Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Social Justice Christians

I'm a little slow in responding to Glenn Beck's brilliant assessment regarding Christians and their participation in social justice or economic justice. And truthfully, I'm going to let other people respond: namely, my pastor who addressed it in a sermon last week, a colleague from seminary whose response I like, and, of course, Jon Stewart...


"This past week, the very conservative Fox News Pundit, Glenn Beck, (in an effort to once again label anything 'socialist' that he doesn’t agree with) uttered these words, 'Take a look at your church’s language, listen to the words in your church, if they use words like "social justice" or "economic justice" then flee as fast as you can, they are part of the plot to bring socialism to this country.'

And Jesus said, 'When did we see you hungry?'… 'when did we see you naked?'… 'when did we see you in prison?'… 'when did we see you sick?' 'when you have done it to the least of these, you have done it for me.' Or, back in Luke 4 when he announced his mission, 'I have come to preach good news to the poor…to bring sight to the blind…to set free the captive…to announce the year of the Lord' (which is the year of Jubilee in Isaiah…when all debts are forgiven.) Glenn Beck. Jesus.

President George W. Bush announced his creation of a 'faith-based' social justice network in January of 2000, right here in our building, on the third floor in our youth quad…he met with every major religious leader in this country, sitting up there in our multi-painted youth quad, including the head of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Charities, the Reform Jewish movement, the Conservative Jewish movement, Jim Wallis of Sojourners, Tony Campolo…you name them...they were sitting in that circle. It was President Bush’s expression of what he had come to call 'compassionate conservatism' but I would guess that Glenn Beck and his followers would call George W a socialist. I guess they would call Willow Creek Church in Chicago and Saddleback Church in California, socialist because they proudly, successfully do an enormous amount of 'social justice' for the poorest in this country. As Rick Warren calls them, 'the beaten, the broken, the beleaguered'…Rick Warren, the socialist.

I’m addressing this because this is the conversation going on…this isn’t a 'right/left' issue. This isn’t Republican/Democrat issue. It might not even be a person of faith…it’s a human decency issue. But for those of us who follow Jesus, it is a core part of our faith. Jesus tells us to pray every day for daily bread and he tells us in so many other places what to do with that bread…to share it with ALL God’s children, especially the poor…and to never, ever use the poor as one more weapon to further divide us from each other. Beck’s words are 'anti-Gospel'. To speak such words in the New Testament is to sin against the Holy Spirit…in case you were wondering what that phrase meant." Rev. Dr. Roger Paynter, First Baptist Church of Austin, Texas, March 14, 2010.

“'Social justice' at its broadest meaning, means a just society . It means a society founded on justice and a fair shake for all people, not only the advantaged. It means that no one is forgotten, no one is abandoned, and no one is excluded.

When most churches or individual Christians speak of social justice they mean Biblical social justice . It is, as you would guess, based on the Bible. The Bible speaks of social justice powerfully from the Torah (orphans, widows, and immigrants get special mention, and then there’s the year of Jubilee) to the OT prophets (condemning the corrupt, advocating for the poor) to Jesus to Acts and the New Testament and even Paul (sharing a common meal and raising money to help victims of famine). I can give you verse references if you want, but that would get overwhelming real quick, so I’ll just give you one that I think sums it up nicely “Whoever has the worlds’ goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” – 1 John 3:17

Well, there’s at least two definitions of communism. Theoretical communism proposes a classless, stateless society, in which all property is commonly controlled. But it is not based on the example of or authority of God. It is based on the concept of the pure equality of humanity, and that all people can be equal in the eyes of one another.

So, that kind of communism doesn’t exist. It is similar in theory to the kind of society envisioned by Biblical social justice, but is not at all based on the same foundation.

Which leads us to historical communism , the kind the USSR had and China has, in which the government owns the means of production and has a centrally planned economy. It excludes a belief in God entirely from its system, and though it preaches the equality of all people in theory, it is far, far, from executing that in practice. THAT is clearly not Biblical social justice.

