Glenn Beck, Jim Wallis, and Social Justice

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I was listening to the radio this morning.  I was happy, I was sipping my coffee, and I was looking forward to a leisurely day.  Then Jim Wallis came on the radio to discuss the latest antics of our national “village idiot,” Glenn Beck.  apparently, Glenn Beck has taken it upon himself to out all of those heretical Christians that are perverting the Gospel with messages of social justice.  In what has apparently become a personal vendetta against Jim Wallis and ministries like Sojourners,

“Glenn Beck recently told his listeners to leave any church that teaches social justice, and to report its pastor to church authorities.”

Clearly what the church needs is more of Beck’s feel good, watered down, Christmas sweater wearing, capitalism in a “Christian wrapper” spirituality.  My morning is shot.  I spat my coffee at the radio in disgust, leisure as been replaced with indignation at Beck’s blatant and rampant misuse of the Evangelical right, and I am now irritated at how obnoxiously misdirected Beck really is (for the record, he may have overshot his religious base on this one – I know quite a few conservative Evangelicals that hold Wallis in high esteem).

Here is how Wallis suggests we respond to Beck.  He wants you to go to his site and mail a personal message to Beck outing yourself.  It reads:

Dear Mr. Beck,

I’m a Christian who believes in the biblical call to social justice.

I stand 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.

I hereby “report” myself to you, and promise to report myself to the appropriate church authorities. I hope you’ll be hearing from them as well.

I usually don’t get fired up about pundits, especially not provocateurs like Beck.  Nonetheless, the man is a disease infiltrating the Christian “right.”  I have signed the petition, and so should you.  Sign It, Sign It Now! (please)  :0)

Take action against Glenn  Beck



  1. Interesting – let’s also not forget that Mormons aren’t Christians; I guess it just fits his M.O to be so woefully uneducated about the things he prattles on about.


  2. I give no more heed to what a Mormon says a Christian ought to be teaching in his church than I do to an atheist, which is I why can view Beck’s comments with bemused detachment.

    Of course, I also pay little heed to Jim Wallis, mostly because I think he’s an evangelical shill for the Democratic Party, in the same way Ralph Reed used to be a shill for the Republicans.

    Either way, I never let people’s idiotic opinions, or the ones I disagree with–which are not always the same, of course–ruin my day.


  3. George,

    Valid points, and I am usually immune to Beck and his friends at Fox (and Ed Schutlz and his friends at MSNBC for that matter). This just hit me in the right way today – I guess I felt the effect of the possiblity that there may be some Christians that would hear what he has to say and agree with him.

    Strike that, I know Christians that hear and agree with him, and I was pissed for them.


  4. Shawn,

    I had a similar reaction yesterday afternoon when I got an email alert from Sojourners about the whole thing.

    Another interesting thing is that in the original broadcast, Glen (I’d use his last name but that would be a smear of a really good musician) mentioned that if your priest talked about social justice you should not only leave the parish, but also report him to the bishop. It clearly shows that he hasn’t a clue about catholic social teaching, since every Pope since Vatican II has written positively and extensively on social justice issues, positing their important role in the Christian faith. And, if he was talking about another church that has priests and bishops then he’s even more ignorant for obvious reasons.


    You said, “in the same way Ralph Reed used to be a shill for the Republicans,”

    You must have meant “in the same way that 99.99 percent of all evangelical pastors during the 2004 elections were shills for the Republicans.”

    I will admit Wallis’ agenda is often suspiciously like that of the Democratic party, but for most of the issues that his organization confronts he has some damn good biblical defenses for his stances (not as a good as the biblical defences for the 16 fundies, of course, but still pretty good ).


  5. Shawn, I think Beck and Wallis were using different definitions of social justice, which only adds to theconfusion. I’m working on a vlog about this issue.

    James, there are no good proof texts for socialism as state policy.


  6. George,

    There are also no good proof texts for the ethical validity of writing something off with a dirty word (i.e. socialism, or [to bring in something I’m guilty of] fundamentalism) rather than actually engaging in dialogue with ideas that one doesn’t like.


  7. James:

    Whom are you accusing of writing off with a dirty word rather than substantively engaging in a informed debate? Beck? Jim Wallis? Me?

