This post was written in response to the Washington Post On Faith question of the week which they titled: "Wallis vs. Beck: The politics of social justice," Asking, "How does the pursuit of justice fit into your faith? Is 'social justice' an ideology or a theology?"
I'm glad for the discussion, but "Wallis vs. Beck" really isn't the point. Over several weeks, Glenn Beck has attacked the term and concept of "social justice"; likened it to Marxism, Communism, and Nazism; told people to leave their churches if the words even appeared on congregational Web sites; and instructed Christians to "turn in" their pastors and priests to church authorities if they preached or taught "social justice." That's what he said, and is still saying. I felt it necessary to respond when I heard that a Fox News personality had attacked the heart of the mission statement of Sojourners: "to articulate the biblical call to social justice." He only attacked me when I challenged his misrepresentations and distortions of a central Christian teaching that is integral to biblical faith.
If Beck had merely attacked "big government" again, as he does each night, or just expressed his strong libertarian philosophy that government bears no responsibility for issues like poverty, or re-stated his preference of personal responsibility over social responsibility for solving societal problems, nobody would have even responded -- it wouldn't have been news. But what he did say, and continues to say, is that "social justice" is both a dangerous and destructive teaching. The term continues to be derided on his famous blackboard, along with whoever challenges his ideas.
While I have agreed that the cause of social justice has sometimes been politicized for ideological purposes by both Left and Right, I continue to defend the term itself as biblical and at the center of church teachings across the centuries and our many traditions (including Beck's own Mormon Church, as many of its leaders have pointed out). And I have been heartened to see Christians of diverse political views and voting patterns rise to defend the integrity of social justice as core to the gospel.
While Beck has yet to respond to a standing invitation to a public dialogue about what social justice really means, his comments have already sparked a broad national conversation -- as is well represented here in the On Faith discussion. Ironically, because of Beck's nightly assaults, I haven't seen such a national conversation in years about the meaning of biblical social justice. Several heads of church denominations have called to tell me that their pastors are actually preaching more about social justice because Glenn Beck has told them not to, and that thousands of pastors have turned themselves in to them (as church authorities) as "social justice pastors." In addition, more than 50,000 have turned themselves in to Beck (literally overflowing his inbox).
God indeed has a sense of humor and I guess we should now thank the polarizing pundit for sparking such a rich and robust public debate. So "What is biblical social justice?" Let the conversation continue, with or without Glenn Beck.
Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street -- A Moral Compass for the New Economy, CEO of Sojourners and blogs at www.godspolitics.com.
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