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.

Christian Backlash Against Beck Continues

The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, founded by the pro-life Bush supporter Rev. Rich Cizik, was the first to respond when Glenn Beck claimed that churches that support social justice are Communist or Nazis. They asked for $5,000 to put together a web video responding to Beck. Today, they debuted that video. Their message? "Lighten up, Glenn!"

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.

Christian Coalition Declares Support For John Kerry’s Climate Efforts

It’s official: the religious right no longer dominates evangelical politics. The movement has outgrown its narrow focus on school prayer, abortion, and homophobia. Evangelicals have been trending this way for several years, but concrete change came today as the Christian Coalition endorsed John Kerry and Lindsey Graham's efforts to pass a major clean energy and climate change bill. (If you’re unfamiliar with the Christian Coalition, it’s the organization formed out of the remnants of Pat Robertson’s 1988 presidential campaign and brought to prominence by Ralph Reed – what Democracy for America is to Howard Dean, and the backbone of the religious right in the early 1990s.)

I have long been intrigued by the changing nature of evangelical politics. It was the subject of my undergraduate thesis: evangelicals never cease their political involvement, but every few decades, the nature of that involvement changes. Since the mid-1970s, evangelical politics have been in the era of the “religious right,” but that era is coming to a close. Evangelicals aren’t abandoning their positions on the aforementioned wedge issues, but they are changing their rhetoric and beginning to care about justice issues. All the evidence, though, has been circumstantial, with plenty to counter it: Individual megachurch pastors, like Rick Warren, call for a more civil discourse and a focus on more than just two or three issue, but always meet with sharp rebukes from the likes of James Dobson. A poll showed young evangelicals, while as pro-life as their parents, are also pro-civil-unions, but there’s no sign of political action to back it up. The Christian Coalition elected a president concerned with creation care (climate change) and poverty in 2006, but ousted him before he took office.

So while thousands of evangelical churches are “greening” their congregations, whether or not personal commitment to “creation care” would translate to political action has always been a slippery question. Today, I think, we finally have a solid answer. This isn’t just a generational shift like in the above poll; it’s the old guard seeing the light and braodening their focus. The current leader, Roberta Combs, took over as president for Pat Robertson in 2001 and led the aforementioned ouster of her 2006 replacement, but says the following in a new radio ad:

President Bush was right: our addiction to foreign oil threatens our national security and economic prosperity. America spends almost a billion dollars a day on foreign oil and a lot of that goes to countries that do not like us and harbor terrorists. Washington's failure to act puts our national security at risk, and drains our economy. I've heard from so many Christian Coalition supporters that energy is one of the most important issues we face today. America is a can-do country. We've got to take the lead to explore energy alternatives and protect our national security. We have to make our country safer by creating jobs with the made-in-America energy plan. I would like to ask you to call Sen. Lindsey Graham and encourage him to continue fighting for our families.

Evangelical politics are same-old same-old on abortion and, for now, gay rights. They are and always will be fundamentally conservative, but that doesn’t mean the progressive movement should reject a strong partner on specific issues such as the fight against climate change. With the forced ouster of James Dobson at Focus on the Family, the movement’s rhetoric and willingness to cooperate seems to be changing, and that’s an outstretched hand I say we take where we can. Assuming the KGL bill doesn’t give too much away to coal, we need to do whatever it takes to pass it. This just might be the “change” voters were looking for: not just in policy outcomes, but in rhetoric and advocacy as well.

Glenn Beck’s War on Christianity Continues

Last week, Glenn Beck said that because the Nazis used the words “social justice,” Christians should run from churches that use those words on their websites, never mind that they are at the heart of Scripture. Beck renewed these attacks on Christ’s message yesterday, distorting the Gospels even more grotesquely than before:

Where I go to church, there are members that preach social justice as members–my faith doesn’t–but the members preach social justice all the time. It is a perversion of the gospel. … You want to help out? You help out. It changes you. That’s what the gospel is all about: You.

