Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Said what?

Recently I posted a link to some comments by punditainer Glenn Beck on my Facebook page. Beck, by the way, is a conservative in his political stance and partisan to an extreme. He's part entertainer and part commentator. He has a facile intellect and an interesting communication style. His audience is growing.


Beck is urging people to peruse their church website looking for the words social and/or economic justice. He wants people to run as fast as they can away from such churches. He insinuates that social justice is just a quick turn to the left and an easy slide into Fascism and Marxism. Please. How insulting. And yet a quick look around the web and one finds many who aren't insulted but invigorated and ready to go to battle against social justice types. Against me. Against my friends and colleagues. I'm quite disturbed by his comments.

I work for two ministries which proudly align themselves with the biblical stream of social justice. For sure social justice is not the only stream that runs throughout the Scripture so I don’t want anyone accusing me or the ministries I serve with of ignoring other streams of discipleship. We don't. We won't. But social justice is a God thing we should be running to and not away from. It’s a stream that should transcend political ideology. After all Jesus Himself at the start of His ministry turned to the book of Isaiah and read:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Jesus was not afraid to align Himself with justice, with the poor, and with the marginalized. Nor should we. Again, I also believe that Jesus came to seek and save the lost (all of us). Personal sinfulness is a big deal. The cross and the resurrection mean something. But Jesus also talked often about the kingdom of God and our need to love others (even those who live outside our comfort zone) in very tangible ways. His desire is that His love takes hold in our lives in deep ways, penetrating our deepest held biases and prejudices, motivating us to be 'Jesus' in the world around us.

I'm sensing there is an alarming trend in both the church and on the airwaves to align social justice with some leftist conspiracy to bankrupt our government. It isn't a big movement but big enough. We can’t allow that trend to become a wave of insensitivity and become unjust itself. That’s why I’m writing.

Most of the people I know who are involved with social justice ministries are avowed capitalists and are quite fond of our democratic form of government. In fact, I know of no one who wants to take us down the path towards Marxism or Nazism. Who would? I think most who ride in the biblical stream of social justice are quite thankful for the freedom to discuss ideas and that we have a system in place where people can make money. Personally, I hope my friends who have been gifted with the 'art of the deal' 'make a lot of money. They will bless others with it. They love God and know all that they have is a gift from Him and needs to be stewarded well.

Those who minister with the poor do talk a fair amount about the systems that seem to block and oppress people and that leads to all kinds of interesting conversations about wealth, access, power, position and priority. These are questions that people of faith should be asking. And it is very true these are the very questions that have led to social upheavals all throughout history. Some of those upheavals have brought about important changes. Others have led to us to destructive places.. But the questions aren't bad. They are necessary. And guided by a good and gracious God much good can come of the asking and the accompanying dialogue. Guided by forces that want personal gain and power much evil can rain down on people and nations.

A biblical perspective on social justice starts with asking God to see the world as He sees it And then be prepared to have your life wrecked. That's what God does to people. He wrecks them and then refocuses their attention. When we start to see the world as God sees it we will see injustice and we will want to work to correct what we see. We will also read Scripture in a totally different light. We will want to engage all that is evil in this world and with righteous indignation work hard to deal with the systems and ideologies that oppress people. Part of the battle will be on the political front where we will have to talk about priorities and resources. None of this is smooth sledding. No worthy call of God ever is.

Glenn Beck is someone I do not know. I know him by reputation. I’ve seen him on TV a few times only. He’s bright and he also exaggerates. He's representative of a type of personality that is gaining too much influence especially among people who aren't sure if they want to think for themselves or not. I also believe these personalities can be found on both extremes of the political spectrum. The problem is that these kind of personalities belittle people of all types, have low regard for authority, create fear, and mismanage information. In this case using social justice as a code for leftist conspiracy is downright irresponsible.

God knows that most people involved in social justice ministry are too tired to organize a conspiracy against anything.

I do understand what Beck is saying though. I really do. Anything good can be used for evil purposes and movements that started well have ended in extremism. I get that. We all do. And I want to pay attention to that. But please don't insinuate that the good people I know are fronts for Marxist or Nazi ideologies.

For sure, if you look hard enough you’ll find extremists in the social justice realm. I'm sure they are there. You'll find people who are angry, bitter and who aren't fond of America for one reason or another. I haven't met them personally but I'm sure they're somewhere. I guess I'd rather look at the thousands and thousands and thousands of loving, caring, Jesus following people who are trying to love the ‘least of these’ in the name of the Lord.

My biggest worry for social justice types is that the magnitude of the issues before them can, perhaps, lead to losing heart and focus. We dare not forget the call of God on our lives nor abandon our own relationship with Jesus, the Christ. Social justice finds its meaning and purpose in and through the person of Jesus. Balancing the doing of the work of God with the being in a relationship with Him isn’t easy. Any critique of social justice needs to start with a look at it’s spiritual framework and move outward from there I think. And in all honesty I think that critique happens often at least in the circles I travel in.

