Glenn Beck, Justice, and the Bible

Glenn Beck is one of Americas most recognized television and radio talk personalities. Like many such personalities, both on the extreme left and extreme right, he has said many things that have sparked controversy and elicited outrage from the opponents on the other end of the spectrum. Recently however, Beck has outdone himself in the “outrageous statement” category. Outrageous statements by such self-proclaimed leaders-of-movements are to be expected. What is shocking is that Beck has made a statement that is clearly based in either falsehood or ignorance or both.

The statement he made calls for Christians to leave their church if there is any mention of “justice”,  “social justice” or “economic justice” on their church website. Why should they leave their church? Because according to Beck those are simply code words for socialism and communism. Now in case you have not heard this already or find it hard to believe what you just read, you can check the quote in this story from Politics Daily.

Before I get too far into this, I need to make something very clear. When it comes to economic theory, I believe that the Bible most clearly supports free market capitalism. I am something of an economic conservative. I don’t like government-run health care. If you think something so important can be run effectively and efficiently by the government I simply want to point you to Amtrak and the United States Postal System. Do you want the same people involved in your coronary bypass surgery? I did not vote for President Obama. I voted for McCain and even supported him the previous time he ran.

All of that to say, I am not coming at this from a left-leaning economic or governmental point of view.  I come at this purely from a biblical interpretation point of view; something about which Mr. Beck is either clueless or has chosen to ignore.  It is intellectually irresponsible to make the blanket statement that if a church is concerned with issue of justice that it is following a communist/socialist agenda.

Before commenting, let me simply list a handful of the overwhelming number of places that the Bible calls for justice, social, economic or otherwise.

“The word of the Lord is upright and all his work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice” Psalm 33:4, 5

“Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times” Psalm 106:3

“He has told you oh man, what is good and what the Lord requires of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” Micah 6:8

“Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, and mercy and faithfulness” Jesus in Matthew 23:23

What Beck fails to recognize is that words can have multiple meanings. One must be aware that nuance and context and history all play a part in understanding the meaning of a word. Just because Nicolai Lenin or Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez use the word justice or even social justice, does not mean that the Bible or Jesus or today’s churches mean the same thing by it. When the Bible speaks about justice it does so based on the character of God. That is absolutely crucial. Justice is important because God is just and he loves justice and hates injustice. We are told that God is just and that he administers justice and calls on those who follow Him to do what they can to ensure that his attribute of justice is demonstrated to the world. Part of the description of the justice God desires to be demonstrated is that the weak, the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the foreigner in our midst are treated with dignity and with the same rights and care of the wealthiest and most powerful among us.

Justice in the Bible does not mean that wealth must be redistributed, taken from the rich and given to the poor. It does mean that everyone is given the same opportunity to improve their position in life and that those who suffer for reasons beyond their control, the widow and orphan for example, should be taken care of by those whom God has blessed. Justice in the Bible does not mean that the minorities must be given positions and opportunity just because they are minorities, but neither does it mean that they should be denied them because of their minority status. Justice in the Bible calls for honesty in commerce, not deception that allows some to get rich by cheating others. Justice in the Bibles calls for the captive to be set free. That includes the tens of thousands of young girls enslaved by sex traffickers throughout the world. If churches fail in those types of “justice” ministries then they are failing the Gospel and denying the very character of God.

The biblical call to justice is hardly a call to communism or socialism. Do some use the Bible to promote a communist agenda? Certainly. Does that mean church should avoid talk of justice issues. Certainly not. In fact it means that they should engage in the discussion all the more in order to provide a proper, biblical understanding of the issues and not allow them to be hijacked by people with no desire to bring glory to the God of justice.

Glenn Beck’s’ call to Christians to leave their church if the website has the words, “justice”, “social justice”, or “economic justice” can only be explained in one of two ways. He is either woefully misinformed and making irresponsible statements without understanding the issues or he knows exactly what the issues are and is being intellectually dishonest for the sake of ratings. Either way he is committing an injustice upon his audience and upon the character of a just and loving God.

Worship and Justice

I made the mistake of asking a friend for some book suggestions related to the chapter on worship for the Provocative Christian Living book. He suggested a book that connects our worship of God to our doing justice for the poor, oppressed and enslaved. It was not what I expected but more than I could have hoped for.

The bottom line of Mark Labberton’s book, “The Dangerous Act of Worship”, is that we can’t say we love God if we do not love our neighbor. I know, that comes right out of 1 John 4:20 “If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” How we treat our neighbor, especially the poor and oppressed has a direct connection to our worship of God. In short, it is not possible to worship God if we are not concerned about the issues of pain and suffering that are faced by people made in God’s image.

I am reminded of a story of a congregation that was confronted with a dilemma one Sunday morning. Just like every other Sunday morning they made their way from their cars to their seats in the sanctuary. Each one was dressed in their Sunday best, including their obligatory Sunday morning smile and greeting for the other worshipers parading in to worship. What made this Sunday morning different was the man huddled in a corner near the bottom of the steps, outside, near the street. He was dirty and had his own uniquely unpleasant aroma. His hair was greasy and knotted, and covered by a dirty brown beanie pulled low over his eyes. An over-large tattered trench coat kept him warm while one arm remained hooked around a shopping cart loaded with the totality of his worldly possessions. No one spoke to him. Most turned away and made sure not to lock eyes with the man. Children who embarrassed their parents with overly loud questions about the man where told not to pay any attention.

Inside the sanctuary the service was about to begin. Everyone was seated in their normal places, the ones they always sat in, waiting quietly for the pastor to step onto the platform. To the shock and dismay of the entire congregation, the dirty, homeless stranger from outside came stumbling down the middle aisle and took a seat in the front row. No one dared move or say a word. A few minutes of uncomfortable silence felt like an eternity. Just when people expected the pastor to come out to begin the service and maybe deal with the man who was so out of place, the man stood up. He slowly walked up to the platform and had the audacity to step into the pulpit. To the gasps and bewilderment of the congregation, he removed his cap, took off the knotted wig, removed the tattered coat, wiped the grime from his face and revealed himself as their pastor in. All he needed to do was stand there. The Holy Spirit did the rest. People were confronted with their rejection of someone in need as they prepared to tell God how much they loved Him by worshiping as they always did.

It really gets back to what Jesus said about what we do for the sick, the prisoner, the naked, the hungry and the rejected. To the degree we serve them and care for them, we are serving and caring for Jesus. If we fail to serve them and care for them, then we really are not serving and caring for Jesus no matter how many songs of praise we sing or offerings of resources we make.

Buy caring about issues of justice and loving our distressed neighbor, we take worship out of the exclusive realm of the sanctuary or church auditorium. Instead, we find ourselves on the road to making worship a 24/7 act of giving ourselves to God. When we care for, and show love to others, we are honoring God who made them. You cannot honor the creator and dishonor that which he created. If I say I love Picasso but I slap graffiti on one of his paintings, then I am really making a statement about what I truly think of Picasso. If however I really love Picasso, then I will cherish and care for that which he painted. The same is true in our worship of God. If I really want to honor God, then I must cherish and care for that which He has made in His image. It is in that context that doing justice is what God wants from us in our worship of Him. It is summed up in these words from the Prophet Micah:

He has shown you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8