Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Standing with Jim Wallis; Protesting Glenn Beck

Jim Wallis is an outstanding writer and preacher. I have read his works, listened to his sermons, and attended his events. While I don't always agree with him, I always appreciate his perspective. Wallis is a good guy and thoughtful theologian.

Sojourners, the social justice magazine that Wallis started, has been my magazine of choice since 2000. When the president of Eden told my graduating class that Christian Century was the most important magazine for pastors to read, I respectfully never took his advice. I found Sojourners (and now Generate also) to be more prophetic, engaging, fresh, etc.

Call To Renewal, the social justice organization that Wallis founded, is an ecumenical organization that works to make the world a better place for all those who are poor, hungry, thirsty, voiceless, etc. I have taken part in their letter-writing campaigns and lobbying efforts. Politicians from Barack Obama to Sam Brownback listen carefully to CTR. They are an effective group.

I have met Jim Wallis on several occasions. In fact, he preached in the chapel at Eden when I was a student there. While Wallis was in town, I was able to have a brief conversation with him about a few theological questions. In these contexts, I found him to be a friendly, compassionate, and committed person. While he's not perfect, he's certainly a solid guy.

It should be no surprise that Wallis was offended by Glenn Beck's attack on social justice. Beck said social justice was a code word for Communism and Nazism. He also called on people to leave their church and report their pastor if the word social justice was mentioned in their congregation. In reply, Wallis invited Beck into a dialogue about social justice in the teachings of Jesus and the Hebrew prophets. Click here to read Wallis' letter to Beck. Watch the video below to see Wallis interviewed on MSNBC:

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Wallis is not alone. Evangelicals, Catholics, Mainliners, and Mormons have all issued statements that remind Beck of the centrality of social justice in their Scriptures and traditions.

Glenn Beck has responded to Wallis on Beck's radio show. But he didn't respond to the Biblical and theological questions that Wallis offered. And he didn't offer the charitability that Wallis afforded him. Instead, Beck responded with a puerile threat:
"But just know — the hammer is coming, because little do you know, for eight weeks, we’ve been compiling information on you, your cute little organization, and all the other cute little people that are with you. And when the hammer comes, it’s going to be hammering hard and all through the night, over and over."
Instead of responding to Wallis and all the other religious leaders who are speaking out right now, Beck responds with this schoolyard-banter. It's disappointing that attacks have replaced civil dialogue. But shock jocks like Beck have been doing this for years. The problem with this style of rageful banter is that its venom seeps out and poisons the the civil discourse that is happening in our nation. And when that venom seeps into people who are already disturbed, dangerous things can happen. An example of an outcome of this rage happened in 2008, when Jim Adkisson shot four people to death at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church because he was upset about their liberalism. Bill Moyers did an outstanding special about the dangers of shock rocks called, Rage on the Radio. While Beck is not responsible for the actions of disturbed people, he is responsible for the rage that his banter insights. And that is the reason that civil discourse is so important - especially when people like Beck have such a large stage. It would be much more helpful to our nation if Beck could present his conservative ideas in a much more civil, nuanced, and thoughtful way. Conservatives like Peggy Noonan and David Brooks do this very well. They should be models and mentors for Beck. People in the media have a great opportunity and moral responsibility to promote civil discourse over angry banter. Jim Wallis is one of many people who are trying to call Glenn Beck to account for his unhelpful banter.

I proudly stand beside Brian McLaren, Shane Claiborne, Tony Campolo, and all the other people who are with Wallis and support Sojourners and Call To Renewal. I stand with them because they stand up for justice and peace in a world that desperately needs more justice and peace. And because our Scripture and conscience compel us to work for better world for all people. Social justice isn't a code word for Communism, it's a code word for Christianity (and Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, humanism, etc.).

If you feel compelled, click here to let Glenn Beck know that you are a "social justice" Christian.

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