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Is God for Social Justice? (and does Glenn Beck Hate Jesus?)

John on March 16, 2010 at 12:31 am

Glenn Beck says no. Jim Wallis says yes. Amy Sullivan agrees with Wallis and asks “Why Does Glenn Beck Hate Jesus?” So who is right?

This is one of those debates within the church that will never be settled. It won’t be settled because the evidence isn’t cut and dry. On the one hand, both the Old and New Testament do talk about justice. James says that true religion is caring for orphans and widows. Jesus says that it will be very difficult for a rich man to enter his kingdom.

The key verses probably are those found in Matthew chapter 25. Here Jesus is speaking to his disciples and tells them a story about the last judgment. In the story, people are separated as either sheep or goats (that’s heaven or hell) depending on what they did for “the least of these” during their lifetime.

Perhaps Jim Wallis doesn’t want to make any fine distinctions, but it seems to me that Jesus never suggested we will be judged based upon how we voted or which party we supported in elections. If God does keep track of that sort of thing, it must be on a very personal basis.

Paul has a discussion of the big gray areas in life in 1 Corinthians. He makes clear that food is neither clean or unclean, only what comes out of a man’s heart. By the same token, I think it’s very likely neither major political party is clean or unclean. What matters (if anything) is what the individual has in their heart in supporting said party.

For instance, the stereotypical rich Republican who uses his wealth to bribe the powerful and take advantage of the weak…not winning any points in Jesus’ book I’d warrant. The conservative pastor more interested in how people vote than their well being will come to regret it, I suspect. And on the other hand, the convinced liberal like Wallis, who believes in his heart that voting Democratic will make the world a more just place…Well, much as I disagree, there’s something admirable about that. His heart is in the right place and, with God, that really is what matters.

For my part, I’m quite certain that the free market has been the greatest institution in history for raising people out of poverty, bringing us specialization and with that advances in health and science, longer and healthier lives, not to mention the freedom it brings and the dignity of a job well done. In my mind, anything that seeks to replace the market (communism, statism) is daft, arrogant and borders on evil. I could say much the same about the salubrious nature of democracy, a far better system than the dictatorial Empire under which Jesus spent his earthly years.

And this isn’t just my feeling about the Bible, it’s right there in the Bible. Some of Jesus’ own parables presume free market ideas, such as the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price. God’s method of spreading the Gospel was entrepreneurial in the 1st century and still is. Surely it would have been much easier to assume command control and write what he wanted in the sky, but God never does that. His offer is always to “test and see” or more colloquially, would you like a sample? Paul shares the Gospel on Mars Hill in Athens and is mocked by some and accepted by a few. This is how God’s whole plan is supposed to work.

If the Bible is any guide, God clearly believes in the free market of ideas which is the real foundation of all free markets. The alternative, the way of the sword, the way of top down institution of God’s will through government dictat (as taken by Charlemange, for instance) is not the Christian way and never was.

It was the Hebrews who demanded a human king to reign over them. God made clear that he saw this as a failure on their part, a rejection of a better way. That’s not to say God is some sort of anarchist, only that the institution of government and law is not (from the Christian point of view) the goal. Winning the heart of the free individual is the goal. And that presumes hearts that are free to be won.

I’ve heard it said that the reason God only gave ten commandments is because it was so much easier to list the few things that were forbidden than the innumerable things which are not. There’s lots of freedom and a little restraint.

So while I’m all for charity and consider it one of the hallmarks of a healthy church, I’m very much against any proposed form of government which seeks to remove grassroots human effort from the equation. Charity, as you may know,  is really a transliterated Greek word for love (caritas). If you take love out of the equation and replace it with a soulless bureaucracy you may reach more people, but you don’t have charity any more. Not in my view. And while you may promote some justice and do some good anyway, you will also likely attract crooks and scoundrels just looking to take advantage of others. This is not healthy for them or for society. And in the worst cases, you actually have nothing but crooks and scoundrels who prop themselves up while the hoi polloi are left to starve and suffer.

I suspect that’s about where Glenn Beck is coming from and I believe he’s right. It’s no accident that many of the worst dictatorships on earth are communist and anti-religion (or Islamic, a faith built in no small part on the way of the sword). Many of these governments (like China) are wary of Christianity because they sense that Christianity is a threat to their control. They’re right to think so because Christianity bears the seeds of freedom, freedom from the bottom up.

As for right versus left debate in this country, I’d like to remind Wallis that the same scripture that talks about justice and charity also says:

For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:10

I wonder what Jim would say about a conservative (like Glenn Beck) who said something like that? On a governmental level (and again, I’m not advocating this) that would mean no welfare whatsoever without work of some kind attached. I wonder if Wallis would call such a suggestion heartless? But again this is Paul, one of Jesus’ greatest Apostles…

So like I said, this is one of those debates that will never be settled, but those are my thoughts. What do you think?

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