Social justice was the rallying cry—economic justice and social justice—the rallying cry on both the communist front and the fascist front. That is not an American idea. And if we don’t get off the social justice economic justice bandwagon, if you are not aware of what this is, you are in grave danger. All of our faiths–my faith your faith–whatever your church is, this is infecting all of them.

MyDD is by no means a religious blog, and it is certainly not a Christian one. But Glenn Beck, an enemy of the progressive movement and of the American people, has launched a broadside on my faith and on my Savior, and I will not stand for it.

His specious logic about language aside, Beck’s attacks on Christianity are perhaps the greatest distortion of the Gospel since the Crusades. If there is any one thing that the Gospel is NOT about, it’s “you.” You are to know that you are loved, yes, but you are also to join a kingdom and acknowledge a God far bigger than you. In fact, that’s exactly how evangelical pastor Rick Warren starts his best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life: “It’s not about you.

Let’s take a quick look at the Bible, shall we? In one of the Gospels’ bedrock passages, John 13:34-35, Jesus tells his followers, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” How does focusing on yourself count as loving your neighbor? This call is repeated in Matthew 5:3-12, Luke 6:20-26, Matthew 22:36-40, and more. Mary the Mother of Christ even goes as far as to say, in Luke 1:52-53, that God “has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” In fact, the only end times judgment in the entire Gospel is not about posessing a certain faith or belief; it is about helping the poor (Matthew 25:31-46).

Okay, Beckians might say, clearly the Bible calls Christians to love others, but it does so because of how that transforms the helper, not because it lifts up the helped! Wrong. In Isaiah 51:3-7, we are told not to show piety for the purpose of finding promotion. “Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high… Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house?”

As a person of faith and a student of theology, I don’t disagree with Beck that the Bible will transform us as individuals. Indeed, my last sermon was about the good that comes from trusting God and my Ash Wednesday sermon was about balancing our personal relationships to God with our need for community. But to ignore the second half of that equation, to focus only on the love we receive as individuals, is to ignore everything Christ ever said about Rome. It is to ignore the behavior of the original disciples and it is to distort the words of Jesus in a way even more perverted than did 19th century slave owners.

Christian organizations across the country feel the same way. Sojourners, an evangelical organization dedicated to justice and peace, is asking readers to tell Beck, “I'm a social justice Christian.” The anti-hunger group Bread for the World is gathering 35,000 signatures for a petition they’ll send to Beck about the Bible’s message. The New Evangelical Partnership is raising $5,000 to record a video rebutting Beck.

The best response I’ve yet seen comes from the Jesuit James Martin’s “Glenn Beck to Jesus: Drop Dead” who defends the Catholic Church’s history of social teaching. Martin’s response was joined in the top tier yesterday by Peg Chemberlin, president of the National Council of Churches, who says that Beck “is advocating that [Christians] abandon the full Gospel message in favor of a hollow idol, and he is doing so for worldly gain. His statements cannot be allowed to stand unchallenged… If Mr. Beck's rants stemmed simply from an honest lack of familiarity with Scripture, that would be one thing. But what is perhaps most disturbing about Mr. Beck's recent statements is that he is urging his listeners to follow a piecemeal Gospel because it better fits his worldly political views.”

The Christian-specific response to Beck aside, people of other faiths and none can join us too. The best way to strike back at Beck is not to sign a petition, though that will help, and it is not to demand that his sponsors pull their support, though that will help too. No, the best way to respond to Beck is this: Keep loving your neighbor, and keep fighting for the poor and the oppressed. Do everything you can to bring down whatever unjust structures you believe exist in this country and on this planet, and always keep the values of charity, hope, and love in your heart. If we can all do these things, then it won’t matter what vocabulary we use to describe them or what faith banner we do them under, Beck’s selfish and evil words will have no place left to stand.

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