I wrote this blog two days ago, thanking Glenn Beck for raising the issue of social justice and the church. Beck is at it again today, pushing the social justice button, and saying even more things that those in the Church –especially those who espouse social justice– are scratching their heads about.
In my good-natured blog from the other day, I attempted to make lemonade from lemons by suggesting that Beck had actually done a good thing by bringing up the issue, offering those of us who believe in social justice the chance to speak up about it.
But, as I said, he’s at it again today. Here’s what he said.
The gist of what he said today was that Christians are more than welcome to help the poor, the outcast, the sick, the lame, ON THEIR OWN. But we shouldn’t assume that anything the government can, or cannot do, is related to this private and personal faith. He also suggested his own Mormon faith, collectively, has no part in “social justice.”
Again, others will likely write far more eloquent rebuttals to him. But were I to write a rebuttal (So, I guess this is one…) I’d make the following points, trying to be as unambiguous as I can:
1) When Jesus tells the *only* parable in the entire New Testament about “Last Judgment,” he very clearly says that those being judged are not just *individuals* but *nations.*
“When the Son of Man comes in all his glory, he shall gather all the NATIONS of the earth…”
Beck would have you ignore this, and pretend that the Gospel mandate *only* applies to individuals. All I can say is: Jesus says it doesn’t. (more about this in point two)
2) Jesus says that everything belongs to God, even the stuff you believe belongs to the government (and even the stuff you think belongs to you). Through this, we may infer that the hard line Beck (and many others) draws between government work and the mission of the Gospel is artificial and certainly not based on the Gospel itself.
When Jesus tells the story about “rendering unto Caesar” he’s answering a trick question (ie, a question from people who are trying to trick him…) It says so right in the story itself, right here. So, you know from the start that his answer will probably be carefully phrased and nuanced. (I know I am always careful in answering people who I sense are trying to trick me…)
Because, not only are there Pharisees in the crowd, but also folks called “Herodians,” ie fans of the civil authority. You can read that part of the storyhere.
The significance is that he’s now surrounded by two kinds of Jews with very different world views: On the one hand, Pharisees who are ultra-religious. On the other hand “Herodians” who are probably more secular and supportive of the civil authorities.
They start by buttering him up (btw: beware of those who butter you up…)
“Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.”
(Look out, Jesus! It’s a trap!!!)
Then, they ask their question: Is it lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor?
Jesus immediately knows it’s a trap. If he gives a simple “Yes,” the religious Jews will have a cow.
If he says, “No,” the secular Jews might turn him over to the imperial authorities as a traitor.
So, what does he say?
“Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render unto God what is God’s.”
It’s brilliant, non-answer to the question. It’s also, actually, a *perfect* answer…an answer that avoids the trap they think they’ve set for him on either side.
“Sure,” Jesus says, “pay taxes to the Empire…support the government.”
But! He also says: “Render unto God what is God’s.”
And what belongs to God?
Ah! Here’s the rub: Pretty much *everything.*
As the Psalms say: “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.”
Jesus would have certainly believed this…that all we have, all we own, even everything that “belongs” to Caesar, is a gift of God.
Jesus *clearly* believes that in this story.
Therefore, Jesus believed that it was all “one-piece,” one seamless garment of the riches God had blessed us with. Therefore: beware of prophets and teachers, like Beck, who try to tell you there is a “hard line” between the “secular” and the “sacred.”
Jesus did not see thew world as bifurcated in this way.
Support the government, Jesus says, but know that when you do, it all really belongs to God.
And how to insure that what the government does is what God wants?
Work for justice, of course. Make sure that the priorities of the government are in line with the priorities of God…make sure that the resources of the government do the same.
That is why Jesus teaches us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done ON EARTH as it is in heaven.”
Jesus hopes that God’s kingdom comes on EARTH. In THIS life. (Not, just in some other world…) THY kingdom come…HERE. NOW.
