Two weeks ago, had you told me that a nationally known religious figure was about to lock horns with a nationally known conservative political commentator, I would have guess that I would have cared. And I would have missed it by a mile.
It’s not because I don’t care about the issues. I care about religion, how it’s perceived in America, and the effect it has on our policies and politics…it’s just that the two who have thrust it into the forefront are two that make it hard for me to pick a favorite.
I’m talking, of course, about the verbal bombing going on between Glenn Beck and Jim Wallis.
On a recent TV show, Beck challenged people:
“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! …”
He went on to say that ‘social justice’ and ‘economic justice’ were code words for communism and Nazi philosophy.
Enter Jim Wallis of Sojourners. Wallis immediately challenged Beck to a debate about the issue. Sojourners also put an email generator up on their website that would automatically send an email to Beck and his producers…and sign you up for the Sojourner’s database.
Here is my ethical dilemma. I’m not sure who to side with, because I cringe at both of these guys.
Beck often appears to be the loony uncle of conservatism. He’s entertaining and at times endearing. He’s welcome at the 4th of July picnic, but you’re petrified at what he might say at a really important event. He never met a controversy he didn’t like or an overstatement he wouldn’t make. Before being a conservative or a commentator, he is an entertainer. He is a good one. Like him or not, he’s funny…but he’s not a spokesman for mainstream conservative Christians, because he’s not one himself. He is a mid-life convert to Mormonism.
Beck’s own church is out of step with most of mainstream conservative Christianity – in it’s practices, it’s beliefs, and it’s history. This weakness of perspective probably caused him to say ‘social justice’ when he meant ‘social gospel’, in which case, I might be siding with him….but given every chance to straighten that misunderstanding out, he’s only dug himself deeper. He meant what he said, even if he didn’t know what he was talking about.
In the other corner, Wallis appears to be a picture of decorum. From all reports, he’s a hard guy not to like. He sounds reasonable and understanding. So reasonable and understanding, in fact, that he won’t press for legal protection for the unborn in the form of repealing Roe v. Wade or a constitutional amendment about abortion.
Wallis likes to lean into the mantle of William Wilberforce, who ironically fought hard for a British prohibition of slavery, even though Wallis, by his perspective on abortion, may have urged a slavery compromise. Apply his theory of abortion to slavery, and you have Wilberforce saying “We’ll never stop it, so let’s just slow it down and make it rare….”. I’m sure the rare slave would have taken some solace in knowing they were the exception to the rule.
For years Wallis has eeked out a growing audience in the middle by playing defense for both sides – refusing to press for hard law against abortion (lean to the left!) while insisting he is hard core pro-life (lean to the right!). Lean to the left, lean to the right, stand up, sit down, just don’t fight.
Until now….Wallis is taking on the loony uncle on a point over which Beck cannot possibly win. Beck clearly overplayed his hand, got caught up in the emotion and the TV lights, and said something rather dumb. Of course Christianity has an element of justice intrinsic in it’s function. We may not all agree on what it looks like, but it’s not as if injustice is a Christian value.
Here at IHOP-KC, we’re engaging a major initiative to accompany our 24/7 prayer and worship with 24/7 acts of justice, feeding the poor, caring for widows and orphans, and ministering to the needs – spiritual and physical – of those who found themselves at the poker game of life with a pair of twos. I care about this stuff and I take the debate seriously.
So here we are, watching Jim Wallis and Glenn Beck bicker between themselves on their websites, radio interviews, and blogs….the sage, middle of the road reverend and the wild eyed, John the Baptistish follower of Joseph Smith.
The peaks of Christianity and Conservationism are both being staked out by guys who don’t represent me. I just want to stick my head under a pillow and hope they both stick a sock in it by the next news cycle…but I doubt they will, because behind the posturing, there are viewers to attract and email lists to build.
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