Tonight I heard Dr. Mark Noll say, “I think we should largely ignore talking heads on TV unless they are discussing a college basketball tournament.” Wise words. However, twice now I have had conversations relating to a previous post that I wrote on Glenn Beck’s discussion of social justice. Here is a more nuanced response to the issues including a little perspective on Rev. Jim Wallis too. I hope you find it helpful. (Also, I was under the weather today and was unable to write the next post for our discussion of freedom and the law.)
To hopefully bring some clarity to my position I want give disclosure of my political presuppositions:
- I don’t adhere to a political party. Neither party is representative of the Christian worldview.
- My primary allegiance is not to the United States, it is to Jesus Christ and his church. I live in this country only by the grace of God and I am very thankful for being a citizen of the US but my king is Jesus and the solutions to the problems we face are found in the context of the gospel and not on Capitol Hill, a savior there will never be found.
- The Scriptures contained in the Older and Newer Testaments are the authority by which we are to live and ought to inform our understanding of any human document.
- Any government or government agency that claims divine authority or claims to speak for God is inherently unbiblical for God reveals himself through the Scriptures and he alone is to be king.
As to the Glenn Beck situation:
- I have watched only two episodes of Glenn Beck.
- I have read his comments regarding churches and social justice.
- My understanding is that his worldview is Mormon.
I understand the points that he has made regarding the use of the term “social justice” and “economic justice” by those in the liberal political wing. I agree with how he defines these terms from his perspective. Glenn Beck’s comments, however, were not in relation to the liberal political wing, they were in the context of the church. The church defines the term “social justice” and “economic justice” very differently.
First, “social justice” in the context of the church refers to the idea of bringing biblical justice at a societal level. The church has always participated in this kind of justice because it is the natural response of Christ followers to seek to transform the world around them with the gospel. The Older Testament speaks often of this kind of social justice, especially in context of the “jubilee”, this was the application of the Sabbath to all of society (Leviticus 25). These are commands, not suggestions. We also find in the Older Testament specific commands on how to deal with the widow, fatherless, and alien (Deuteronomy 27). Justice in the Older Testament appears 425 times in the Hebrew and close to 500 times in the Newer Testament. I believe it is safe to say that this is an important theme in the Bible and God’s people have always understood it as such.
Here are some historical examples of the church doing social justice:
- Ending infanticide in the first century. Babies that were unwanted in the Roman empire were simply left on the side of the road. The church would pick them up and care for them as their own. This was done on such a large scale that infanticide was all but ended in the Roman Empire.
- Abolition. It was the church that spear headed the abolition movement both in Europe and in the United States. This was accomplished through full force engagement in the political realm through electing abolitionist candidates along with preaching and writing.
- Prohibition. The church at large determined that the consumption of alcohol was an unnecessary evil and again brought full political pressure to bear and was able to get alcohol banned. Thankfully, it was repealed as this was a wrong headed movement in the church.
- Women’s suffrage. The church led the movement to bring about justice to women so that they could vote in the United States.
- Civil Rights. The church led the movement to bring an end to systemic racism toward ethnic minorities in the United States.
- Pro-life. The church has led the movement to bring an end to the destruction of millions of innocent lives through the practice of legalized abortion on demand.
- AIDS relief. The church has led the effort to bring AIDS relief to Africa where AIDS runs rampant.
- Urban and rural poverty. The church continues to be on the forefront of bringing relief to the urban and rural poor in the US.
These are but a handful of the historic social justice efforts of the church. So, when a church says that it is concerned with social justice they are moving out from the heart of God as commanded us by the Scriptures. This is because the Scriptures are concerned about bringing redemption to the whole of creation, not simply to individual lives as Mormonism teaches.
Two passages in particular speak to the necessity of the church to engage in bringing justice. First, from the Older Testament we have “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8 ESV). The prophecy of Micah is deeply concerned with issues of justice as the people of God had moved away from dealing justly with one another and had become greedy and self-centered. They had abandoned the principles of mercy and justice. Micah 6:8 is a turning point in the book. The question is asked, “What does God want from us?” And the answer is simple: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. Justice is central to the minimum requirements that God asks of his people.
The second passage is from Matthew’s Gospel:
““When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.””
(Matthew 25:31–46 ESV)
Here we see Jesus discussing the application of the gospel. If we know him then we will do certain things. We will respond to him by feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the poor, visiting the sick, and visiting the imprisoned. Those who take no concern of these things prove not to truly know Jesus. This is social justice according to Jesus.
