of Glenn Beck. Mr. Beck recently informed us that it we should not be attending churches that support social justice projects. This message is obviously highly antagonistic to the message of Jesus and hurtful to the great majority of Christians who support Jesus' message of faith in action. I can only assume that by supporting Glenn Beck you also support this dangerous and spiteful message. As long as you continue to support Glenn Beck and his anti-religious rhetoric, I feel I cannot in good consciousness support your company.

    If it is not too late, I would appreciate you canceling my renewal and refunding my payment. I will then redirect that payment to a social justice project.

    Pax Christi,
    Roger Sessions

  3. Please join us and sign a petition reminding Mr. Beck that economic and social justice are central to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    If we get to 35,000 names we’ll hand deliver the signatures to Glenn Beck with a copy of the Poverty and Justice Bible .

    Please sign today .

    Grace and peace,


    http://alturl.com/5h8t click it!

  4. Thank you for this, Tim. We left the church we had attended for about 7 years when things started to get political. We got tired of hearing how gay marriage and abortion were the biggest problems facing this country. I'd almost be tempted to go back if I could attend your church! :)