That one line of the Lord’s Prayers should give us all pause, every time we pray it. Are we *really* working to insure that God’s dream for humanity is really being fulfilled in THIS world? Or are we just giving out meager “charity” and trusting that God will “sort it all out” in the next world to come?
Dom Helder Camara died at the pinnacles of power of the Roman Catholic Church in Brazil. He was an Archbishop of the Church. He associated with the most powerful people in his own country. And yet, he also recognized how challenging the quest for social justice in THIS life is.
Don Helder Camara’s most famous quote is this one line:
“When I gave food to the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked why the poor were hungry, they called me a communist.”
— Dom Helder Camara
It’s so true. People like Glenn Beck seem to be believe that the church’s role is *personal* or *private.* But Jesus clearly believed in a kind of social justice where we not only give in *charity,* but also ask why the poor are poor…where we ask what we –the church, the government, individuals and corporations– can *all* be doing to make life HERE better.
Thy Kingdom Come. Now.
I wrote much more on a Christian view of the role of the government, at least as I see it, in this blog on healthcare which I wrote months before the current debate began.
But since I know many of you won’t read that, let me respost some of it below:
“…God tells me a society is judged not by how it treats its wealthy and powerful, but by how it treats the powerless and oppressed.
Even the most dictatorial and brutal regimes find a way to coddle their rich. But God says it’s how we treat the poor…how we treat those on the margins…how we treat “the least of these” that will determine whether or not our society is great in God’s eyes.
I was grateful to get the chance to sit in a Bible study with one of my mentors, Dr. John Holbert, earlier this week, in which he reminded me again how many passages deal with treating the “least among us” fairly.
In Jeremiah, chapter 7, God says this to the people:
“If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever.”
You see, the people are judged most by how they treat the “least” among them…the aliens (“legal” or “illegal”) the elderly…the orphan.
In fact, in other places, God makes it plain that not only are we to care for such persons, but we are to treat them as if they were a citizen among us. Way back in Exodus, God says this to the people:
“Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt. Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless.”
Holbert reminded us that the beauty of this command is that the people are challenged to remember that “you were once aliens in Egypt.”
Far from an attitude of “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps,” God calls us to remember that all of us have benefited from the hard work of others. None of us are self-made. Our forefathers/mothers worked hard to help us get to where we are today. And for this, we are called to an attitude of grateful sharing.
We don’t get to keep what we have, because all things belong to God, and are for the common good. In fact, if we have more it means we have a greater responsibility to share it with those who don’t have enough.
This constant theme is repeated so often in the Bible I literally cannot list all the scripture references here. It continues in the New Testament too, where James says this:
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
Now, of course, in our world the issue of actual widows and actual orphans is not as challenging as it was long ago. But “widows and orphans, aliens and outsiders,” exist in many forms.
And it is clear: the Bible assumes, Jesus assumes, that true religion means to love your neighbor as yourself…to treat no one as better or worse that you…and to pay special attention to those who are marginalized in society.”
So, these were the thoughts I wrote months before the current healthcare debate began. And I think they apply broadly to a view of social justice espoused by not just me, but millions of Christians across the world, spanning dozens of denominations.
Glenn Beck is a Mormon. I am not.
I know that people have all sorts of views about Mormons, good and bad. I will not attempt to pass judgment on them. But I will note that this New York Times piece today suggests that Beck may be wrong about his own church. When Beck says “my faith doesn’t” teach social justice, there are fellow Mormons who clearly disagree with him:
“Philip Barlow, the Arrington professor of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University, said, “One way to read the Book of Mormon is that it’s a vast tract on social justice.”
“A lot of Latter-day Saints would think that Beck was asking them to leave their own church,” he said.
Mr. Barlow said that just this year, the church’s highest authority, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, issued a new “Handbook of Instructions” in which they revised the church’s “threefold mission” and added a fourth mission statement: Care for the poor.”
So, far from moving *away* from social justice, it appears that the Mormon Church is moving *toward* it.
So, here’s hoping Glenn Beck learns more about his own faith, and more about Jesus too.