Thursday, March 11, 2010

Glen Beck, Jim Wallis and Social Justice

Glen Beck. Everybody is talking about what he said about social justice.

Its been blogged about already, I'm late to the party. I found out about Beck's rant against 'social justice' through The Huffington Post.

There have been many responses such as Rev. James Martin, Dr. Richard Beck and of course Jim Wallis .

Acknowledging that much smarter folks than I have responded, I will say a few quick things on this issue.

Leviticus 25:10And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family. 11That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, or reap the aftergrowth, or harvest the unpruned vines. 12For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you: you shall eat only what the field itself produces. 13 In this year of jubilee you shall return, every one of you, to your property.
The Entire Exodus Narrative, Matthew 5, Matthew 25, Acts 4, the list goes on and on of texts that Christians have interpreted as teaching Social Justice.

One of my favorites is 16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

This is Luke 4:16-19 and Jesus is quoting Isaiah 61.

Language is all about context. Beck is claiming that the words 'social' and 'justice' were part of communist and nazi rhetoric. History isn't my expertise. However, to understand the meaning of words we must watch the context in which they are used. The scriptures I mentioned above provide the context for what 'social justice' means in the Church. While communists and nazi's may have used the same words (although, I doubt Beck knows history any better than theology)the context is very different. By context I mean, violence. The words 'Social Justice' IF they were used by communists and nazi's in those cases would have been used in the context of violence, imprisonment and enslavement as opposed to the Scriptural context which is peace, freedom, and prosperity.

Think about the phrase 'Shut-Up.'

Now, we don't really know what that means unless we know the context. We have to know the conversation that preceded using the phrase. We have to know the tone of voice and the facial expression. 'Shut-up' could be an expression of anger demanding that the other stop talking. 'Shut-up' could also be a friendly expression of surprise or disbelief, or even delight. It depends on the context.

Or 'He's a friend of ours.'That could be a coded way of speaking about being Mafia, OR, I could simply be introducing a friend to another group of friends. Beck is suggesting that one use of the words social and justice, one possible context, Communism and Nazi Germany, is the only possible context for understanding the words. While there is a rich biblical narrative and church history that provides a very different context for understanding the words. In this case Beck is either putting his ignorance on display or purposefully misrepresenting social justice.

But why should we care? I have read some bloggers criticize Jim Wallis for speaking out against Beck. Why bring more attention to him? Here is the thing. Recent polls have shown that fewer and fewer people attend worship or belong to a church or even claim association with any particular faith... BUT they still 'believe' in God. As if that was the point. It appears as if the predominant view of 'faith' is that it is an intellectual activity, or perhaps emotional. If I hold the 'right' idea, that there is God, and 'feel' peace because of that idea, I have faith.

But that is a very different idea of 'faith' than what Jesus himself taught when he told the disciples to take up your cross. Discipleship, or, faith, is about idea's and beliefs, but it is also about actions and practices that follow from these new ideas. Social Justice is a vital part of the Christian Tradition because it is a voice reminding us that we are not called just to think different thoughts, but engage in alternative practices, such as generosity, forgiveness, peace-making, and compassionate care. And this is why Wallis is right to do what he is doing. He will not change Beck's mind and he will not succeed in a boycott of Beck's show... but perhaps he can help re-establish the fact that Christianity is not just about a personal emotional and spiritual experience, but about living a life of justice and mercy in the world.

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