Glenn Beck continues his attacks on people of faith

Something I’ve noticed about Glenn Beck is that most of his attacks are motivated not by ideology or patriotism, but by revenge and personal petulance. First, it was Van Jones, President Obama’s green jobs czar. Beck began his successful smear campaign against Jones about the same time a group co-founded by Jones called for advertisers to boycott Beck for calling the President racist. Then in March, Beck began his screeds against the Bible’s call for social justice, comparing the Catholic Church and others who call for justice to Nazis and Communists. When evangelical leader Jim Wallis politely disagreed with Beck on his blog and called for a public debate between the two, Beck turned his ire on Wallis.

Beck’s latest target is another liberal faith-based group, Faithful America. They are an ecumenical organization focused on such issues as violence in the public discourse, distortion of Scripture, torture, health care, and climate change. (I have often cited their Faith in Public Life news round-up here at MyDD.) However, Beck's anger seems to come not from his belief that only the right-wing is allowed to think about religion but from his recurring desire for revenge. The group recently launched a radio ad to counter Beck’s distortion of the Bible, quoting Scripture and encouraging “a spirit of love and truth” when disagreeing with one another. They also printed and offered free bumper stickers declaring “Driven by Faith, Not by Fear.” (Mine arrived last week.)

Beck, in typical fashion, was outraged that anyone would suggest the Bible is about love, and tore into Faithful America on his radio show last Friday. As usual, he tried to debunk the group mostly by mocking them, not by being serious. His only substantive critiques were that it partners with other people he dislikes, deletes vulgar comments from its webpage, and doesn’t include the word “Jesus” on its homepage and thus isn’t religious. Because of course, the only proof that someone is religious is their use of the word Jesus – we all know there’s not a single religious Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, or Hindu in the entire world. But seriously, as the name suggests, Faithful America is ecumenical, not Christian. And while Beck is right about their homepage's use of the word “Jesus,” they do in fact have over two dozen mentions of the word “faith” (not even counting their name), as well as seven mentions of “Christian” and numerous links to explicitly Christian organizations (among others).

Faithful America’s response? The same as Wallis’s: they’re asking Beck to participate in an open public debate. They’re not stooping to his level of distortion and dishonesty, but if his reaction to Wallis is any indication, he won’t rise to their level of equality and civil discourse either.

Beck Names Next Target, Compares Self To God

On his radio show earlier this week, Glenn Beck made it clear that his war on Christianity will continue for the foreseeable future. He has plans to target not another administration official, but prominent evangelical Jim Wallis.

He’s come up with this great system uh, of being able to have a religion just really run by the government. Or his religion running the government, I’m not sure which way it works, but he’s really for this big government kind of thing to even out all the things that Jesus came to even out…

So you go ahead and you continue to do your little protest thing, that’s great, I love it. But just know the hammer’s 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, because you’ve got – this is why we’ve been working on it for eight weeks.

Wallis, a pro-lifer who eschews the term “religious left,” is the founder of the “Sojourners: Christians for Justice and Peace” community and magazine. Poverty, humane immigration reform, and pacifism are frequent themes in the liberal monthly, which also includes weekly Bible devotionals. I recently let my subscription lapse because the reporting is fairly shallow and does little more than cheerlead, not even preach, to the choir, but the online blogs and action alerts are insightful and thought-provoking. You can bet that Beck’s forthcoming character smears will hammer away at the fact that the magazine has given favorable coverage to Van Jones while completely ignoring that fellow Fox News host Mike Huckabee had the even higher honor of gracing the magazine’s cover.

Beck never knows what he’s talking about, but his attacks on Wallis will probably be his most uninformed yet. We already know that the man barely cracks open his Bible, but in his initial Sojourners rant, he referred to Jim Wallis as “Jim Wright” and called the Sojo blog “The Politics of God.” Its name is “God’s Politics.” Buddy, if you don’t even know your target’s name, how can we trust you to know the details?

Wallis has requested a public discussion with Beck on the meaning of “social justice,” but Beck will have none of it. I would have thought it’s because that’s just not his modus operendi – why risk your opponent throwing facts in your face when you can just stand at a chalkboard and taunt from behind the safety of a camera? But no, that’s actually not his rationale. Beck’s real reason for refusing to debate Wallis is that he believes himself too holy for that. Seriously:

Jim, I just wanted to, I just wanted to pass this on to you. Uh, in my time I will respond. My time, kind of like God’s time, might be a day or might be a week. To you, I’m not sure. But I’m going to get to it in my time, not your time.

