Becksignjustice

Amy Sullivan chronicles the backlash against Glenn Beck's call for people to flee their church if it preaches "social or economic justice":

[H]e managed to outrage Christians in most mainline Protestant denominations, African-American congregations, Hispanic churches, and Catholics--who first heard the term "social justice" in papal encyclicals and have a little something in their tradition called "Catholic social teaching." (Not to mention the teaching of a certain fellow from Nazareth who was always blathering on about justice...)

He also managed to bring the National Council of Churches--once a powerful umbrella organization for Christian churches--out from hibernation, in the form of a withering response from leader Peg Chemberlin. Progressive evangelical leader Jim Wallis, taking a page from his conservative counterparts, is calling for Christians to boycott Beck's shows.

Religion blogger Mark Silk notes:

Not to belabor the point, but the Judeo-Christian tradition from which Beck's Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints springs expects the poor to be provided for as a matter of public law. And indeed, in the days when the LDS Church ran its corner of North America as a theocracy, that's just what it did.

I have to say I'm going to side a tiny bit with Beck on this matter.

It seems to me that although helping the poor is obviously a critical facet of Jesus' teaching, it is a legitimate matter of debate how to help the poor.

Socialism, for example, clearly does not help the poor: it just makes everyone poorer. It can spring from envy, not charity. It can instill dependency, not self-respect. And charity is not something anyone can delegate to an institution. A state cannot feel love and cannot be redeemed. Only a human being can. Sometimes, an over-weening welfare state can actually remove the capacity of many people to be personally generous by taxing their worldly goods before they have a chance to give them away.

My own view is that there should be a collective and strong safety net for the poor, combined with, for Christians, a very powerful, indeed binding, injunction to give and give generously to others, and to take a personal interest in the needs of others. There's a balance here, in other words, between social justice and statist redistributionism. And while Beck is obviously out of line - the Catholic Church's teachings on social justice could not be further removed from Ayn Rand - I'm suspicious of the dangers of taking the virtue of social justice and turning it into the system of socialism.

(Image via Amanda Terkel)