Saturday, March 13, 2010
LDS Church Leaders Distance Themselves From Fox News Entertainer Glenn Beck's Remarks About "Social Justice"
In the wake of the firestorm of criticism generated by Fox News entertainer Glenn Beck's recent call for people to exit churches which preach "social justice", even the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has gently distanced itself from him. On March 12th, 2010, the Deseret News reports that Church spokesman Scott Trotter said "Public figures who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints represent their own views and do not speak for the church".
Back on March 2nd, Beck himself lit the fuse when he said, "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." Beck also said: "Am I advising people to leave their church? Yes! If I am going to Jeremiah Wright's church. If you have a priest that is pushing social justice, go find another parish. Go alert your bishop." Later, Beck held up a picture of a swastika and one of a hammer and sickle, declaring again that "social justice" has the same philosophy as the Nazis and communists and that the phrase is a code word for both.
To quell the firestorm, Stu Burguiere, executive producer at The Glenn Beck Radio Program, sought to clarify Beck's comments on March 12th. "Like most Americans, Glenn strongly supports and believes in 'social justice' when it is defined as 'good Christian charity,'" he said. "Glenn strongly opposes when Rev. Wright and other leaders use 'social justice' as a euphemism for their real intention -- redistribution of wealth."
But the damage was done, and Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, a network of progressive Christians, says Beck perverted Jesus' message. Wallis has also called upon Christians to boycott Beck's program, and claims that 20,000 have already responded to his call. Wallis even told MSNBC's Laurence O'Donnell that LDS leaders have called him to apologize for Beck's comments.
But there was more criticism from within the LDS community. Phillip Barlow, the Arrington professor of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University, said Beck's comments have definitely stirred up passion. However, he admitted that the phrase "social justice" could be hijacked, saying it's possible to confuse a general principle with a specific strategy, and that the terms social justice and economic justice can be loaded phrases, as are "right to choose" or "right to life." Barlow also said, ""One way to read the Book of Mormon is that it's a vast tract on social justice. It's ubiquitous in the Book of Mormon to have the prophetic figures, much like in the Hebrew Bible, calling out those who are insensitive to injustices."
But some of the most savage criticism of Beck emanated from the progressive-dominated LDS Bloggernacle. Strong criticism appeared on By Common Consent, Times and Seasons, and Juvenile Instructor. In keeping with progressive custom, much of the criticism consisted of hysteric name-calling; those few intrepid souls who ventured on these blogs to defend Beck were quickly shouted down and threatened with banning, exposing the limits of progressive regard for democracy. Faith Promoting Rumor offered a more reasonable analysis and a detailed, well-written opinion was published on BeliefNet.com.
The term "economic and social justice" is not easy to define. It has different meanings for different people. For some Christians, practicing economic and social justice means that churches should practice charity: setting up soup kitchens, assisting victims of natural disasters, and helping people find jobs. But for other Christians, practicing economic and social justice also means trying to change the conditions that cause people to be poor or unemployed. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. subscribed to this definition of biblical justice.
And it's the latter definition that can cause trouble. The LDS 12th Article of Faith states "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law". This is generally interpreted to preclude breaking the law or even civil disobedience, even in the name of "securing justice". All too often, efforts to change conditions can result in civil disobedience or even an outright breach of the law.
An example of the latter was offered by three churches down in Tucson, AZ. The Southside Presbyterian Church, the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and now St. Mark's Church are sponsoring three organizations, No More Deaths, Samaritan Patrol, and Humane Borders, all of whom place water stations in the desert for illegal aliens. While humanitarian, this also constitutes aiding and abetting illegal immigration, since if illegals know this service is being rendered, it will increase their incentive to sneak across the border. This is the type of activism which gives social justice a bad name.
The most appropriate role for Christians in rendering social justice is practicing charity: setting up soup kitchens, assisting victims of natural disasters, and helping people find jobs. These processes tend to be apolitical. Churches tend to damage their credibility when they get involved in politics.