I occasionally pay attention to what Glenn Beck has to say. My reasoning for doing so, I admit, more often than not, is of a less noble quality than one could expect. It is often a "know thine enemy" kind of keeping my eye on him, more than anything else.
I frequently find his rambling and thoughts on politics rather incoherent, but that could also be chalked up to the fact that I don't like to listen to his fear-mongering - a calm, reasoned, steady tactic could make what he says seem much more reasonable. I often feel that he is trying to scare people into agreeing with him by conflating thoughts of the Democratic party with Nazism, Communism, and everything his Cold-War generation audience finds "evil." This continued flippancy toward reasonable discussion has caused me to write him off altogether, something I admit should not be done by people who sincerely want to find common ground between two sides (translation: I'm not always the best as trying to find common ground).
This week, however, he said something that forced me to pay attention. [For audio of the clip, look to the bottom of the previously linked article]. Basically, he tells Christians who watch his show to leave their churches if they have a social justice agenda.
Now, something like that has to be taken out of context.
Nope. Unlike what happens to a lot of pundits (both conservative and liberal) in this soundbite culture, his words were not taken out of context. He really said and meant that he wants people to leave their churches.
Now, I haven't done a whole lot of commenting on political things for a reason - I believe Jesus is apolitical (Democrats and Republicans are inventions of the 20th century, and therefore can't be applied to a first century prophet and the divine Lord). But Beck is stepping into my arena, here, and I feel forced to come out of the corner and fight back.
I've often said that social justice is the end result of taking Jesus' command to "love your neighbor" into action in one's life. One cannot respond to what Jesus calls "the second greatest commandment" (the first being "love the Lord your God") without possibly taking steps to make the lives of those around you better.
Now, in this current political climate, I will admit that this makes me a liberal. But I am liberal only in the sense that I believe the staid conservative stance on the poor, on the homeless, on homosexuality, on the death penalty, on war, and on capitalism to be diametrically opposed to what I believe is right. The conservative stance of "it's your own damn fault" (what is often termed "personal responsibility") is not something I necessarily deny -- I do admit that there are often cases when the person in a problematic situation is there because of poor choices that they have made in their life.
But our reaction to that, our response to people who are in hurting situations, needs not be a pointing of the finger, and telling them to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. Our reaction, like Jesus' to many of the people he met in his time, can say to them that "I don't care where you come from, but I do care where you are headed now. And I will help you with that." Jesus looked at the Samaritan woman at the well without judging her, and offered her the water of eternal life. Jesus looked at the tax collectors, the lepers, and the prostitutes and welcomed them into the kingdom, regardless of their past. It's kind of, y'know, the point behind the gospel: "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8, emphasis mine).
"Social justice"/"Economic justice" is at the heart of this gospel. Loving your neighbor means not judging them for the decisions they have made, and if they need a cloak, handing yours over. Loving your neighbor means helping them get food if they have none to eat. Loving your neighbor means listening to their story, letting them feel like a person again. Loving your neighbor may mean, every so often, voting for a policy or a politician who has helping the hurting at heart - even that means that s/he has a "D" or an "I" by his/her name.
Glenn Beck has transplanted his politics into the church scene, much like the ridiculous project Conservapedia, when it should be the other way around. Taking the idea of loving your neighbor - which, at its heart, begins with Jesus - seriously and deeply means that, fundamentally, things change. It's not so much that I am voting for Democrats, but much more that I am voting against policies that work to trample our neighbors under our feet more and more.
Glenn Beck, your advice is beyond ridiculous. For Christians to abandon churches that preach social justice means for them to abandon the purpose of the church itself. And anyone who can do so at the cry of a pundit yelling in front of a chalkboard on one of several 24 hour news networks is more in need of a right-minded church than anyone preaching social justice. It saddens me and disheartens me that you would bring politics into something that is so far beyond the small world you have confined yourself in. You are a small man yelling at the wind, a King Lear standing naked before the storm, and I feel deeply sorry for you. I hope that the church can learn to respond to you in a way that loves our neighbor, in precise dichotomy to your "preaching."