In light of this, what do we make of Glenn Beck’s comments?
- He does not understand that the Bible calls the church to engage with the world and bring justice.
- His call for people to leave their church is at worst a veiled attempt by Mormonism to draw more people into their cult, at best, is ignorance regarding the role of the church in the world.
- He is not a Christian and ought not to speak to Christians concerning what we believe since he does not hold the Bible as the authoritative word of God.
- His position comes from a place of politics where he believes his political theory is able to save the world and for the Christian only Jesus Christ can do this.
In light of the Biblical teaching on justice what do we make of Jim Wallis’s position?
- The government is not the means by which social justice is to come about but it is to brought through the local church.
- If the government is taking this responsibility it means that the church has abdicated its responsibility to care for the poor and dispossessed and as a pastor he needs to be calling the church to action not handing it over to the government.
- The church is to be socially active and politically active but is to find its hope in Christ alone and should not align itself with a political party.
I am fairly well connected within the church world. I have a pretty broad knowledge and in many cases specific knowledge of how churches engage in social justice. I know of none that are biblically sound who turn funds over to the federal, state, or local governments. This is against IRS non-profit law. They would lose their tax exempt status by doing so. I do know that under George W. Bush’s Faith Based Initiative that many churches received federal funding to carry out their social justice programs. This created great problems for many of these churches as they became tied into the federal government in such a way that was unbiblical and forced them to break their own principles regarding hiring of staff.
From a biblical perspective we are to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. I hope that tax deductible gifting will continue for non-profit organizations it is a blessing that our country has provided. However, churches will deal with what comes and the gospel will continue to go out meeting the spiritual and physical needs of people.
Finally, our responsibility as Christians is faithfully and purposefully engage in the political process. This means that we must do what is needed to bring about the election of men and women who will rule from a biblical worldview. This is why in the last presidential election I wrote in my vote as I did not believe the two parties provided me with a proper option. In my opinion this candidate was the only candidate that represented a Christian worldview. The other candidates espoused a secular humanist perspective.
In short, we deal with many of the problems we do because of the inactivity and idleness of the church. If we would engage as we ought many of these problems would disappear.
Here is push back to my position:
Here’s what Sojourners says “… social justice can only be achieved by the recognition that capitalism and the economic inequality it produces must be replaced by a “classless” society wherein all differences in wealth and property have been eliminated.“ Just a little bit different definition, huh? Their leader, Jim Wallis, called the USA ”… the great power, the great seducer, the great captor and destroyer of human life, the great master of humanity and history in its totalitarian claims and designs.“
Regarding Glenn Beck, yeah, he’s a Mormon. My dislike of that religion mirrors yours. But I think what he’s trying to accomplish is not some missionary event for the LDS, but rather warning all church members to be on the lookout for the use of the term “social justice” by their own church. If that church defines it the way you do, great, not a problem. But if the church’s definition more closely matches that of the Sojourners, then you ought to leave immediately. Basically, he’s telling people to do their homework. Churches are still ran by “men” which to me means there is always the possibility that they could go astray and that we should always be holding them accountable. Again, the Progressives have taken a term that sounds innocent enough and have perverted it into something completely different. Think about it this way, what if someone in your church was promoting a special collection to promote a project for “social justice”. Odds are, you wouldn’t have thought twice about it. After all, it sounds good enough. But now, I bet you would look into it a bit further, wouldn’t you? That’s really what Glenn Beck is saying, look deeper into what definition is being used. Mormon or not, I think it’s good advice.
Yes, the definition of Sojourners is off base and I would argue is not scripturally supported. So, it seems that this is one of those times where maybe Beck has been a bit “sloppy”. I run across this often as I interact with people in the church realm who are in the spotlight. They take important and nuanced issues and reduce them to the point where they are saying things that they maybe they ought not to say.
I am beginning to think that this situation with Beck is someone doing just this. He has taken a nuanced issue and become overly reductionistic. The reality is that most of his audience does not attend the kind of church where this happens (I am guessing he is drawing from african-american, urban, pentecostal, liberation types) and this is why the backlash was so strong. This is all combined with the overly individualistic theology of his Mormon worldview and it translates into people like me who normally would find much in common with his position experiencing big red flags!
I will definitely be listening/reading him with a different, more generous, eye in the future as a result of our conversation!
I hope that by putting this snapshot of a conversation out there I can show that there are two sides to the coin. Both are concerned with big issues but both are coming from two very different perspectives. As a result we can talk past one another. This was a fruitful and helpful conversation where we both actually listened to one another.