Jesus said, "Blessed are you, when people revile you and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake." (Matthew 5:11)
Glenn Beck, radical right wing commentator, has taken a hatchet to the reputation of Jim Wallis. Wallis has spent most of his adult life working on behalf of the poor, the cause Jesus made the center of his own ministry on earth. For decades of preaching and organizing on behalf of those with no access to power, the ones Jesus called "the least of these" (Matthew 25), Jim has appropriately been lauded as one of the chief advocates for systemic change on behalf of those who work for the rest of us but don't enjoy the privileges that we do. Now instead of celebrating Jim's gift of service to those God loves, Glenn Beck has unleashed a diatribe against him that begins in falsehood and ends in slander.
Last week, Beck devoted an entire week of his nightly rants on FOX News to tearing down Jim Wallis' reputation. He has said that Jim promotes forced redistribution of wealth, socialism, and Marxism, none of which is even remotely factual. He has chosen a favorite phrase of all those who follow Jesus' teachings on the poor -- social justice -- and derided as evil all congregations that have it as a core principle. What Jim and his organization, Sojourners, seek to do is educate the public about why poverty persists even as the world becomes better able to produce and share what is needed, and advocate for changing those systems that do not reward honest hard work with living wages. Jim is, in fact, a proud advocate for social justice, and as such, he is faithful to Jesus in the process.
Frankly, Jim and I don't agree about everything. We disagree about a woman's right to control her own body and to have access to the full range of medical care. And I have not yet convinced him that my marriage to Mike should be respected just as his marriage to Joy is. On the other hand, Jim took a risk on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people a few years ago when he accepted an online ad from us at the Human Rights Campaign for our LGBT scriptural resource, Out in Scripture, which ran on Sojourners' website. He took flak from many of his Evangelical supporters for giving us a venue to promote our resource, but he defended our right to be heard. More recently, he spoke out prophetically, asking his Evangelical sisters and brothers to support anti-hate crime legislation and employment protections for LGBT people. In doing so, he stood up for us at the risk of alienating his core constituency. When Jim and I disagree, we do so on the merits of our positions, and we do so with civility and genuine respect for each other. When we agree, I am always grateful for such a powerfully persuasive ally.
What Glenn Beck is doing to Jim Wallis is despicable. Jim rightly points out that it is really President Obama that Beck seeks to smear when he attacks Jim, because Jim is one of the president's religious advisors. Jim and I have had the privilege this year to serve on the president's first Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Neither Jim nor I agrees with the President all the time any more than we agree with each other, but we offer advice to him and his administration in a spirit of building up the country and promoting community. Beck seeks only to tear down those with whom he disagrees -- and has stooped to lying about a good man in order to do so. Beck has forgotten one of the chief principles of his Mormon faith, and indeed of all major faiths: that we should treat others as we seek to be treated. He has also broken the ninth commandment: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."
I am standing in solidarity with Jim Wallis during what will be a difficult week. I have written to Glenn Beck to tell him I am also a social justice Christian. I am praying for Jim, Joy, and their children since I know what it is like to have an axe taken to my reputation. I am also praying for Glenn Beck, not because I want to, but because my faith demands it. I follow the One who taught that we should pray for our enemies.
Follow Harry Knox on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RevHarryKnox