By Jim White
I’m all about the United States Constitution. Next to the Bible, it may be my favorite document. I support and defend the rights of individuals to speak even if everything inside me is shouting, “Shut up!” Like when a thoughtless person shouts “Fire” in a crowded theater. Or when Fox News’ Glenn Beck said last week that church members should leave if their church is committed to social justice.
“I’m begging you,” he pontificated, “your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them … are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”
Perhaps Beck, who is a recent convert to Mormonism, needs a refresher course in biblical justice mandates. Though I trust Baptists reading this do not, a little review couldn’t hurt us. What does the Bible say about justice? Here’s a sample:
• Those who please the Lord will “keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice” (Gen. 18:19).
• God “has established his throne for justice” (Psalm 9:7) and “loves righteousness and justice” (Ps. 33:5).
• Princes are to “rule in justice” (Is. 32:1) even as the Lord “will fill Zion with justice and righteousness” (Is. 33:5).
• God speaks for himself, “For I the Lord love justice” (Is. 61:8).
• Amos thundered: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:18).
• Micah wrote what has become a classic: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8).
• Neither was Jesus silent about justice issues: “And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them” (Luke 18:7-8).
• “Woe to you … for you have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith” (Matt. 23:23).
Justice is so inextricably linked with God’s goodness that a church member should flee any church that is not firmly committed to social justice.
Even Al Mohler took issue with Beck’s comments after an initial false start in which he tweeted, “Glenn Beck’s comments were basically right — just an incindiary [sic] overstatement. I will post a commentary at AlbertMohler.com Monday morning.” By Monday morning, Mohler had moderated: “To assert that a call for social justice is reason for faithful Christians to flee their churches is nonsense, given the Bible’s overwhelming affirmation that justice is one of God’s own foremost concerns.” He went on, however, to assert that Beck’s comments were intended to be political and were understood in that context by his “loyal audience.”
Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of a persistent blog, also took exception with the whole idea that Christians should attempt to sway the social agendas of their times. “As an evangelical Christian, my concern is the primacy of the gospel of Christ — the gospel that reveals the power of God in the salvation of sinners through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The church’s main message must be that gospel. The New Testament is stunningly silent on any plan for governmental or social action. The apostles launched no social reform movement. Instead, they preached the gospel of Christ and planted gospel churches. Our task is to follow Christ’s command and the example of the apostles.” This must explain why he has never attempted to influence social action on the subjects of abortion or homosexuality.
I agree with Mohler, however, at the point of the gospel. Some religious people, lacking any clear acquaintance with the gospel, substitute a social agenda. This, incidentally, was not Beck’s concern. It is, however, mine.
A student recently responded to a blog (not Mohler’s) with an illustration of what I mean. “I’m a seminarian,” she wrote, “and I don’t attend church regularly. How about that? I alternate attendance among a Unitarian Universalist fellowship, an African Methodist Episcopal Church, whatever type service is going on at seminary in a given week, and Cedar Ridge Community Church (AKA the church Brian McLaren founded). None of these ‘work for me’ on a regular basis. This is one reason why I don’t know if I’ll ever get ordained or be the minister at a particular place. I think my calling is more to social justice. I think church attenders can pick and choose what they follow/agree with of any given church; kinda hard to do that when you are ‘the’ minister!”
If the church this seminarian is part of ever has the misfortune of ordaining her, I hope the members will react. Not against social ministries, but because that is the sum total of the gospel being preached. I have never agreed with the sentiment expressed by one fundamentalist, “Why should we make this world a better place to go to hell from,” but I certainly don’t want to concentrate only on making this world a better place. That said, perhaps we Virginia Baptists do need to open the “social justice and evangelism” dialogue.
Virginia Baptists have always struck a balance between social justice and evangelism. Even so, it seems to me that if one or the other is being neglected by us, it may well be evangelism. I was struck this week by something Virginia Baptist leader Rick Clore said. It is one thing to try to get people into heaven. It is another to try to get heaven into them. The authentic, saving, powerful, transforming gospel of Jesus Christ is both. And we are called to preach the full gospel. If your church is only concerned with social justice, it’s half right.
If you feel like you just need to flee something, I suggest Glenn Beck’s program is a good place to start. To link social justice concerns of churches with communism and Nazism, as he did in the program, is too incredibly stupid to be tolerated by a network known (at least by itself) to be “fair and balanced.”