Church, we have a great chance to respond here, to show the heart of the gospel for what it truly is. Angry letters and hate mail will only convince him that he is more and more right. Our response needs to reflect the love of Christ, the love that he showed even to his enemies, crying from the cross: "Father, forgive them." We have great opportunity here to clarify that, yes, this is what the church is about. This is what the entire ekklesia is built for. This is what we, as people made in God's image are made for - to love in great community, in hope, and in reconciliation.
Our nation is an interesting juncture, when the church has a great chance to become more than a fringe conservative movement. Let's step out and show the world what it means to "love thy neighbor as thyself."
EDIT: For those of you looking to read some interesting further discussion of how Christians should respond to Glenn Beck's words and the philosophy behind them, and don't mind wading through message board forums, and some inane things, check [link removed] out. Beck also responded today, calling social justice "a perversion of the gospel." I must admit I am angered, frustrated, and saddened by the potential ramifications of his words. All Christians need to work out what they believe about the connection between the church and state as it will affect the future of our nation. The relation of church and state is not an esoteric problem, not one that can be simplified without undermining the issue at large, but a problem facing each and every American individual.
Are we going to let our government be a tool of oppression? Or a tool of good tidings? Are we going to let the government do what the church should be doing? We cannot have it both ways. We cannot say that the church and state should be separated and I should be allowed to practice my religion as I want, and then not pick up the torch of social justice. If the church does not do its job for the poor and suffering, then the government will, and we have forfeited our right to complain about "big government" if our complacency has allowed such tools of oppression as corporations (who use sweat shop labor), war, and lasseiz-faire (which functions based on the oppression of the poor and the rich getting richer) to proliferate. There is a link between our complacency about taking care of the poor in our world and governmental involvement in our lives.
If the church was doing its job, "big government" would not be a problem. There is a middle ground, but it requires members of the church to stand up, realize that parts of the system are wrong, and to FIX them. Beck's words at this point are entirely counterproductive - if we leave churches that are doing this work, if we weaken them, then big government ends up being the answer. And that's not what Glenn Beck wants, and, ideally, it is not what I want either. The church needs to stand up, take some "personal responsibility," and be willing to act as the eschatological, ecclessiological, salvific, reconciling body that it is. And until I see the church doing that on its own and effectively, I will continue to vote Democrat, continue to support legislation that takes care of the poor, and continue to support laws that protect the damaged against oppressors and demand peace, even if it means that "free enterprise" gets reined in and my taxes get a little higher.
For summary, this is a selection from one of the posts on the board I just linked to:
Just a few days ago I read an excerpt from Ron Sider's speech to the Mennonite World Conference in 1984, and in it he spoke about a particularly upsetting conversation he had with a respected Anabaptist minister. This minister, apparently, believed all that you and I do, in terms of Christians not being involved in the military, government, etc. However, he also apparently believed it was a good thing that the United States had nuclear capability, even to the point that he felt the US (at the time) should have stepped up this capability to meet the Soviet Union's! Sider implied sadness at this kind of thinking, as do I. It's similar to the kind of sadness I felt when I read an Anabaptist article criticising Martin Luther King for demanding civil rights for African-American people. To paraphrase his words in that excerpt I read, it's not enough for us to simply say that violence is wrong for Christians and okay for the state. We need to be unequivocally against violence in all its forms, and sometimes that does mean crying out against the empire for its abuses of human rights and dignity.
I think there comes a time, then, when Christians can't afford to disengage with Caesar and pretend that he isn't there, but I don't believe that necessarily equates to legitimising his authority. To look at it in a different way: just like pacifism demands some form of engagement with the oppressor, so does it too does the Christian political ethic demand some form of engagement with the state. The former scenario does not condone the violence which is waged, and so neither does the latter.