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.