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Glenn Beck: 'Leave Your Church'

Advocacy groups respond to the conservative commentator's call to leave churches that promote social justice. Plus, reactions to health care in the House and gay rights in Virginia.

Political Advocacy Tracker is a roundup of what Christian activist organizations have been talking about over the last week.

Seeking Social Justice

Glenn Beck crossed the line when he told people to leave churches that promote "social justice," said The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good and Sojourners.

On his March 2 radio show, Beck told listeners:

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! If I'm going to Jeremiah's Wright's church? Yes! Leave your church. Social justice and economic justice. They are code words. If you have a priest that is pushing social justice, go find another parish. Go alert your bishop and tell them, "Excuse me are you down with this whole social justice thing?" I don't care what the church is. If it's my church, I'm alerting the church authorities: "Excuse me, what's this social justice thing?" And if they say, "Yeah, we're all in that social justice thing," I'm in the wrong place.

When his co-host suggested that churches may not grasp the real meaning of "social justice," Beck answered, "There's a very good chance that people don't know what it is. That's why you have to educate yourself."

On his television show March 2  and on his radio show yesterday, Beck said "social justice" was the one common rallying cry of both Nazis and Communists because they both want totalitarian government.

Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, called for Christians to boycott conservative commentator Glenn Beck, who told his radio audience to question and abandon churches that say they promote social or economic justice.

"What he has said attacks the very heart of our Christian faith, and Christians should no longer watch his show," Wallis said.

Beck responded to Wallis on Thursday, calling Wallis "a leftist," "an operative for the Democratic Party," "an apologist communist for atrocities in Cambodia and Vietnam," and "a dedicated foe of capitalism."

Beck denied that he had advised people to leave churches because they talked about social justice:

"No, no, no. Didn't say that. I said if they are basing their religion on social justice. Social justice and economic justice are code words. Look for those code words, and then ask your church, 'What do you mean by that? What is that?' Because they're code words. And don't be sucked into that," said Beck.

He also called social justice "a perversion of the gospel." According to Beck, Jesus spoke only for individual compassion, not for governmental justice.

Sojourners launched an e-mail campaign that urges people to tell Beck that a Christian that supports social justice stands "in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets and the teachings of Jesus that demonstrate God's will for justice in every aspect of our individual, social, and economic lives."

The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, which was first to respond to Beck's statements, launched a campaign to create "a short video that will directly confront Glenn Beck and his assertion that caring about the lives of others is code-language for fascist or communist infiltration in our churches."

Beck's comments came on the heels of a new six-part video small-group study, "Seek Social Justice," put out by the Heritage Foundation, a flagship conservative organization. The video series features Chuck Colson of BreakPoint, Al Mohler of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Sean Litton of the International Justice Mission, and other evangelical leaders speaking on the meaning and importance of social justice.

Mark Early of BreakPoint promoted the "Seek Social Justice" videos, saying, "Social justice is no small concept. It's about 'shalom'—man at peace with God, his fellow human beings, and creation."

The National Association of Evangelicals has issued a similar statement on justice. In its 2001 statement of civic responsibility, "For the Health of the Nation," the NAE states that "economic justice includes both the mitigation of suffering and also the restoration of wholeness." The NAE also states that government has a "divine mandate to render justice (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17)."

"I don't know what to make of Beck's absurd rant," wrote Dan Nejfelt of Faith in Public Life. "The fact that a person with a multimedia platform and an audience of millions is either so addled that he believes social justice is a tool of tyranny, or so craven that he would use fearmongering and vitriol to come between people and their churches, is—to say the least—a troubling indictment of what we as a society value and reward. I just hope nobody comes to believe that the Gospel According to Beck is the word of the Lord."

Beck is not the only critic of "social justice." The Sandy Rios Show on WYLL in Chicago recently critiqued Wheaton College for embracing "anti-American" and "pro-Marxist" theories under the guise of social justice. The show focused on a Wheaton education department document that included phrases such as "social justice" and "agents of change."

In a response, Wheaton College provost Stan Jones said the Rios show "significantly misrepresented how social justice is addressed at Wheaton College":

We equip our students to think carefully and biblically about issues of justice, and encourage them to commit to act justly throughout their lives as defined by a biblical worldview … There is an enormous difference between recognizing as a justice issue of concern to God the tragic state of so many rural school systems and inner-city school systems that serve disproportionately minority constituencies, on the one hand, and a radical, naturalistically-driven call for Marxist redistribution of wealth on the other.

Do or Die for Health Care

As the House of Representatives prepares to vote on the Senate health care bill, activist groups made appeals for or against the legislation.

An alert from the American Family Association (AFA) said that if the House passes the bill, "we will have Obamacare. The Senate bill will quickly move to the president's desk and he will sign it before the ink is dry. And the government takeover of health care will be complete … We must kill this bill dead and drive a stake through its heart."

For Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the outcome is literally a question of life or death.