I’m not as big a fan of Wallis as I used to be. He’s a great organizer and I heard him give a great speech about the values of Martin Luther King a few years ago, but there are others who make the same justice points in a less partisan way. He is the political face of his movement and I’m more inclined to look to the theological faces – folks like Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo. Their message does a much better job of cutting to the true values of justice. But having said that, I do know that Wallis would never compare his time to God’s time, and I do know that Wallis isn’t scared to face his critics. He is, in fact, able to respond to Beck with a more civil tongue than I’ll bet Beck even thought humanly possible:

Why is the idea of a civil dialogue such a threat to Glenn Beck? Glenn, let us please not resort to threats and attacks. To repeat, I have not and will not attack you personally, and I repeat my invitation to a civil dialogue on what social justice really means. Since you were the one to raise this issue and start this whole discussion, I just want it to end in a better and more civil way.

More than 30,000 Christian pastors and church members have written to you as Christians who believe in social justice and are asking you to reconsider your statements. This is a time for dialogue, not monologue, and I prayerfully ask you to consider my request for a conversation.

When Should Bible Quotes Bother Us From Politicians?

In making the case for his recovery plan today, Barack Obama quoted the lesson of the Sermon on the Mount that a storm can destroy a house build on sand, but not a house built on a rock.  The way Obama used the quote reminded me of a debate a few years ago between Sojourners' Jim Wallis and Americans United's Barry Lynn where Lynn said the problem with politicians quoting the Bible is that unlike quotes from other literature, quotes from the Bible are appeals to the author's inherent authority rather than to the author's particular insight.  In other words, biblical quotes are used to support your argument based on who said it (God says don't oppress strangers) rather than why they said it (because you yourself have experienced slavery).  I think Lynn is making an insightful distinction, but it cuts against his argument.

In a multireligious democracy, we should be concerned when politicians' arguments rely on appeal to the authority of their particular religious texts (especially if theirs are shared by a religious majority).  But contra Lynn, not all Bible quotes are appeals to divine authority.  "The Bible says not to steal wages from your employees" is an appeal to biblical authority.  "Let's not copy Moses' mistake when he hit the rock instead of talking to it" is an appeal to biblical wisdom.

I bring this up because I think it explains why, as a non-Christian (in a democracy with a Christian majority), I'm not bothered on a gut level when a Christian President quotes the New Testament parable about building your house on sand or on a rock to make a point about our economic recovery.  The plain meaning of Obama's speech is not that the Bible commands us to make new rules for wall street, investments in education, etc... His plain meaning is that this metaphor from his tradition, which may be familiar to many listeners, illustrates well why it's urgent and worthwhile to do so.

This is not always a clear-cut distinction.  But I think it's a useful one.  Maybe a useful thought experiment in assessing what kind of appeal to religious text we're dealing with is to consider: Would using this quote in this way still make sense if the speaker's religion were different from the quotation's?

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Faith and Politics for a Sunday Evening

This is more of a Street Prophets type post, but I'm not yet involved over at Street Prophets (so many blogs, so little time), so I'll make it here.

I was privileged enough to deliver the sermon this week at Dartmouth College's weekly Rollins Chapel ecumenical Christian service. Our theme this term has been faith and citizenship, an intersection on which I will probably center my life and career. My sermon addressed two main points: why should Christians be involved in politics, and how can they (we) be involved without violating the separation of church and state?

I did not dive too deeply into what issues matter most, instead focusing more on the "how" then the "what." It was an ecumenical service and I wanted to speak to everyone there, including the conservatives, so I set discussion about the abortion/homosexuality vs. environment/poverty split aside for the afternoon. Nevertheless, most of my examples did focus on the environment, poverty, and liberation.

If you're interested, you can read the sermon here. It quotes Barbara Ehrenreich and Jim Wallis, two figures of interest to the Netroots community. Shameless self-promotion: If you like what you see, there's always more at my own blog, which is one of the many reasons I'm not as active here at MyDD as I might otherwise wish.

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