Historical communism is a form of socialism , which is a broad term that in theory means that the public owns the means of production and that there is equal access to resources, but in history usually ends up with government owning the means of production and giving access to resources however it feels like. That was the socialism of National Socialism, otherwise known as Nazism. That Nazism has nothing to do with Biblical social justice is so obvious that it needs no comment.

It is important to note that the vision of a just society of both theoretical communism and socialism would require the end of capitalism. Biblical social justice envisions a just society that could theoretically exist within any economic system. It stands over and above any economic system, because it sees humans as more than cogs in a system, even an equal system. It sees them as children of God.

I think, as far as I can tell from his statements, that Beck is equating socialism and communism with government-run assistance programs. Those, by the way, would fall under the category social democracy , which aims to democratically reform, or lessen the effects of, unjust practices of a capitalist state through state-sponsored regulation and programs. Medicare and Medicaid are examples of social democratic programs. So is TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, commonly known as welfare), Social democracy and socialism are not the same thing." Rev. Patrick Adair, First Baptist Church of Waco Tx, March 12, 2010
And of course, FROM THE DAILY SHOW...

"I'm not saying that believing there should be a minimum standard for how much lead is in our paint might lead to the government having the right to sterilize and kill Jews. I'm not saying that that might be the case. I'm saying that's the case."

"It turns out that progressives advocating for government regulations on toxins in water and our children's toys turns us into China! The very country that has been putting toxins in water and our children's toys. It's so ingenious it almost -- It's so ingenious it almost doesn't make any sense whatsoever."

So Stewart gives Beck a taste of his own medicine. If you take Beckism (which the FOX host usually defines as a mix of conservatism, libertarianism and Christianity) to its logical end, what do you get? Stewart reasons that playing by Beck's rules means that FOX News' idealized nation would be a theocracy. "If you subscribe to an idea, then you also subscribe to that idea's ideology and to every possible negative consequence that that ideology remotely implies when you carry it to absurd extremes. For instance: Progressives, if you believe in a minimum safety net for the nation's neediest, you believe in total and absolute government control. So, if you believe that faith provides a strong moral tent post for a nation's foundation, that could only lead to totalitarian theocracy." Jon Stewart

So, along with aping mannerisms and chalkboard antics, Stewart exposes the speciousness of Beck's "logic." But perhaps more importantly, Stewart points out how insane our political atmosphere has become. Sure, we all have different opinions. But when we're painting each other as total extremists, what kind of conversation can we have? What kind of accomplishments will we be able to count with such divisive madmen running the show? (Summary by


Bert Pittman said...

Hi Ann
I'm not a pastor or reverend but it is my understanding that Christianity is a [b]personal[/b] decision; that one freely chooses whether or not to personally follow Christ is an essential foundation of the Religion.

That is not to say a Christian cannot advocate coercive government redistribution of wealth in any of its forms but incorporating this political agenda into the Religion and saying "that is what Jesus would do", to the best of my understanding, is nothing short of [b]heresy[/b]

And by the way, you can tell your pastor that Glenn Beck has not been a fan of George W Bush for many years. Beck labels Bush as a progressive and says the difference between Bush and Obama is not political direction; they're taking us to the same place, only Obama gets us there more quickly

Last night's show was not perfect; I think Beck got off track in a couple of places but you will see that Jim Wallis, Obama's new spiritual advisor, in his own words is a communist, As your pastor pointed out Bush met with him as well. (you can watch yesterday's show on youtube here -->

I am pleased that you and your religious colleagues express your opinions about Beck when he comments on religion. My only hope is that you form your opinions of Beck by watching Beck instead using 2nd hand opinions from Jon Stewart or other leftist idealogs

God Bless

Patrick Adair said...

In company with Roger Paynter and John Stewart! Good times.

Bert, Christian participation in government is a tricky issue. The Biblical call to care for the poor is not. It's quite straightforward. It seems to me that Beck is taking your statement and flipping it - taking the call to care for the poor and giving it a negative political label. That's not heresy, but it's deceptive. He is making synonyms of things that are not synonyms.