A colleague of mine said today that she prays for the Glenn Beck types of this world. That’s a good plan. I need to be reminded of that in the midst of personal frustration.

I also think that we do need to stand up for what is clearly God’s heart and not allow those in bully pulpits to cause more harm than they already have.

Now let the fun begin.


Penny said...

Mike, I have been visiting your blog for awhile, quietly sitting in the back row, reading your words, which I want you to know lift me up as they challenge me and make me wiggle around a bit in my comfort zone. Thank you. I'm up to the challenge, just need to be nudged now and again.

With this posting, I felt a validation for some of my fears, my concerns, and even some anger for where some folks from their "bully pulpit" are trying to push, or is it shove?, a lot of folks. I was starting to feel a little lonely in some of my conversations with good folks who are just so scared and so shaken by what they perceive social justice is that when they keep hearing words like Marxism and socialism they, and me in my responses, forget what all this is really about.

Thank you, Mike, for bringing it back to Jesus.

Mike said...

Thanks Penny. Sometimes when I put myself out there I don't know how it's being received.

It's nice to get feedback, at times, that what I share is helpful.

It is all about Jesus isn't it?

Blessings, Mike

Inkydog said...

I think there is an important distinction between individuals who are lead to do good as a personal choice based on their religious convictions, social beliefs, and prayer versus those same individuals being forced to surrender their money to the government in order to fund whatever social programs the government sees fit to enact.

The church's involvement in the first should be encouraged. The church's involvement in the second should not.

Mike said...

Inkydog. Not sure I can completely buy what you're saying. If you buy the notion that 'we' are the government then it should be an extension of our values. There are things that a government should be doing to care for the welfare of others. We give them that mandate. Some of what our elected representatives decide to do with the $$$ makes me cringe. But not all. The big question is how much do you give currently to help those who have little and if the government pulls out would you be willing to substantially up your giving to help create a more just society?

Inkydog said...


I do not believe that the government has the mandate according to the Constitution to do what you suggest, nor do I believe it has the capability to do it well and responsibly. I've seen too much social damage that has resulted from well-intentioned government programs.

For me, it is a zero sum game. I have a finite pool of dollars. Every dollar the government extracts from me is one less I have to give to the church. I trust you with my money more than any politician and would rather support your efforts than theirs. If my trust in you should prove to be misplaced, I can adjust by sending my money somewhere it will be more effective, but if the government proves to be a poor steward, I'm stuck.

I suspect we have radically different world views, but I applaud your generous heart and your willingness to work down in the trenches for your causes. May God continue to bless your efforts, they certainly are needed.

Mike said...


I'm not sure we really have a radically different world view.

The preamble of the constitution does say - We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The quibble would be about what constitutes promoting the general welfare of the populace. That's the great debate at the moment isn't it.

What gets us in trouble is that the government has not been up to the task of building much trust. Wasteful programs. Irresponsible oversight.

I appreciate your comment about 'zero sum' game. That's true for all of us I think. Irresponsible government tax and spend policies puts less money in all our pockets to do what is necessary.

Appreciate you taking the time to post. Great comments that help keep me honest.



Inkydog said...


You are absolutely correct about the debate over what constitutes the general welfare being the crux of the issue! The shame is that needn't be a matter of confusion or debate. It's spelled out in the Constitution.

The “general welfare” is mentioned twice in the Constitution.

The Preamble of the Constitution establishes no powers or rights. It merely states the purpose of the Constitution. No further development of what "general welfare" means can be made based on the mention of it in the preamble.

The "general welfare" is also mentioned in the heading statement of Article 1, Section 8.
The heading provides simply for basic power to tax and spend. All details, as to what the tax revenue may be spent on follow in the list of 16 specific powers. Reading makes it clear that "general welfare" deals with the welfare of the Union, and excludes any individual or local welfare. The meaning to the nation is plain: no local interests can be provided aid from the federal government. The welfare concerns the wholesomeness of the Union, at the federal level, binding the states together for mutual benefit, to secure the arrangement of the separated powers, the federalist structure, not the well-being of groups or individuals. The "general welfare" has to be a benefit for all rather than some people, without providing direct benefits to individuals. It limits what government can do much in the way the 5th Amendment does.

Thanks again for laying it out there and being willing to take on all comers. You have my respect. I'll grant you the opportunity to have a final say, if you'd like, as I've already over-reached the limits of my knowledge in this area.

Mike said...

Thanks again Inkydog.

My understanding is that the general welfare clause has been the subject of much debate and comment. Many different political and philosophical and judicial viewpowints at work. Lots of 'original intent of the framers' vs current practice being deemed constitutionally OK by the courts type of things.

Way too much for this forum.

By the way, do we know each other?

Blessings to you.

Inkydog said...

Agreed on all points!

We know each other peripherally. I'll fess up next time I see you.