Glenn Beck is Not the Enemy
The church has a significant image problem and denouncing Beck won't solve it.

The email provided a helpful link and instructed me to "Tell Glenn Beck: I'm a social justice Christian." The blunt Fox News pundit had recently outed "social justice" as code language for socialism. According to Beck, should you uncover this sinister conspiracy at your church, the best course of action is to run "as fast as you can." As Skye pointed out on this blog, the interesting thing about Beck's claim is not its validity or his sanity but how "the church engages this issue of social justice and its role in the life and mission of God's people."

In the days following Beck's rant, links were posted via Twitter and Facebook to articles and videos lampooning Beck's character and claims. I was invited to join virtual groups to demonstrate my opposition to any version of Christianity that doesn't claim social justice as a central tenant.

Why the stampede to distance ourselves from this talking head's pontifications about social justice? I'd like to suggest two motivating factors—the tarnished public image of the American church and personal insecurities about our Christian identity—that, unfortunately, cannot sustain the actual pursuit of social justice.

Over the past few years, the American church has been told in no uncertain terms of its image problem. They Like Jesus But Not The Church (Zondervan, 2007) was the self-explanatory title of Dan Kimball's book about younger non-Christians. Around the same time Kimball's book came out, we were shown by the research in UnChristian (Baker, 2007) exactly what about the church is so repellent to these outsiders. Need more convincing? Visit a satirical blog like Jesus Needs New PR for a look at the most cringe-worthy moments from our subculture. The message has been heard loud and clear: We Christians are a ridiculous bunch of folks, consumed with cultural pet peeves at the expense of our witness to Jesus in the world.

With a public image this bad, would you be surprised to find "Glenn Beck groupies" on the next survey of things people don't like about Christians? No wonder many of us want everyone—especially our non-Christian friends—to know that Glenn Beck doesn't speak for us when he belittles social justice.

While we despair of this lousy public image, personal anxiety about our Christian identity also has us grasping for easy ways to label ourselves. Many of us exist in an uneasy tension between a comfortable American existence and our costly discipleship to Jesus. Our churches admire those who have made significant sacrifices in pursuit of God's justice and mercy—missionaries who serve the newly displaced in Haiti or youth workers in our nation's inner cities—yet many of us struggle to take even small steps toward such sacrifices ourselves. In reality there is little evidence of our alleged commitment to social justice to be found within our comfortably safe way of life. Many of us feel guilty about this identity crisis and are glad for any chance to prove the sincerity of our faith, even if it means using Glenn Beck as our foil.

April 05, 2010

Displaying 1–10 of 56 comments

Jerry

April 12, 2010  7:03am

Everyone in the United States should go out and get as many credit cards as they can get their hands on. Then on one single day - we'll all go out and buy lottery tickets - using up all of the credit on each credit card we've got. Then at the end of the day - all of the evil credit card companies will be out of business - all of the citizens will have the same huge debt - and the government lottery will be rich enough to take care of us all equally. We will truly have social justice for all. Sounds like a really great idea, right?

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Gary

April 11, 2010  5:07pm

It is a tragedy Jesus of Nazareth did not have the knowledge and wisdom of 21st century Americans. If he did, he would not have appeared after the resurrection to a rag tag band of disciples (weird how they changed the world with his message through the Holy Spirit). If Christ had the acumen of our bloggers, he world have first appeared to Pilate and dragged him by the ear to Caesar. Rome was an effective and efficient state. If Christ's immediate concern was the implementation of social justice by the point of the sword, then Rome was the perfect instrument. Today, we argue for social justice – "God's will" - health care, aid to the poor, free college, and whatever to be done through a third party - government force. The question I struggle with is - have I fulfilled my obligations as a Christian, freely assumed by my conversion, of giving what is required to the church? I would suggest before using the sword of government to take from those of other faiths and non faiths who may not share our freely assumed obligations that we should first examine our own lives. Have I fed the poor, visited the sick, and those in prisons? It is interesting that studies have shown middle class families of the World War II generation are much more likely to tithe for their church attending history than subsequent generations. I wonder what miracles God could do through our churches if we 20 to 50 year olds showed up Sunday with half a tithe. Reckon that might improve the image of the church.