    I think both Beck and Wallis are using the term “social justice” in intellectually confusing and perhaps intellectually dishonest ways. Neither has defined it clearly in their exchange, and both seem to be engaging
    in straw-man denunciations of the other side’s position.

    Do I believe relief of the poor is solely the responsibility of individuals and private associations? No, especially not if laws are oppressive and keep people poor by intention or foreseeable affect. Do I believe the state should redistribute the wealth of honest earners to the poor? No, although there are legal remedies available when wealth has been taken by force or fraud. Does this makes me an advocate of social justice? Probably, although that is not my preferred term. Will there be differences of policy proposals between advocates of social justice? Yes. Should we demagogue the other side as un-Christian because of policy differences? No.

    That, roughly speaking, is my take on the debate.


  8. George,

    It seemed as if you were writing off Wallis’ positions as socialist, which is exactly what Beck was doing as well. That’s what I meant.

    It’s interesting you bring up that social justice is a phrase which is used in intellectually confusing/dishonest ways since I believe that the terms “free market” and “socialist” are the most misused words of our times.

    The problem is that Beck and others have constructed a narrative in which a cosmic battle rages between capitalism (good) whose ultimate champion is conservative America, and socialism whose ultimate champion shifts from time to time, but whose allies include the democratic party. Within this narrative Beck perceives Christianity as a piece which should be mobalized toward the greater good of capitalism, and against the ultimate evil of socialism. Christianity and its causes are ultimately subordinate to the cause of capitalism and what conservative America calls freedom.

    I reject that narrative and resent any such appropriation of Christianity. My narrative is one in which there is a cosmic battle between the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God. In this narrative, the only economic decisions that matter are those that further the kingdom of God, regardless of whether the kingdom of the world calls them capitalist or socialist. Since justice and especially justice for the poor is so incredibly important in the kingdom of God (according to Scripture), economic decisions should be made to further that cause. But, for me, earthly governments have very little to do with it. They are, by and large, a part of the kingdom of this world. The Church universal, not the governments of this world will one day rule with Christ in a God’s reign of total peace and justice on earth.


  9. Supporting and promoting social justice are good Christian acts. They are also good Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Pagan acts. It should be obligatory for all of us if we are to be truly human. Is Glenn Beck part of humanity?


  10. James:

    It may surprise, but I agree with the vast majority of what you have written here. I probably assess the benefits of capitalism more highly than you do, but I agreethat the free market is not the kingdom of God. One of the reasons I generally ignore Wallis is that he seems to mistake progressive politics for the kingdom of God, even as he critiques conservative Christians for doing the same thing with their conservative politics.

    I much prefer Ron Sider to Wallis, because he’s a more honest and more moderate broker of progressive evangelicalism.



  11. I equate Beck on the same shock jock level as Howard Stern. However, I am amazed at the masses who believe everything that comes from his mouth as gospel.


  12. Glen Beck is straight from the entertainment and opinion page of the newspaper. He should be taken as such, but unfortunately he is taken to much for the front page.

    As an anti-federalist myself I’m pretty far to the right I would think of any of you.

    The basic Gospel obligation as Christians to care for those who are lacking the 4 basic vital needs:
    food, water, shelter, & clothing. The Christian at an individual level has a direct obligation to care to these individuals.

    The next level is the obligation of the regional churches – health, education, and access to services (legal, financial, informational (newspaper, radio, phone)and health.

    It is at this level that Christianity is in the process of abandoning the Gospel to the secular state. It is both the church side seeking assistance from the state and the state influencing the church in attempting these needs. In America this is especially acute because many churches do not recognize the obligation of the collective churches. Some how that smacks of communism but the local church does have an obligation to other churches to meet the needs of the poor. American individualist has diminished this aspect IMO.

    Finally it is the next level which is truly social justice; at least by the Catholic church. Institutional injustice which prevents the poor from having the opportunity to rise above the poverty level.

    Because our political system has drilled in the false extreme concept of separation of church and state; the church then leans towards liberation theology in addressing social injustice(strictly political redistribution of wealth).
    However the church runs into the problem of private property which it supports just as much. IMO the problem is that the ACLU has been so affective in creating an absolute wall of separation btwn church and state that it has forced the church out of its mission to the poor. Anyone who has read history knows it was the church who cared for the poor without assistance from the state for 1500 years and the state historically never cared.


