Q:Fox News commentator Glenn Beck claims that faith-based calls for "social justice" are really ideological calls for "forced redistribution of wealth . . . under the guise of charity and/or justice," and that Christians should leave their churches if they preach or practice "social justice."
Rev. Jim Wallis disagrees, saying social justice is a faith-based commitment "to serve the poor and to attack the conditions that lead to poverty," central tents of the teachings of Jesus and at the heart of biblical faith.
Who's right? How does the pursuit of justice fit into your faith? Is 'social justice' an ideology or a theology?
Glenn Beck and Jim Wallis are not arguing about Biblical teachings -- they are arguing about government and economic systems. And frankly, when it comes to those two things, the Bible has precious little to say that is of relevance.
The Bible does not prescribe an economic system -- not capitalism, not socialism, not communism. The government that the Bible presumes is no form of representative self-governance -- there is always a king or queen of some kind at whose disposal are troops and taxes.
Yet within those systems as they exist is a clear mandate that society in general and individuals in specific have the responsibility to provide for the needs of the poor and for the common welfare. In Judaism, that mandate is grounded in God's commandments that limit profit-taking, redistribute private property to the poor and allow the community to compel just action to correct or prevent injustice. Whether or not government meets those collective obligations, the individual is always responsible -- no matter the form of government or economy -- to take personal responsibility and to seek justice on a societal level.
The Bible does not, however, guarantee universal health care any more than it protects an absolute right to private ownership. Arguing from presumptions about the American form of government and economy about the mandates of the Bible is dishonest, specious and irresponsible. It is also irrelevant. The values taught by the diverse interpretations of religious communities in the United States do not determine, individually or collectively, what kind of government we ought to have. Likewise, American values do not determine the beliefs and practices of diverse communities of faith.
It is irresponsible for a religious figure to lay claim to government policy by dint of his or her faith. It is likewise irresponsible for a self-proclaimed "rodeo clown" to lay claim to understanding of religious teachings by dint of his television ratings.
What is responsible is for each of God's children to take responsibility for a just society and a just world.
April 12, 2010; 2:45 PM ET
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