Speaking as a Christian ethicist, I can say with certainty that in flippantly attacking the concept of social justice, Glenn Beck inadvertently poked a finger in the eye of every person who takes the Bible as God's revealed Word and (according to Scripture) poured contempt on a central concern of God Himself:
"For I the Lord love justice." (Isaiah 61:8)
"You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue." (Deuteronomy 16:19-20)
"What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8)
"Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." (Amos 5:24)
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness [Greek dikaiosune, also translated as justice], for they will be filled." (Matthew 5:6)
"And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them." (Luke 18:7-8)
"Woe to you ... for you have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith." (Matthew 23:23)
This is a target-rich environment. I could have picked hundreds of other verses. By our count in Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context (Intervarsity Press, 2003), fellow ethicist Glen Stassen and I find in the Bible 1,060 uses of the two Hebrew and two Greek words for justice. In contrast, the main words for sexual sin appear 90 times. There really is no theme more central to biblical faith than the matter of justice. This is very widely recognized to be true for what Christians call the Old Testament, but in our book we show that it is just as true for the New Testament. We offer an entire chapter detailing the forty occasions in which Jesus confronted the powers and authorities of his time over their injustice. We show that justice is one of the core themes of the kingdom of God that Jesus preached about and died to bring into existence.
In that chapter, we break down Jesus' confrontation with injustice into four primary categories:
1. Jesus confronted the injustice of greed and gross economic exploitation and unfairness. He demanded/invited justice for the poor and hungry.
On this theme, a key passage is the parable of Lazarus and the rich man dining in luxury inside his gated home (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man is scored for his indifference to his poor neighbor and his ability to live in complacent opulence while a man slowly dies outside his door.
2. Jesus confronted the injustice of domination and bullying and demanded/invited his followers to exercise power in the form of mutual servanthood.
Here a memorable passage is the one in which Jesus contrasts the power-over-lordliness of the pagans with the true greatness of servant-leadership (Mt. 20:25-26). He embodied that servant-leadership throughout his ministry.
3. Jesus confronted the injustice of violent killing and demanded/invited peacemaking.
His earliest followers often remembered how Jesus grieved outside Jerusalem over the coming destruction of the city in a rebellion against Rome that would be ruthlessly crushed by the Roman legions, at the cost of 1.2 million Jewish lives (Mt. 23:37-39). No early Christian participated in that revolt.
4. Jesus confronted the injustice of exclusion from community and demanded/invited into existence a new kind of community in which everyone has a place at the table.
Jesus was constantly criticized for the way he and the God he served were about welcoming the despised, the rejected, the sick, the marginalized, and even sinners, offering mercy rather than judgment (Luke 5:27-32).
To summarize: for Jesus, as for the Jewish prophets in whose line he came, social injustice consists of misuses of power to create distortions of human community in which greed, domination, violence, and exclusion come to dominate human life. Social justice consists of human acts to resist social injustice by repairing such distortions of human community. We work today for social justice when we seek to create religious and political communities characterized by more economic justice, less domination, less violence, and more inclusive community. When we do so, we can have every assurance that we are attempting to put into practice God's will and indeed God's passion for a world that he made for precisely such justice.
I have never before written about Glenn Beck, and this is not really a post about him. I think of Mr. Beck as a hugely skilled political entertainer whose meteoric rise reflects his own considerable skills and the equally considerable political polarization of a nation that I love.
He has made his rise on skillfully inflammatory rhetoric that has hooked the emotions of millions. But this time he hooked the Bible and the God of the Bible. He managed to do something few have been able to do -- speaking only of my own religious community, he has united Catholics and Protestants, evangelicals and mainliners, Christian progressives and moderates and conservatives. He has offended all Christians who know that our God is a God of justice, and that advancing justice is central to our mission as a people and to the kingdom of God for which we work and wait.
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