Recently, a Mr. Glenn Beck managed to stir some controversy (surprise) by telling people to leave their church if they held a certain teaching—he also compared these churches’ doctrine to Nazi’s (fascists) and Communists. Beck, a member of the Mormon Church, and a popular conservative pundit is often admired by members of the religious right for his political stance and accepted despite his religious beliefs.
What was this teaching that he so passionately denounced? Social justice. Yes, according to Glenn Beck, churches that teach that we should take care of the poor and help the underprivileged are teaching a doctrine similar to a Nazi or Communist politics. Nevermind for a moment that fascism and socialism are often considered to be on opposite ends of the political spectrum (he tried to address this issue in the same spiel), Beck had the audacity to compare a racist and totalitarian system (Nazis) and an atheist system (Marxist Communism) to churches that preach sharing with your neighbor in need and loving all people regardless of their background, teachings in line with what Jesus called the greatest commandments (Matthew 22:37-39).
Some members of the religious right have been quick to defend Beck’s statements, including the chancellor of my Alma Matter, Liberty University. I’m not sure if these individuals are defending Beck are doing so because they actually think he is correct politically, correct biblically, or if they would go to bat for anything he might say just because he’s a leading voice parallel to their own.
Now, in the interest of some self-disclosure, I don’t consider myself a liberal—my theology is very conservative and I accept the inerrancy of Scripture (for at least the original manuscripts) and my voting record is riddled with (R) selections. I’ve noted in the past that I tend to lean libertarian, though I don’t embrace the movement without hesitation. The argument for why I lean that way is for another post, however.
Here, I’m more concerned about the partisan nature of Christians concerned about politics. At some point in the past, theologically conservative religious leaders aligned themselves with the Republican party, for presumably noble reasons, such as championing moral standards—e.g., stopping abortion (in fact, many Christians use a litmus test for their vote on this very issue, regardless of record on other issues of importance). Unfortunately, when you make a pact like this, official or unofficial, you begin to assume that the you ally is right on other issues as well, becoming less critical of important matters all in the name of promoting that moral agenda. This begins to look a bit like Stockholm syndrome—where a captive begins to identify with a captor and accept them as a friend; now, I wouldn’t want to carry that metaphor too far, but some of the concepts still hold—out of a perceived need for preserving morals in America, many Christians have accepted the catalog of Republican agendas.
Many of the leaders in the movement of churches promoting the concept of social justice are calling out Christians for blindly accepting that form of political decision-making, which if carried out to its logical extent, could cause problems for partisan-based personalities and politicians. If Christians begin to vote based on overall principle instead of one or two issues, it could eventually end the concept of a political “religious right” that votes exclusively Republican and the beginning of a “religiously right.” Note the difference—instead of voting based on partisan affiliation, voting would be based on actual tenets of faith, which may or may not align with a specific party. Obviously, Republicans wouldn’t want to lose the votes of conservative Christians as they form a very substantial bloc. This concept terrifies someone like Glenn Beck because he wants people to vote for a certain party. If Christians start to believe the Republican Party isn’t their savior, they lose votes (and incidentally, Beck loses an audience). Many leaders of this movement for social justice, such as Jim Wallis or Shane Claiborne, still hold to some of the beliefs that Christians see as most important (e.g., being against abortion), but they encourage Christians to vote as someone more loyal to the Kingdom of Heaven than to the “Republic for which [the American flag] stands.”
I’m not telling you what issues you should be voting on; I’m telling you that lying in bed with a political party is moral adultery—we are the bride of Christ and no one else deserves our unconditional devotion. If you are voting for the candidate that you believe is most in line with your beliefs, then God bless you, but one must be able to distinguish their faith from political party.
Returning to the matter of social justice and the role of government, some Christians have suggested that it is not the responsibility of the government to provide for the poor, but the role of the church and individuals. Jerry Falwell Jr. suggests that Jesus taught that individuals should help the poor and not elect governments to do so. Some say that God established three institutions, each for different purposes: the family, the government, and the church. However, there is fault in this logic. God did not create the Church at the same time as he did family or government. The family came first and, very soon thereafter, governments were established (cities were being founded by the second generation in the book of Genesis). The church was founded thousands of years after governments were established.
The one example we have of an ancient government that we have in the Bible that was directed by God himself is Israel. Now, Israel often rebelled, of course, but I’m sure we can agree that they were God’s people and that they should have served as an example of Godly government if they would have actually did what God told them.
Here’s the thing: the government and the religious establishment were intimately intertwined. There were different offices for people to fill (e.g., priest and king), but the government was responsible to enact the will of God, which would have been discerned through the religious establishment (I don’t use the term “church” here because it didn’t exist). Was it the temple/church or was it government that God warned to look out for the poor? In fact it was both at once. Laws affected every facet of life and many were designed to watch out for the poor and keep them from being exploited. Need examples? How about the law that allowed for gleaning (which was instrumental in the story of Ruth), the seventh-year rest for the land, the year of Jubilee, and many more. To further my point, I don’t think the concept of a “free market” is necessarily wrong (I certainly benefit from it—though I can think of reason to argue against it too), but it is completely secular in origin. In ancient Israel, it would have been a bit ludicrous.
If you don’t think that the poor are exploited and held down in our society, then you have never really seen America. Do some take advantage of government programs when they don’t really need it? Yes, some do, and I think such programs need to be revised and streamlined, but the American dream is a not a real possibility for many people. The church should be reaching out, yes, but that doesn’t by any means mean that the government bears no responsibility—one of the chief purposes of the government, even according to the Bible is to protect its people. This is especially true if the government has some responsibility in the exploitation of the underprivileged to begin with.
The church was established in the midst of pagan government, but nevertheless believers were told by Jesus and by Paul and Peter, to respect the government’s authority, because God allows them to be in place and to have their authority. Our current government system, thankfully, actually allows its citizens to have an influence in policy. Unfortunately our current political parties give us the option choosing the lesser evil between aborting babies and starting unjust wars and neglecting the poor.