Land closed a recent Richard Land Live broadcast saying if any version of the House or Senate bills passes and "we get Obamacare, ninety-nine percent of you that are listening to me are going to live a shorter life than you would otherwise. And it'll be more filled with pain, discomfort, and suffering before you die."

For many activist groups, the issue of gravest concern was the issue of abortion funding.

Evangelicals for Social Action sent out an alert this week that advocated for comprehensive health care reform with tighter restrictions on abortion funding.

"While advocating the passage of legislation that provides comprehensive healthcare coverage, pro-life Christians must also insist that the final bill explicitly prohibit government subsidies for abortion. The current Senate version does not include the restrictions of the Stupak-Pitts amendment passed by the House, and includes provisions that could result in expanding the availability of abortions," said the ESA.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, agreed that the House vote is critical. "Make no mistake. The success or failure of this bill hinges on taxpayer-funding of abortion … If the pro-life House members believe they can vote for the Senate bill (which includes taxpayer-funded abortion) and then count on the upper chamber to use the reconciliation process to strip out that funding, they're denying reality," Perkins said.

Tom McClusky of FRC Action said that abortion is definitely in the Senate bill, pointing out specific sections of the Senate bill that discuss abortion. The bill also increases funding for community health centers, without explicitly prohibiting the use of funding for abortions.

Faith in Public Life (FPL) addresses both concerns as part of its "fact checking" of the bill. In one post, FPL stated that the Hyde amendment would prohibit any community health center from using federal funding for abortions. FPL also posted a report by Timothy Stoltzfus Jost, a health law expert at Washington and Lee University School of Law.

"There are significant differences between the House and Senate bill," wrote Jost, "but the provisions governing abortion (Sec. 1303 of the Senate bill, pp. 2069-2078) are not among them. Both bills prohibit federal funding of abortions."

Va. Governor's Discrimination Flip-Flop

Virginia's newly-elected Republican Governor Bob McDonnell was hailed by conservatives, who saw hope in the election of the Regent University alumnus in a state that broke for President Obama in 2008. McDonnell was so esteemed by his Republican colleagues that he was chosen to give the Republican response to Obama's State of the Union speech.

This week, the attorney general of Virginia sent a letter to colleges and universities that they could not include "sexual orientation" as part of their nondiscrimination policies.

"The new administration in Virginia has wasted no time taking on the biggest sacred cow of the politically correct public university crowd—the inclusion of 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity' in so-called 'non-discrimination' policies," said Bruce Hausknecht of Focus on the Family Action.

But Hausknecht apparently spoke too soon.

On Thursday, McDonnell reversed the order, telling government agencies that employment "discrimination based on factors such as one's sexual orientation or parental status violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution."

The AFA's Fischer called McDonnell's action "a sudden moral and leadership collapse." "So another self-proclaimed conservative suddenly and dramatically goes from supporting conservative values to launching a witch-hunt for any state worker who would dare to uphold them in the workplace, declaring that he will bring the full force of state power down on the head of any such unfortunate soul," he said. "All of this, you see, in order to punish state workers for sticking up for the very values that put him in the governor's seat."

Odds and Ends

  • The Family Research Council opposed the "Keeping All Students Safe Act" (H.R. 4247), which passed the House of Representatives. The bill would bar teachers and administrators from managing students using restraints including drugs, restriction of breathing or any "aversive behavioral intervention that compromises student health and safety." According to the FRC, "Teachers generally care for their students. Should they be punished because a few teachers overstep already accepted guidelines for how teachers and students can interact? A federal mandate is unnecessary." The FRC instead advocated for the removal of "Safe Schools Czar" Kevin Jennings and the refunding of the D.C. school voucher program.
  • Concerned Women for America issued a radio ad encouraging residents of Alabama to contact the state legislature in opposition to a bill that would legalize casino gambling in the state.
  • Jim Wallis of Sojourners reported on his involvement with the first ever presidential Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The council issued over sixty recommendations on domestic poverty, families, environment, inter-religious cooperation, and global poverty. The council also issued recommendations on reforms to the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. "The Council and its recommendations showed that the faith community is a deep and powerful resource in the shaping of good domestic and international policy and that such contributions can be made successfully while still respecting and deeply valuing the nation's religious diversity and pluralism, and upholding the Constitution," Wallis said.
  • Bryan Fischer responded to the controversy over his comments on how SeaWorld's failure to euthanize its killer whale went against Judeo-Christian principles. Fischer explained that he had "simply extracted an underlying principle from the Exodus 21 passage and gave it a contemporary application. I made no attempt to apply it in a crudely literal fashion, which apparently is a great disappointment to my critics … One unanticipated benefit of the mindless overreaction my blog has generated is that a lot more people know what's in Exodus 21 than did a week ago. I'm happy to serve humanity by increasing biblical literacy, one passage at a time."

Related Elsewhere:

Earlier Political Advocacy Trackers are available on our site. Christianity Today also follows political developments on the politics blog.

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