Thursday, March 11, 2010

Glenn Beck and Social Justice

If you haven't heard about Glenn Beck urging his listeners to leave their church if the church's website mentions "social justice" in a positive light, you can read about it here.

Much has been made about his statements, and in response, I found myself getting into an interesting discussion of the topic on everybody's favorite social network. I feel pretty good about one of my responses, and have deemed it blogworthy. So here is my response to a friend, and maybe you, if you share a bit of Beck's skepticism about "social justice."

Thanks for the thoughts!

I agree that the term "social justice" can embody a lot of different beliefs, many of which contradict the Bible, or at least a reasonable interpretation of it.

When the church talks about justice, I'd rather use a descriptor like "Biblical justice", but even in adjusting the language, the social implications of the pursuit of Biblical justice are numerous and unavoidable. So a balance must be maintained. Pursuit of social justice without Biblical reflection can spiral into mere humanistic liberalism.

BUT, there are many, many, great churches out there that consist of many, many Godly people, who do have a strong emphasis on Biblically rooted social justice pursuits, and are not bothered by using the term social justice to describe what they do. One of my heroes of the 20th Century, Martin Luther King, Jr., would not have been emboldened to pursue nonviolent resistance to a segregated America were it not for his strong vision of the Kingdom of God characterized primarily by love and justice with all their infinitely social implications. Catholic Social Teaching, one of the strongest components of the Catholic Church, is committed to a pursuit of social justice that is ardently on the side of the poor, radically pro-life, and attempts to embody the Gospel in all its many-sided compelling beauty.

So I hope we won't throw out the baby with the bathwater. It is a personal choice whether or not to align oneself with a church that is comfortable with self-identifying with the term "social justice," some of which are committed to a Christ-shaped Gospel commitment, and some of which are teetering on the brink of the aforementioned humanistic liberalism.

But Mr. Beck's exhortation for his listeners to see the use of the term itself as not only a red flag and a place to raise questions, but a reason to leave your church is...well...overstated, to say the least. It demonizes a whole category of churches, and in the process attempts to eliminate the need for discernment by making up our minds for us.

And I do think that if we take his words at face value, they are undeniably a play on the fears of his listeners: fears of liberalism, socialism, and even communism and Nazism. These are genuine fears, but exploiting those fears with church people from a political bully pulpit is something that I don't appreciate as a pastor. And I pray that these words don't come across as from my very tall religious bully pulpit :)

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At 5:19 PM EST , Blogger meg said...

I just blogged on this as well a few days ago at

At 5:24 PM EST , Blogger Nicole said...

Good response! A bit more gentle and charitable than I would have been, probably, and that's a good thing. :)

I got an email from Sojourners today on this topic and in the article Jim Wallis says "Beck says Christians should leave their social justice churches, so I say Christians should leave Glenn Beck." Indeed.

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