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“Social Justice” vs Social Justice (or Why Glenn Beck Didn’t Say What You May Think He Said)

While I’m just as “avid” a fan of Glenn Beck as my co-group-blogger Rusty (i.e. only really catch him on the occasional web snippet), I have read the transcript of his “social justice” rant, and I really don’t think Beck said what his detractors say he said.

Beck was talking about churches/denominations for whom one of their driving forces is implementing aid to the poor and oppressed via government force, and seem to think that almost every time Jesus opened His mouth He was speaking economics.  (I’ve seen the parable of the sower turned into one where the birds taking away the seed were priests taking temple tithes and tribute, and the thorns choking out the seed were the Roman tax collectors stealing from these humble farmers.  Jesus said plainly what He meant, but some can still wrangle an economic message out of it they find more palatable.)  The term “social justice” seems to figure prominently in these forms of theology, and Beck was just saying that you should avoid them completely if you see that they do.

What his critics are doing are quoting Bible verses that show we should help the poor.  Thing is, I don’t think Beck would disagree, and it doesn’t appear at all that he was saying he disagreed.  What he was saying is that churches where the phrases “social justice” and “economic justice” figure prominently are the ones trying to “spread the wealth around” via legislation and are going to bankrupt us in doing so; a political message.  Of the reports so far, only Hannah Siegel, reporting for ABC news, even mentioned this:

Stu Burguiere, executive producer at “The Glenn Beck Radio Program,” sought to clarify Beck’s comments today.

“Like most Americans, Glenn strongly supports and believes in ‘social justice’ when it is defined as ‘good Christian charity,'” he said. “Glenn strongly opposes when Rev. Wright and other leaders use ‘social justice’ as a euphemism for their real intention — redistribution of wealth.”

So Beck is in favor of the concept of social justice (without the quotes) but against those who use that term to couch ends that he finds immoral.

But the reactions from critics seem to miss this completely.  When Wallis insinuates that Beck is lined up against Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu and Mother Teresa, or National Council of Churches President Rev. Canon Peg Chemberlin says, “Justice is a concept throughout the scriptures”, they’re both completely misrepresenting what Beck actually said.

Beck does need to clarify, on-air, that he is in favor of the concept of social justice, though, if you fairly read his words, he never once insinuated that he wasn’t in favor of giving to the poor; this clarification would be for those who didn’t realize that the first time.  I understand that he did just that recently, though I haven’t heard or read what he said yet.

Albert Mohler has the most balanced analysis of this issue.  Read the whole thing.  However, I want to quote one bit from it, showing how many Beck critics really missed the point.  Mohler notes that Beck’s aims are political.  However…

My concern is very different. As an evangelical Christian, my concern is the primacy of the Gospel of Christ — the Gospel that reveals the power of God in the salvation of sinners through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The church’s main message must be that Gospel. The New Testament is stunningly silent on any plan for governmental or social action. The apostles launched no social reform movement. Instead, they preached the Gospel of Christ and planted Gospel churches. Our task is to follow Christ’s command and the example of the apostles.

There is more to that story, however. The church is not to adopt a social reform platform as its message, but the faithful church, wherever it is found, is itself a social reform movement precisely because it is populated by redeemed sinners who are called to faithfulness in following Christ. The Gospel is not a message of social salvation, but it does have social implications.

I grew up in the Salvation Army; a social services arm of the Christian church if ever there was one.  But one that stays true to this concept of creating social change by implementing the Gospel, not a government program.

Doug Payton blogs at Considerettes.

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