  13. George, are you insinuating that Glenn Beck isn’t stupid? Isn’t a liar? And isn’t a douchebag? It is certainly a Christian duty to love our neighbor, and our enemy. But we don’t do that by speaking nice-nice. It wasn’t beneath Jesus or the Apostle Paul to use put-downs and ad hominem attacks.

    Besides, I have no idea who Glenn Beck really is. But we are all reacting to a media creation ‘Glenn Beck’. This ‘Glenn Beck’ doesn’t care about God, church or the u.s.america. He cares about the profitability of his corner of the media empire.

    And this ‘Glenn Beck’ has definitely earned the moniker “stupid, lying douchebag”.


  14. A twofer! Lowering the level of public discourse and being holier-than-thou about it at the same time. Jesus would be so proud!

    In all seriousness, I understand your defense of ad hominem and agree with it to a certain degree. If Jesus called his opponents white-washed tombs and unkosher cups, then certainly ad hominem has a degree of divine legitimacy.

    But the flip side is that Jesus engaged his opponents in argument and ate in their homes too.

    We–not just you, but me also at times–have skipped over the arguing and eating and gone straight for the insults.

    Surely we can agree that this is neither helpful for public discourse nor particularly Jesusy!


  15. Beck isn’t stupid. If, as you insinuate, Beck is simply a business, then’s he smart enough to make more money than you, I, and all the Theophiliacs combined.

    Is he lying? Lying would entail that he knows the truth and would raise the question why? If he’s lying for money, he’s not stupid because he’s rolling in it. See above.

    If he genuinely believes what he says, then he’s not lying, though he may be stupid.

    The problem with your critique, then, is its incoherence. Beck can be either lying or stupid but not both.

    As for the last item in your trilogy, I’ll assume that you have more expertise there than I and defer to your judgment.


  16. On the way home from church this morning, I had the following thought: What if we used the word “righteousness” to describe the heart of biblical faith? It describes God’s character, the character of the society and the individual God desires us to have and to be, as well as the means by which he brings this about. Do you think we could unite around this concept?


  17. George,

    Since the “justice” we’re talking about is “social” justice I think that God’s love would need to balance or even trump his “righteousness.” Not just to be romantic, but if we’re talking about social reconciliation then it seems that forgiveness needs to be a primary virtue in public relationships. Both some of the Psalms and the letter of James bear this out: God does not punish as we deserve.

    So yes, righteousness, but also “love” in it’s fully Trinitarian sense.


  18. @ Joey,

    I see George’s point, but I’d add most of the OT prophets to your list of biblical legitimization of name calling. More interesting, perhaps, is the fact that in many cases the prophets were name calling in the “Thus says the LORD” mode of communication. However, I have to wonder if God calling people names is ad hominem or just a statement of fact. One pig calling another pig a filthy little “x” seems to violate logical argumentation – what right does one pig have to condescendingly critique the “pigness” of another pig? The Creator calling anyone anything seems to be more a statement of reality. 😉

    @ George,

    I had chosen to receive Joey’s statements in the prophetic voice as opposed to the ad hominem tense (perhaps there is some overlap?). Oh, and BTW – I nearly shot coffee out my nose when I read this…”As for the last item in your trilogy, I’ll assume that you have more expertise there than I and defer to your judgment.”


    I don’t think the problem lies in the notion of righteousness that George conceptualizes. The problem lies in how everyone else will want to conceptualize it. So, the notion of righteousness bearing the ideological weight of social justice would be a wonderful place to start, but would eventual have to abandon traditional theological parlance – it is just too loaded of a term for Christians to unite behind (isn’t that wonderfully ironic).


  19. Morality might be more apropos. In my book at I wrote a chapter about morality and conscience, called “Duel of the Dual.” Here is an excerpt:

    “Conscience” is a misused and misunderstood word. “Have you no conscience?,” ask people of a person who does something which seems to them to be so obviously wrong. Each person has a dual conscience and, occasionally, these two sides do engage in a duel.

