Glenn Beck has never really been all that shy about telling his listeners how they should vote, and what they should do when it comes to politics. Now it seems he wants to start telling them where they should go to church.
On recent radio and television shows, Beck stated that the term “social justice” is a code word for communism and Nazism, and urged listeners to leave churches in which the leaders wouldn’t back down from using the term. At one point, on his television show, he held up a hammer and sickle and a swastika to make his point.
Here’s a quote.
“I’m begging you, your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them . . . are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”
Social justice, according to Beck, is defined by some churches as “economic justice, rights of the workers, redistribution of wealth and, surprisingly, democracy.” Surprised? I’m not. Beck is handsomely paid to promote a social and political agenda that lends itself to creating an environment in which big money interests and big business can capitalize on cornering markets, eliminating competition and pushing for legislation which protects big business interests at the expense of the middle class consumer and worker. When your business is competition for ratings which set advertising rates that, in turn, pay your multi-million dollar salary, you’re prone to promoting just about whatever agenda the advertisers want to promote.
With this particular issue, Beck has several credibility problems, of which his complete and total lack of understanding of the mission and purpose of the church is the biggest one. “Social Justice,” with perhaps the exclusion of the concept of “redistribution of the wealth,” is the natural by-product of a church spurred to ministry action by its faith in Christ, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. It quite obviously takes on different forms in the vastly different denominational expressions of Christianity that are present in American culture, but virtually every church acts upon its own version of social justice. And there is probably not one church in a hundred thousand, at least, not in America, where that action would resemble anything close to either communism or Nazism, at least, not intentionally, nor would they be supportive of either of thoaew philosophies.
I wonder what Beck’s reaction would be to the descriptions of the Jerusalem church in the early chapters of Acts? Redistribution of the wealth was a key element of the community. Members of the church sold everything of value that they had, and gave all of it to the apostles for distribution to the entire community, mainly to provide food for those who lived in poverty and struggled for their daily bread. Though that was not a mandate, there was such a spirit of generosity and compassion that flooded the members of the church, that they did it voluntarily. Perhaps that is why churches that practice social justice, and articulate it that way, are such a threat to Beck and the corporate interests for which he is a loyal mouthpiece. It is a stark contrast to the obsessive greed and “corner the market” profiteering that is the main characteristic of American big business, and goodness knows what kind of havoc generosity, compassion and genuine concern for the well being of the entire community would wreak on the profit margins and stock portfolios of the fabulously wealthy. Beck doesn’t seem to be all that familiar with New Testament descriptions of the church.
Beck sees the church as a social institution, but at the very heart of its Biblical mission and purpose, it is anything but that. It is a body of believers in Christ, held together by spiritual bonds, not temporal ones. As a result, it is not possible to separate it from its mission, and the actions that accompany it, by simply leaving one and going to another. The real issue isn’t the nature of social justice, its the fact that many churches which are both vocal and active in causes associated with social justice tend to be politically liberal, and they see way past the political facades and smokescreens of issues like abortion and gay marriage, and through the hypocrisy of those who slant toward one side of an issue while ignoring all of its other moral implications in the other direction. Most social justice advocates are also opponents of abortion on demand on moral grounds, but they carry the pro-life issue all the way to its logical conclusion and include equal access to quality health care and opposition to the death penalty as additional elements of the same issue, which they certainly are.
Beck’s own church experience should certainly raise issues of credibility for Evangelical conservatives. Though many among the religious right consider the Catholic church apostate, they consider the Mormon church a cult, a false church based on human reasoning and wisdom. It’s founder, Joseph Smith, did two things that Evangelical conservatives consider to be outright heresy. One, he added to and subtracted from the Bible, altering the Biblical text itself in order to suit his theological views, and he elevated the work of his own hand, the Book of Mormon, to a place of authority above the Bible, though he plagiarized large parts of it in the process. Two, he elevated himself to a position of equality with Christ. Beck left the Catholic church and joined the Mormon church, and that should leave no doubt in the minds of Mainline or Evangelical Christians that he is not an authority of any kind on ecclesiastical matters.
What, in his background or education, qualifies Beck to address this issue with credibility? His career has revolved around being a voice on the radio, for many years entertaining audiences by spinning records and saying cute things about the music in between songs and commercials. Even in talk radio, he is an entertainer. There’s not much of a hint of journalistic training in his background, nor does he have anything that would make him either a sociology expert or a theologian. He’s a voice on the radio, something to listen to in order to keep boredom from setting in while you’re driving down the road on the long commute to or from work.
Communism and Nazism have very little in common, except for the fact that they both contributed to the development of totalitarian dictatorships in the places where they took hold and flourished. Otherwise, the components and philosophies are quite different, and it would be very difficult for something in the “social justice” realm to be both Communist or Nazi at the same time. Either Beck doesn’t really know this, which leaves him open to questions about his credibility and his knowledge of history, or he is simply trotting out both terms to use as buzz words and he’s calculated the ignorance of his audience and their potential response.
Beck is considered to be one of the champions of the conservative political cause, a libertarian who tolerates the GOP simply because they have a lot more pull and potential power. He’s more or less signed on with the tea party movement, at least, with some segments of it, though by and large he always clearly favors just about any position that will permit redistribution of wealth from the pockets of the middle class into the coffers of the super rich. And of course, considering his personal income, including its size and where most of it comes from, that’s to be expected. The problem that he creates, however, happens when his side isn’t in control and doesn’t have the power. With a winner-take-all approach, and in the quest to do as much damage to his political opponents as possible, Beck tends to get shrill, and moves to the extreme. That may help him out, and it may be what his corporate supporters want him to do, but it also creates backlash that does more harm than good. Conservative pundits like to claim that both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama owe their elections more to the reactionary voting of centrists and independents against the Bush presidencies than to their own agenda and platform. I’d never actually done that myself until last week, when I cast a ballot for Debra Medina for Governor of Texas largely based on my own reaction to Beck’s strange attack on her.
Time to change the radio station.