Social Justice for Glenn Beck

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Beck.jpgUnder withering fire from numerous corners of the religious blogosphere, Glenn Beck first doubled down on his animadversions against religious bodies that place “social justice” on their escutcheons, then walked himself back a bit (relevant clips here). What emerges is the Beckian doctrine that religious injunctions to care for the poor and do other socially just things are fine so long as they are understood as being about you. Which is to say, individuals can do all those things enjoined in, for example, Isaiah 58 for their own spiritual benefit (“the Lord will guide you always”), but are not to use such injunctions to advocate for government social welfare programs.

To give the devil his due, Beck is here taking one side in an old debate: “Do we help our neighbor for the neighbor’s sake or for our own?” Twelfth-century monks and regular canons wasted a lot of parchment debating this issue, with the monks taking the Beckian position and the canons arguing the opposite. Be that as it may, it’s worth considering what those parts of Scripture that enunciate laws for society (i.e. not the Gospels) have to say. Here I’d point to the laws on gleaning laid down in the so-called Holiness Code of Leviticus (so beloved of American conservatives for its apparent condemnation of homosexual acts):

19:10 Do not go over your
vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave
them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.
 23:22 When you reap the
harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or
gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the
alien. I am the LORD your God.

Now, under that distinctive Israelite species of polity that Josephus called theocracy, this is not voluntary charity undertaken for your own spiritual benefit. It is mandated welfare–social justice of just the sort that Beck despises. Not to belabor the point, but the Judeo-Christian tradition from which Beck’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints springs expects the poor to be provided for as a matter of public law. And indeed, in the days when the LDS Church ran its corner of North America as a theocracy, that’s just what it did.

  • Beck has a poor understanding of theology. In the comments that started the outrage, he mentions only the Churches and not Government. He is starting to backpetal in “God is on my side” sort a way. Being one of the first ones on to look at his failings, I further take him to task about both his understanding of history and theology. His logic leads to Mother Teresa and Operation Rescue being commie fronts.

  • Supporting and promoting social justice are good Christian acts. They are also good Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Pagan acts. It should be obligatory for all of us if we are to be truly human. Is Glenn Beck part of humanity?

  • I belong to the same church Beck does, and think he has it all wrong. [Note: he was converted late in life, so maybe didn’t get through his skull.]
    Clearly, Jesus liked the idea of “Take all your money, and give it to the poor.” (He told at least one person that.)
    There’s a pretty good Woody Guthrie song about that, called “Jesus Christ.”
    Joseph Smith wanted to live up to Jesus’ ideas, so tried once or twice to institute equal distribution. Anyhow…

  • Buzz

    Are you guys kidding me?
    I belong to the same church Beck does and what he is saying is right in line with what I know to be true.
    President Ezra Taft Benson taught the same thing. Were you listening to him Joe Hunt?
    Jesus did teach us the law of consecration as did Joseph Smith but these are higher laws to be governed by the church and in Zion, not by a secular government led by men who are of the world.
    I am surprised that Christians are not seeing what Beck is saying. It’s obvious to me that Beck is putting down the idea of the government requiring and running social justice practices. How hard is it to see that?
    And where, Mr. Silk can you show me where my church (the LDS church) “expects the poor to be provided for as a matter of public law?” Just because our church “springs [from] Judeo-Christian tradition” does not mean that you can lump all of its beliefs as ours.

  • June

    I think you might want to rethink the phrasing and word choice you used in the following sentence:
    “Not to belabor the point, but the Judeo-Christian tradition from which Beck’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints springs expects the poor to be provided for as a matter of public law.”
    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints does not belong to Glenn Beck. Thank you sincerely for your time.

  • Mark Silk

    Now, now. The meaning is clear enough. “My synagogue” doesn’t mean that the synagogue belongs to me. It means that I belong to the synagogue.

  • Sam

    Ok, Joe Hunt, I am LDS too, and since you are so sure that Jesus said to “Take all your money, and give it to the poor”, can I be so bold as to ask, have you done that? I would feel quite safe to say that you are not a bum living on the street, considering you are writing your comments on a computer. You might want to re-read the that parable, and see what the presidents and apostles have to say. I know Mr. Beck on a somewhat personal level, and I don’t think I have met a more charitable, or a better man in my life. He knows how the charity thing is supposed to work; it works through the notion that you give because you want to, not because you have to. The scriptures (if you actually read them and try to understand them) teach that it is better that you had never given a gift, than to give it begrudgingly. But, I digress. All in all, I think that Glenn has more of a clue of what is going on than you do; unfortunately.
    The truth hurts… welcome to life.

  • Ditto on Buzz’s comment. As a fellow Latter-day Saint and a current student of public policy, I can say with great confidence that there is a distinct difference between government providing for the poor and non-government providing for the poor. While Jesus quite clearly taught that we should care for the poor, it is nowhere nearly as clear that He was calling on government, with its compulsory means and its tendency towards cold and impersonal bureaucracy, to fulfill that mission for us.
    what irks me is that “social justice” advocates seem to assume that regular people can’t or won’t be persuaded to step in and help the poor in significant numbers (both as individuals and as organizations), and thus that government fiat is our only or best option.

  • Nathan

    First off, if you quote Woody Guthrie who associated with Communists, that would be making Beck’s point.
    Beck’s main thrust is we all should want and be obligated to help our our brothers and sisters. The government should not tax us to give to the less fortunate. Jesus told us to love one another, not have the State tax us, then give to whom they saw fit. Charity should be given from the heart and from each person, not mandated from the State.
    We should all be ruled by:
    “4 But each person should examine his own work, and then he will have a reason for boasting in himself alone, and not in respect to someone else. 5 For each person will have to carry his own load.” Galatians 6:4-5 (Holman Christian Standard Bible), as well as “1 Be generous: Invest in acts of charity. Charity yields high returns.” Ecclesiastes 11 MSG
    May God bless all of us, and our country!

  • Mary

    John 6:9-13
    “There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?
    And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand.
    And Jesus took the loaves: and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down: and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.
    When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.
    Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten.”
    Looks to me like Jesus didn’t mind redistributing the wealth, even if it belonged to a “lad”.
    I do enjoy watching the Christians rationalize why they shouldn’t have to share their good fortune with others. If the church were doing it’s job and the Christians were actually caring for their neighbors, the government wouldn’t need to intervene.