Glenn Beck and "Social Justice" Churches

Glenn Beck, too many words of whose should, I think, be taken with a grain of salt and a stiff spray of Lysol, last week warned his many listeners to stay away from any church that proclaims an interest in “social justice.”

Run, Glenn says. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Because these churches, he warned, are nothing more than bastions of liberal/socialist politics, determined to wreak havoc in the name of Christ on all that’s good and decent in America.

But Jim Wallis, of Sojourners community, an evangelical social-justice church and ministry, objects strongly, pointing out that a concern for the poor ought to be part of the agenda of every Christ-following church in the world. He correctly points out that when a church calls for and demonstrates peace, justice, and righteousness in dealing with “the least of these,” it does so not because it’s liberal or conservative, but because it’s Biblical. Wallis and millions of other Christians who care about social justice — and I’m one of them — believe that God is not a Democrat or a Republican. What I’ve called elsewhere the “Third Way of the Cross” is what motivates us — not allegiance to our preferred spot on the political couch. Sadly, there’s much truth, but little of the Truth, in the contention that “liberal” churches care about social sin at the expense of personal holiness, just as “conservative” churches focus on personal sin and ignore, or define very narrowly, the corporate sin that pervades society. In doing so, both miss the boat, regardless of the banners and flags they run up the mast.

When Christ-followers take up certain political or social positions that fall somewhere to the left of other people’s beliefs isn’t an indication that they’re operating as the Church Of Jesus As Divine Liberal, utterly divorced from the counsel of Scripture or the will of God. And when sincere believers examine Scripture and are convinced that certain positions are correct — positions and views that may fall on the right part of the spectrum — it can’t be assumed, with “proper” bitterness from the left, that they’ve re-cast Christ as frontman for the GOP. It’s not that easy, however tempting it may be.

Conservatives are wrong when they proclaim that only those things that fall, in the economy of our current political parlance, under the “right-wing” heading are truly Christian; liberals ought to be corrected, too, when they assume that truly following Jesus will always send a disciple further to the left than the guy next to him is. And while true believers can legitimately disagree on social policy — a truth that appears to come as a real shock to too many otherwise decent folks — it seems clear to me that there is only one hallmark of a true, Christian Church, only one criteria that reveals whether or not its allegiance is to Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior, to Jesus As Ultimate Liberal, or to Christ As Conservative King.

The Church exists to worship God and make disciples. Period.

It shouldn’t preach salvation and ignore the plight of the poor, just as it shouldn’t devote itself to peace, justice and poverty issues without announcing forgiveness of sins in Christ. The “social gospel” without conviction of sin and the promise of new life in Christ is no gospel at all; the “salvation gospel” without calling for justice in showing Biblical concern for the outcast isn’t, either. Beck, who tragically thinks that “social justice” is the province only of fools and liberals, cares little for the Church Jesus is building; he does conservatives no favors in presuming that they agree with him. That anyone other than his dog listens to Glenn Beck is truly tragic, as tragic for him as it is for the health of civil discourse in this country.

There are many ways to describe a particular congregation’s mission. It might announce that it exists to know God and make him known. It may announce its intent to go into the world and make disciples; it may focus on prayer, praise, and proclamation. A congregation may call itself a “Christian community” or a “family fellowship,” and the Lord Jesus is pleased if what binds the people together is their unity in worshiping him and in seeking to introduce others to him — not just to get them saved, not only to minister to their needs or speak for their protection, but to help them become devoted, growing disciples, worshiping together our Triune God. Lord help the church whose highest call is social justice, even in his name. And may God give life to the church whose only focus is on saving souls — without transforming lives or confronting both the personal and societal sin that chains them.

James writes that the one who insists he has faith but has no deeds of kindness to show for it has, in reality, no faith at all. What good is it if we have the very Word of life but don’t also offer bread to the one both lost and starving? Likewise, how dare we offer a banquet to the poor while allowing their spiritual starvation? James writes that “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).

That sounds like a call for social justice and care for the poor to me. It also sounds like a plea for personal holiness. Do we dare echo Glenn Beck in deciding that either part of this mandate is unnecessary — or, worse, the province of false prophets and enemies? I love to see churches with banners proclaiming Good News for the poor and calendars full of ministry work with the poor and outcast. But if a ministry doesn’t plead with people to come in repentance to Christ Jesus and humbly accept his sacrifice for their sins, its ministers themselves are as poor and lost as those they seek, even in all sincerity, to serve.

Our politics ought to look much like, and certainly reflect, the Cross — spreading a little to the right, a little to the left, and always reaching up to the One who is all Truth and who will not be held hostage to the whims and wills of even his most fervent followers on the left or the right.

4 Responses to “Glenn Beck and "Social Justice" Churches”

  1. Moara says:

    Why would any Christian take advice from Glenn Beck, a Mormon, on which church to attend?

    Why would Genn Beck specify which churches not to attend, when he thinks that the only one anyone should attend is an LDS one.

  2. Moara, I think you make an excellent point. I frankly don’t see why anyone, anywhere, would look to Glenn Beck for advice on anything other than how to exploit fear and bigotry for profit — but that any evangelical would consider for a moment his comments on church attendance is beyond me. Of course I disagree with his take on social justice, but I wonder how any evangelical would find him credible on religious matters. You may be interested in a post I wrote last week on Moscow’s community email forum; I’ll cut/paste it as a new post titled “Beck and Palin,” or something like that.

    Thanks for reading Prevailing Winds! Hope to hear from you again.


  3. Keely, I LOVE your picture of the cross – reaching out to both sides but primarily up. How true!

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