How Not to Talk about Justice
If you hear "social justice" at your church, Glenn Beck says "Run!" There is another option.

Back in January I wrote a post on "The Battle Lines Over Justice." As more evangelicals are rediscovering the sections of the Bible that highlight God's compassion for the broken and abused in this world, there is a fearful response by some that we will slide down the "slippery slope" of liberalism into a social gospel and evangelicals (particularly the younger breed) will abandon the cross of Christ. To prevent this repeat of history, some have their ear to the rail prepared to warn the faithful at the first hints of a justice train coming down the line.

I concluded that earlier post with this caution:

Is the stage being set for another church rift in the 21st century paralleling what happen 100 years ago? Are you feeling the tremors in your church of a conflict over the scope of the gospel and the proper role of social justice? And where are you turning for informed theological reflection on this subject? How we address this controversy, and not simply which side we land on, may impact the evangelical world for decades.

I've been trying to faithfully inform the members of my congregation about church history, the scope of the gospel (as it relates to their lives and all of creation), and what Scripture says about justice. I've been trying to offer informed theological reflection and create room for dialogue and understanding. In other words, I've been trying to avoid the name calling, paranoia, and finger-wagging rhetoric that too often accompanies the social justice issue in evangelical circles.

And then today I read that Glenn Beck, the conservative talk radio host and chalkboard wielding Fox New Channel star, begged Christians to "run as fast as you can" from their church if they encounter the words "social justice."

Here's the full 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.

What is "social justice" a code word for, you may ask? According to Beck—Communism and Nazism.

I'm not in the least bit interested in debating the beliefs, methods, or sanity of Glenn Beck. But I am most interested in how the church engages this issue of social justice and its role in the life and mission of God's people. And unfortunately the fear mongering evident in Beck's statement is not unlike what I've heard from some Christians. What Beck demonstrates is how not to handle the tensions arising over justice.

March 09, 2010

Displaying 1–10 of 45 comments


March 19, 2010  6:36pm

No problem Melody!

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March 19, 2010  4:05pm

Thanks Dan.

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March 19, 2010  2:26pm

Melody; I was using sarcasm or something like that. There is nothing wrong about being a democrat. My point was to point out that believers should not worry about how someone is going to label them if you practice social justice. Unfortunately, too many people here are hung up on Glenn Beck or fear of liberalism or some other kind of "ism." Jesus said that if you do this (feed, cloth, etc) for the least of these, you do it for him. That is ALL he said. Meanwhile, too many people here are trying to define their terms and fuss over politics while someone goes to bed hungry AGAIN. Geez some people got their priorities completely wrong. And I do see your use of sarcasm too!!!!

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March 17, 2010  5:52pm

Dan,Is there something wrong with being a Democrat? Wouldn't it bother you more if someone 'accused' you of being a Republican? Why folks might even think you were pro-life or some terrible thing like that! You should be grateful.

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March 17, 2010  4:25pm

Don't worry about Glenn Beck. He is NOT our saviour. Don't worry about the definition of social justice or if someone is going to accuse you of being a Democrat if you give food to the poor. Just go out and do it.

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March 15, 2010  1:04pm

"If anything Glen Beck has exposed the religious left for what they are: Theocratic." What? Religious leftwingers...theocratic? Really? I know the Religious Right has been all Theocratic with their dominionist agenda, but the left wing has signed on to that ideology as well? When did that happen?

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March 15, 2010  11:12am

"That failure to be clear is what makes many critics so suspicious. And the ambiguity enables critics like Glenn Beck to stretch the term way beyond what most supporters intend." Agreed. That is why Glenn Beck's (mostly liberal) critics are so up in arms. They are treating his definition of "social justice" as their own. They know this and are milking it for all they got. Even more amazing is that often these are the same people who vilify Conservative Christians for trying to "legislate morality." This little controversy should be shoved in their faces whenever they use that excuse again. If anything Glen Beck has exposed the religious left for what they are: Theocratic.

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Wayne Shockley

March 13, 2010  6:05pm

I have yet to see a clear, specific definition of what you mean by social justice. How can you discuss/argue about it when you don't know what other folks mean by that term? That failure to be clear is what makes many critics so suspicious. And the ambiguity enables critics like Glenn Beck to stretch the term way beyond what most supporters intend.

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March 11, 2010  11:03am

Is it possible that the term "social justice" has now been defined by polar opposite groups with polar opposite meanings, including meanings that are a total sheep's skin over a wolf body that believers should come up with their own term and abandon "social justice"? There is nothing sanctified or distinct about this term any more than about the brand names baptist or presbyterian. I think it's time for believers to come up with their own term and abandon "social justice".

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March 11, 2010  9:59am

To go a little different route.... It ticks me off that Glenn Beck would be telling people where to go to church. That secular cable news would be putting out litmus tests for church attendance. Since so many Christians religiously absorb everything Glenn Beck says, I'm sure some of them are going to be criticizing their own pastor, or other neighborhood churches, that deign to say anything about social or economic justice. I attend an evangelistic church located in an economically poor urban area. We don't focus on justice issues, but in our context we can't avoid talking about them. So Glenn Beck thinks people shouldn't attend my church? Glenn–don't meddle in church issues. You're not qualified.

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