    The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology defines conscience as “a reasonably coherent set of internalized moral principals that provides evaluations of right and wrong with regard to acts either performed or contemplated. Historically, theistic views aligned conscience with the voice of God and hence regarded it as innate. The contemporary view is that the prohibitions and obligations of conscience are learned…” Individual moral development is based on both.

    Socrates said that conscience was the inner warning voice of God. Among Stoics it was a divine spark in man. Throughout the Middle Ages, conscience, synderesis in Greek, was universally binding rules of conduct. Religious interpretations later changed in psychiatry.

    Sigmund Freud had coined a new term for conscience; he called it “superego.” This was self-imposed standards of behavior we learned from parents and our community, rather than from a divine source. People who transgressed those rules felt guilt. Carl Jung, Freud’s famous contemporary, said that conscience was an archetype of a “collective unconscious”; content from society is learned later. Most religions still view conscience as the foundation of morality.

    Sri Aurobindo said “…true original Conscience in us [is] deeper than constructed and conventional conscience of the moralist, for it is this which points always towards Truth and Right and Beauty, towards Love and Harmony and all that is a divine possibility in us.” Perhaps conscience can be viewed as a double-pane window, with the self in between. On one side, it looks toward ego and free will to obey community’s laws. On the other side, it is toward the soul and divine will to follow universal law. They often converge to dictate the same, or a similar, course of conduct…and sometimes not.


  20. Shawn:

    I do what I can to make the Theophiliacs laugh. After all I have done to make them angry, it seems like the least–and I mean the very least–I can do to restore balance in the Force.

    As noted above, I agree with Joey’s (?) note on biblical ad hominem to a certain degree. You’ve added a unique wrinkle with your citation of the biblical “Thus saith the Lord” formula. So perhaps there are three conditions for our use of ad hominem:

    (1) The charge must be true.

    (2) The charge must be in accord with God’s revealed Word. (To my mind, (1) and (2) are overlapping but not identical categories. There are truths outside the Bible.)

    (3) The charge must be made as part of an overall strategy of building personal relationship and/or engaging the other person’s argument on its merits.

    In my opinion, Joey’s ad hominem didn’t satisfy the first condition, which was the point of my “incoherence” argument.

    But whatever.

    Now that Congress’s health care bill is on the road to becoming law, I’m sure we’ll discover whether social justice results or not, however one may define that.



  21. It’s perfectly possible for him to be stupid and to lie. Beck displays both. I have certainly done my fair share of stupidity and lying, so I can’t agree that they’re mutually exclusive.

    In regards to me having expertise in regards to douchebaggery, I must admit to having worn both a mullet and a mustache – although never at the same time.

    And, finally, I think you’re right about Jesus’ context in regards to put downs.

    I’d like to apologize for allowing the distinction between Glenn Beck the human being and ‘Glenn Beck’ the media creation, and, for the same reason, retract my initial comment. What we say and do, whatever the reasons, is a part of who we are.

    Instead of insulting the man I think I’d rather just say that he is an enemy of the cross of Christ and an idolater, and, as such, deserves our prayers along with what love we can muster, by the grace of God.


  22. Steve,

    What do you mean by “he’s going to hell, too”? Who else, praytell, is going to hell? Surely, you don’t mean Beck, he’s a conservative, and conservatives don’t go to hell, not even ones who have naughty sex in airport bathrooms…it’s in the Bible. And if you meant George P., then you’re way off, his dad (George O.)has an inside track with God that you probably don’t know about, and if you meant Charismanglican, then you’re also sorely mistaken, he’s one of the nicest guys around, AND he works on a farm, AND he homeschools his kids. He’s practically Amish. So who were you talking about? Do you know something I don’t…like the mind of God?


  23. James,

    My guess, and I am guessing, is that Steve is taking a position akin to George – that they should both be ignored.


  24. There is no hell and there is no heaven, unless you dwell on imagination. There is only here and now. Believe in them and you will personally be going nowhere.

    Give it up already! What Beck and Willis believe, or espouse, is insignificant. Ignore them, unless you want both of them to achieve their objective. They both want to be controversial so that they will be noticed.


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