I don't watch FOX News or the Glenn Beck program. But, it didn't take long before I heard the recent pitch by Beck this week, on his program, blasting the use of "social justice" in churches. Word travels rather quickly.
If you haven't heard, it went something like this: "social justice" is just a "code word" for communism and Nazism. He held up two cards, one with a swastika and the other with a hammer and sickle. He said, if you see the words "social justice" or "economic justice" on the website of your church, "ran as fast as you can." His advice: leave your church if they talk about and use that language.
In an era when it's hard to determine whether the Rush Limbaugh's or Glenn Beck's or Bill Maher's are uber Capitalists selling entertainment, or whether they truly believe what they spew, I wonder if responses like this is exactly what they're hoping for. More business. More book sales. Whatever the case may be, here's another side.
If people in our church took Beck to heart, our church, The Bridge, would fold. We could close the doors this week. (P.S. I'm not worried, Glenn.) One of our four core values is...uh...well...um..."social justice." That core value: a commitment to action- seeking social justice, serving the marginalized, pursuing peace.
This would be true, I imagine: if you believe Beck, et.al., then you will run as fast as you can from our community of faith. And, you will- thank God I can say this now- run from more churches today than you would 20 or even 10 years ago. That will be the case: that some do not want anything to do with the language of social justice and the like. "It's not the Gospel. It's immaterial. It's 'extra.' What really matters is getting your heart 'right with God.'"
So, I'll take the opportunity from the Beck prompt to say the opposite: it is not an appendage to the Gospel, but that the "good news" ("Gospel") is inclusive of God's reconciling work which includes all kinds of fractures and brokenness. It is the good news that Jesus came announcing and proclaiming, living and embodying in his very person. Good news to the poor in spirit; good news to the poor. Freedom from inner captivity; freedom from oppression.
Instead of my own words, I refer to Jesus, his life and his words, for I take him to be central as God in the flesh. Jesus, announcing these words from the prophet Isaiah and taking on that mantle for himself, says: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free." (Luke 4:18) Code words? Or, words anchored in the One we, as followers of Jesus, call Lord?
Jesus' life, is consistent with this very proclamation. These words are not an isolated proof text; nor does his life, which we are called to follow, lead another way.
This is also in the prophetic tradition, where God calls us to seek...justice- socially. "Is this not the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice...to let the oppressed go free?..." (Isaiah 58:6-14) Code words? Or, "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8)
Code words? Or, words rooted in Scripture?
My reading of Scripture, and where it comes to completeness and fullness in Jesus, is that this good news will include saving us from narcissism and pride, to surrendering to God and a relationship with God, to helping the poor in Nicaragua run their own business, to helping eradicate malaria in Africa, to seeing the walls of Apartheid dismantled in South Africa, to helping others have a decent meal during the week, to...well, you see.
To wherever there is a need for reconciliation with God and with others, and wherever there is need for healing of the fractures and injustice.
I'll turn the tables on Beck's statement: if your church does not have the words "social justice" or the like in its vision, go ask why not.
I am under no illusion that people will leave the Glenn Beck program as a result of his statements. He might even sell more books. But, if statements like his this week will prompt a few more to scratch under the surface, and look in the Biblical story for evidence of social justice, and actually read the words and life of Jesus, then, I am convinced, a few more will experience this transforming good news.