Beck Versus Wallis on Social Justice

Veritas Libertas by Edward Wimberley

Fox television and radio personality Glenn Beck stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy earlier this year when he implored of his listeners to

“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!”

As a leading proponent of church-sanctioned, governmentally implemented social distributive and economic justice, Rev. Jim Wallis attacked Beck saying that,

“His show should now be in the same category as Howard Stern. Stern practices pornography and Beck denies the central teachings of Jesus and the Bible. So Christians should stop watching the Glenn Beck show and pray for him and Howard Stern.”

Wallis’s attack came on the heels of an assault from Beck upon Wallis and his Sojourners organization which in part asserted that Wallis had

“Come up with this great system uh, of being able to have a religion just really run by the government. Or his religion running the government, I’m not sure which way it works, but he’s really for this big government kind of thing to even out all the things that Jesus came to even out… So you go ahead and you continue to do your little protest thing, that’s great, I love it. But just know the hammer’s coming, because little do you know, for eight weeks we’ve been compiling information on you, your cute little organization, and all the other cute little people that are with you."

Sojourners is a radical organization that receives a significant portion of its funding from the Open Society Institute of left-wing billionaire George Soros that, according to social critic and writer Jay Richards,

“regularly couple strained, narrow readings of scriptural texts and a vaguely Marxist economic foundation to arrive at political and economic positions that are well left of center and far afield of a far more nuanced charity and justice tradition stretching back through almost 2,000 years of orthodox Christian thought.”

Soon after issuing his attack on Beck, Wallis followed up with a letter that seemingly implied that he had never been critical of Beck in any way and that proposed that the two

“sit down together and have an open and public discussion on what social justice really means and how Christians are called to engage in the struggle for justice. Let's make this a civil dialogue and not engage in personal attacks on each other – which is never helpful in trying to sort out what is true. So let's talk about the heart of the matter."

To many observers this social and theological disagreement between the prominent progressive minister and the provocative Beck is a mystery. However at the heart of their disagreement is the manner in which they define the Church’s approach to social justice.

For Beck social justice is a matter of individual faith, piety and charity. For Wallis, social justice is a social transformation and revolution, a social movement and a politically and governmentally implemented program.

Beck's issue with "social justice" as a theological issue is this: He believes that “'social justice' is a euphemism for redistribution of wealth." In a nutshell the salient question for Beck and for people who concur with his critique is whether:

“Care of the poor and needy fall to our individual, charitable and church responsibilities, with government playing a minimal role? Or should government take the major role, with individual charitable efforts in support?”

From Beck’s perspective when churches and pastors interpret social justice as something to be achieved by governmentally mandated redistribution of income which in turn castigates the wealthy, treats them unequally, and substitutes taxation and regulation for individual initiative and personal responsibility they trivialize and transform social justice into a "social philosophy" rather than an act of faith.

Moreover, to the degree that individual initiative and individual acts of charity and faith become substituted with compulsory corporate, social and governmental charity the more nearly these acts conform to a model of "collective salvation" rather than reflecting individual conscience, piety and faith. Similarly, to the extent government requires, forces or extorts citizens into participating in redistributive government-mandated social justice, the more individual faith and citizen freedom and autonomy is violated.

Rev. Jim Wallis, in championing the growth of government and the legitimacy of the redistribution of wealth, exhibits a form of social justice that is frankly anti-biblical and anti-Christian. Wallis is stridently opposed to capitalism and the free market system insisting that capitalism is an unmitigated failure. It is from this perspective that Wallis favors the redistribution of wealth.

In a January 2006 radio interview conducted by Interfaith Voices, Wallis was pointedly asked whether he was "calling for the redistribution of wealth in society?" He replied, "Absolutely, without any hesitation. That's what the gospel is all about."

Beck disagrees with this extra-biblical, absurd assertion as do many, many other clergy and Christians. It is this disturbing assertion that engendered Beck’s ire.

I can think of no biblical foundation for the redistribution of income as a social or governmental initiative. Social justice, when appropriate, flows from faith and conscience. As an individual act of faith and piety social justice is a sacrament and is both biblical and Christian. Whenever social justice becomes synonymous with socialism, big government, and the diminishment of individual freedom in the interest of achieving a mandatory socially redistributive outcome then it is a perversion of the biblical concept and is both authoritarian and autocratic (thus justifying Beck’s association of such social justice with the forces of Communism and Nazism).

Beck sees Wallis and many other progressive ministers as wedded to social justice as collective salvation rather than seeing it in its more appropriate context as an act of individual faith.

I believe Beck understands the social justice issue better than most pastors I know. His theological insight, which discriminates between the requirements of faith and piety as an individual matter rather than a governmental or social agenda, is spot on.

In truth there are many, many clergy who stand in solidarity with Beck eschewing the collectivist salvation of state mandated social and economic redistribution as a secular mandate rather than a biblically grounded one. These clergy compose his “Black Robed Regiment” so named after the original corps of clergy who preached freedom and independence from English domination during the nation’s revolutionary war. Instead pastors supporting Beck’s perspective embrace social justice that is the reflection of individual acts of faith and charity.

When Beck counsels his listeners to flee churches espousing a social justice agenda he is well justified in doing so. Too many churches have polluted the pure meaning of social justice with their socialistic and Marxist political leanings to the point where they look for the Kingdom of God in a socially redistributive government that muzzles free markets, free speech, free conscience and individual initiative. In truth, many within these churches don’t allow themselves to reflect and realize where their misguided politically motivated concept of charity leads them, their denominations and the nation.

By comparison, this Mormon layman Beck correctly sees through the fog and is justified in criticizing Wallis and those like him who bastardize Christian faith by attempting to impose their personal theologies on the rest of us via the instrument of the state.

Wallis deserves criticism. It’s too bad though that he can’t tolerate Beck’s criticism in a gracious way. This is what Wallis has had to say about Beck’s critique of social justice:

“Beck says Christians should leave their social justice churches, so I say Christians should leave Glenn Beck. I don't know if Beck is just strange, just trying to be controversial, or just trying to make money. But in any case, what he has said attacks the very heart of our Christian faith, and Christians should no longer watch his show. His show should now be in the same category as Howard Stern.”

Wallis just doesn’t get it. In truth many, many prominent clergy don’t get it. Glenn Beck does though, as do those of traditionally evangelical heritage who always have and always will understand Christian salvation as mandating individual acts of faith and charity – individually conceived and fulfilled social justice.

I realize my remarks are going to tick-off a lot of folks but I sincerely believe that the social justice orientation of too many denominations is misconstrued and just plain wrong. Speaking for myself, I am proud of this Mormon layman who has the wisdom and courage to see and say what needs to be seen and said. God Bless Glenn Beck!

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Comments » 1

ajm3s writes:

Yes Yes Yes, you get it. Individual salvation, etc.

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