13 March 2010

Big Government Conservatives, Libertarian Lefties, and Glenn Beck

So, Glenn Beck said some things about churches that preach social justice, and there was a big uproarious backlash. Now, Glenn Beck is shockingly powerful; he has a ton of faithful listeners who are never even going to hear the responses of organizations like Bread or Sojourners. There's no point in "reporting myself to Glenn Beck." But this is one of those situations where an extreme figure's comments might also be sparking a more interesting debate among moderates.

If my Facebook friends are any indication, people really do have widely varying opinions about the meaning of terms like "social justice" and "politics", and how their Christian discipleship interacts with those arenas. These are all Christians who find Beck to be pretty useless, but who also believe that Christian social responsibility is an individual matter, to be kept entirely distinct from government policy.

The fundamental disagreement has been the same since at least the Johnson administration: what is the proper role of the federal government? Interestingly, this question is developing into a rift on the political right, with old-guard evangelical leaders questioning the Tea Partiers' commitment to key social issues while the Tea Party leaders criticize the Religious Right's penchant for governmental intervention. Clearly, these are two competing conservative visions of the role of government.

What fascinates me is that there is a parallel rift among Christians on the political left: there are those, like Sojourners and Bread for the World, who take the Bible's call to social justice and translate it into advocacy for governmental policy changes. And then there are those who follow a more Anabaptist or Hauerwasian vision of justice embodied locally, in faithful Christian communities, and who do not rely on government at all. My friend Tim sifted through some of these questions in an outstanding piece for The Other Journal in 2008.

Glenn Beck couldn't comprehend these complexities if he wanted to (which he doesn't). But sometimes it takes a loudmouth who misstates your position to force you to clarify what you really mean. In this sense, Beck is extremely useful, because mischaracterizing nuanced ideologies appears to be one of his spiritual gifts.

1 comment:

John Potter said...

Yeah, I thought it was interesting once he backtracked and said, "Ok, well, Jesus said to feed the poor, but that's not social justice, that's charity," leading to the federal funding vs. individual giving debate, which is a much more typically heard argument than, "There's nothing about social justice in the Bible."

Now that he's clarified his position, like you said, it's not very diffrent from Anabaptists, etc. "Social justice" can mean different things to different people, but once he stated his definition, it became a much more traditional debate.

I would still like to see Jim on the show. I remain shocked that a bigger deal wasn't made of Beck's saying that Obama "has a deep-seated hatred of white people and the white culture." That's KKK language. Anyway.