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Dan VDM

April 11, 2010  3:35pm

Jason To some the "edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring" could refer to the government and yes its over consumption of borrowing. This is an honest concern and it could have a huge impact on our governments ability to fund social programs. I could make the case from the perspective of our State government where we aren't funding a war or the recipients of huge tax cuts and although I am not sure it matters our State government isn't run by the Republicans. I can understand if this isn't where your interest is but would welcome the opportunity to make my case. I am sure we have a similar heart it is just we approach the solution from different perspectives.

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Jason Dye

April 11, 2010  3:18pm

I'm just saying I'm not sure what your point is, Dan. Still not sure. Jerry, well I think I understand Jerry's point. It's sad and scary, but he has his point. But you never really made a connection from the thread here to your point.

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Jason Dye

April 10, 2010  12:28am

Dan Vdm, Thanks for countering. But I'm not sure what your point is... We could decide to go on for years and years just churning numbers and giving quotes. But what do King's quotes above have to do with the deficit? What doth social justice have to do with the deficit? What doth any of these comments above have to do with the deficit? I can assure you that the deficit is NOT the result of looking for the good of the disadvantaged. That is has as its roots the costs of unnecessary war spending and cheap tax breaks. But that's besides the point. Because, honestly, we've gotten off point. My friend and former pastor David brought up much to talk about. Perhaps we can keep it on those points? If you want to talk about the deficit, write a blog.

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still

April 09, 2010  9:13pm

"...personal insecurities about our Christian identity..." David, your words above remind me of this modified fable. A man found a goose egg and put it in the nest of a backyard hen. The goose grew up with the brood of chicks. All her life the goose did what the backyard chickens did, thinking she was a backyard chicken. Once in a while, she would thrash her wings and fly a few feet into the air. Years passed and the goose grew very old. One day, she saw far above her in the cloudless sky, magnificent geese flying along in amazing "V" formation. The old goose looked up in awe. "What's that?" she asked. "Those are geese - they belong to the sky," said her neighbor. "We belong to the earth - we're chickens." Pity the old goose. She missed a lifetime of relishing the real essence of community that the "V" formation exhibits – how it creates an aerodynamic uplift for each other as they flap their wings while traveling in common direction on the thrust of one another. Pity the old goose. She missed such rare opportunities of seeing one of her own gets sick or is wounded by a gunshot, and falls out of formation; yet at one fell swoop, two other geese fall out and follow her down to lend help and protection. Pity the old goose. She missed such poignant moments of watching how the two would stay with the sick or fallen goose, until she is able to fly or until she died; only after which they then catch up with the group to fly the thousands-of-miles journey home. Pity the old goose, to the bitter end, she lived and died a chicken, for that's what she thought she was. Has the Christian church, supposed to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth, chickened out and cooked instead her goose, in striving to fulfill her soar-in-the-sky mandate, as manifested by her failure, after 2,000 years, to establish a just and compassionate society in a now teetering-on-the-edge world?

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Dan Vdm

April 09, 2010  7:46pm

The correct quote "our buffer between our capacity to borrow and our actual debt is narrowing, for the first time, I think in the American history, there's a question, suppose we are wrong on the cost estimates, and, indeed they are actually much higher then the best estimates can generate, the consequences are very severe" Alan Greenspan 4-4-2010

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DAN VDM

April 09, 2010  5:28pm

Jason Dye: A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. What about a nation that spends more and more then it earns forcing it to borrow more and more to the point it has reached the point like no other time in western civilization to borrow more.(Alan Greenspan) That nation is approaching financial death which will bring down all well intended programs of social up lift.

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Barbara

April 09, 2010  1:48pm

Obviously, this is beyond your ken sheer, because taxes were extremely low in Jefferson's day compared to now. You're probably not aware that there was NO income tax until 1862, which was used then for the Civil War, and then it was eliminated in 1872. It was revived in 1894, and then declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court the following year. It was finally restarted permanently in 1913. My dad was born in 1923, so it's hard to believe, that until not that long ago, there was not even a federal income tax. So, I'm glad you like those quotes from Jefferson, but he was probably talking about a quarter of one percent tax, not the huge taxes we have today. And yes, I would like to go back to much less federal government and to people keeping their own earnings. You are not entitled to my earnings, nor is anyone else. YOU did read his other quotes, didn't you?? You obviously missed the point of them. You proved there is a difference between reading and understanding.

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Jason Dye

April 09, 2010  11:10am

also, thanks Karen. also.

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