Just the other day I ran into a new blog, and I’m dissapointed that I didn’t run into it sooner: Rage Against the Minivan.
RATMv is a blog by Kristen Howerton, wife of a friend of mine, Mark. Mark used to be a pastor at RockHarbor, my church, before he moved onto other ventures in counseling, of which he has a gift.
The Howertons have an interesting life, I have to say. For one, they have two kids of their own and two adopted kids from Haiti. This makes for some very amusing blog posts, mostly about how the kids are adjusting to life in the U.S, how mom, dad, and siblings are adjusting to each other, and how other people react to them when they are out and about.
One thing I quickly noticed from the blog is that Kristen and I differ widely on our views regarding a LOT of things. More on that in a minute. What I noticed the most, however, is that Kristen is such a talented writer. She’s got this humorous authenticity about her writing that makes her posts so addicting to read. She has a knack of turning ordinary happenings about parenting into the most rip-laughing stories you can read. And it looks effortless, although I’m sure it’s not. I’ve become a fan of her blog, and you should too.
Ok, on to an area of difference. I read with great interest a post about something Glenn Beck said:
I’m begging you, your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them . . . are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!
She quoted the above from Beck and noted it made her blood boil, adding “I don’t think the latest Glenn Beck quote needs any editorial from me.” In other words, she said that his words are so obviously wrong and out of bounds that just quoting them is sufficient to show how wrong they are. At the end of the post she added a video where Beck mentioned that the Nazis and the Communists of the mid 20th century both ascribed to a philosophy that used the phrase “social justice” as a buzz word to stand for their views on economics and society. Again, no real commentary, just implied extreme dissaproval.
In one sense, I can see why Kristen was upset. For one, she is very passionate about service to the poor and helping those in need. Those things are integral parts of being a disciple of Christ. They are not optional. I’ll describe below how the term “social justice” is a bit of a misnomer when used to label things like that, but it stands to reason that Jesus wasn’t joking when he gave the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Secondly, Beck’s words are quite inflammatory. Beck is one of the media types that, many times, exaggerates his statements intentionally in order to get a rise out of people. Talk show hosts and political pundits on both sides of the political and worldview spectrum do this, and they do it because it drives up ratings and brings attention to their shows. This is, somewhat unfortunately, the nature of the beast. That observation in no way excuses the comments that fall under that banner; most of the time that sort of tactic is simply not helpful in bringing true understanding. It draws more heat than light and should only be used sparingly. Beck and co. use it a tad more than that.
Though I’m not one of the folks (like many of the post’s commenters) who loudly proclaims disgust and hatred for Beck–I simply don’t have time to watch him and others like him that much, so I don’t have a dog in that fight–I know the type well enough to at least acknowledge that drawback of the “inflamatory” approach.
That being said, however, I think Kristen might have missed a deeper point Beck was trying to make. I can’t tell for sure, because I don’t have the context of the quote and video, but if I were to give the most charitable interpretation of that quote possible (and I’m pretty sure charity towards one’s interlocutors is a virtue), it would be that Beck wasn’t putting down service to the poor and such. Beck is a Mormon, afterall, and they thrive on such service. I should know: a significant portion of the wrestling team I coach is Mormon, and I’ve been the recipient of their care more than a time or two. Rather, he was making the following point(s):
First, the phrase “social justice” is the wrong phrase to use when describing things like serving the poor and helping the destitute. There’s no “justice” about it, usually. It’s not as if someone wronged them or harmed them in a way and Christians are seeking to right that wrong. They’re just down on their luck, hurting, in a place of need, or all three. Though some people whom we help are in a tight spot due to having an injustice done to them, that’s not the way it is with many we seek to help under the banner of “social justice.” The recent surge to help those affected by the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile are cases in point. That doesn’t minimize their hurt, devastation, or need, nor does it in any way minimize our obligation to lend a helping hand. It just means that calling them “justice” issues is not accurate.
Secondly, there is a trend in a significant number of churches to focus on popular issues like AIDS, serving the poor, etc, call them “social justice” issues, and completely ignore issues that really *are* justice issues, like abortion (afterall, if killing a human being because it is in the way of one’s desired lifestyle isn’t an injustice, I don’t know what is) that are more unpopular to talk about and address.
Thirdly and relatedly, there is another trend in many churches to turn this truncated “social justice” view into the whole message of Jesus. Judging from what they emphasize and are passionate about, you’d think that Jesus wasn’t about dying on the cross to justify sinful people before a holy God. He was only about relieving economic suffering and other pain in this world. Again, Jesus did care about the poor and the obligation to relieve pain and suffering of fellow humans has been passed to us, His followers. The problem is when that becomes the whole picture, which is what many (albeit some unintentionally do this because it’s part of our culture, popular, and it’s what they’ve been taught) in the pews and pulpits are doing. This is a troubling trend, and I’m not the only one who has seen it.
Lastly, to many, the phrase “social justice” stands for a lot more than relieving pain and suffering to one’s neighbor; it stands for a certain political ideology that centers on redistribution of wealth and larger government programs to achieve a man-made utopia. Unfortunately, this political ideology has taken root in an increasing number of churches, and it obscures the true meaning of loving one’s neighbor.
I think Beck was saying that if you read a church’s mission statement and it focuses on the phrase “social justice” and mentions nothing or little about the cross, the resurrection, sinful human beings, the judgment of God, and our obligation to evangelize by sharing with others how Jesus has paid our sin debt, that is a red flag (no pun intended) that said church errs in one or all of those ways above. Beck was saying that these churches, due to their unbalance, are not healthy churches, and you should leave them.
Why was Kristen so upset? Beyond the exaggerated nature of his tone that I pointed out above, perhaps when Kristen hears the phrase “social justice,” she thinks of something other than what Beck was talking about. Perhaps it’s just a case of miscommunication and equivocation of terms. That is part of the problem: well meaning Christians use that term when talking about alleviating suffering and pain, not being aware of the trappings that are increasingly coming along for the ride in it. If Beck really meant what I outlined above, then I’m interested to get her thoughts on it.
There was some unnecessary “chicken little” speak in his words, but if all that is what he was getting at, then I agree with him. It is amazing that Beck–a Mormon–can see that, whereas so many of us in the Christian Church are oblivious to it.