Social Justice -- Sightings

Something is definitely in the air -- just as I'd posted comments on Scot McKnight's thoughts about government aid in response not just to Glen Beck, but also to Jerry Falwell, Jr., Martin Marty adds his two cents worth (actually quite more than that).  So, to further the discussion, I offer Marty's Monday morning observations, which are as pointed as I've seen him get!


Sightings 3/15/10
Social Justice
-- Martin E. Marty

Are 68.1 million Americans connected with a Communist front movement?  Yes, if they are Roman Catholic.  Are another 20 million citizens listening to “coded” Nazi  messages?  Yes, if they are mainline Protestant.  Are tens of millions more in danger of being part of a similarly coded Fascist front?  Yes, if they are in a growing wing of Evangelicalism; and yes, if they keep hearing social justice messages in thousands of African-American congregations.  Those four “yeses” pick up on oft-repeated accusations by Fox News host Glenn Beck.  They provoked the least underreported public religion news of the week, which appeared in the March 12th New York Times as well as “all over the internet.”
The fact that Mr. Beck charms millions of devotees tells more about the sad state of truth-telling and the high state of lie-receiving than civil citizens should want to hear.  The broadcaster has picked up an ally in folk like Jerry Falwell, Jr. and a few other fundamentalists on the right who have been at least as condemnatory as he.  Their most cited biblical passage is from the gospels, where Jesus announces that his kingdom is not of his world; therefore they conclude that Christians should avoid political life.  A test of ironies:  Quick, now, can you think of any element in American religion which has been more publicly engaged in recent politicking than these “not-of-this-world” dwellers in glass houses?
Where should they direct the stones they must throw?  And how should they follow through?  Mr. Beck knows:  Leave any church which talks about, supports, or “does” works of justice beyond what an individual or a church charity can do.  “Leave!”  “Run!”  Do it fast, he says, because of the way things are going.  He might as well be wearing a beard, a robe, and a sign:  “THE END IS NEAR.”  Before that end, these “social justice” churches might at least fling some pebbles back while they seek consistency.  Ask:  Would all the Christians and the churches which accept any benefits of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, tax exemption and other such programs cut them off tomorrow?  They all involve the government and all were backed by “social and economics minded” leaders and followers in churches, often against the odds raised and symbolized by the Glenn Becks of their past.
Sightings likes to be fair and to see more than one side of things as it does its observing and commenting.  So let it be noted that some sane and serious Christians also think that believers should pay no attention to public order, structures, circumstances, and possibilities.  “Don’t talk justice!  Just be just!”  “Don’t support programs which support widows and orphans, just share your bread and coat and cold water with your innocently needy neighbor.”  Thereafter do the math:  It will become obvious that the limits on the individual responses to need at their highest won’t meet needs if reckoned at their lowest. 
Biblical verses wisely do remind readers, “Put not your trust in princes.”  That usually means governments; “princes” in the media, banking, punditry, universities, and, yes, churches demand scrutiny, and their programs deserve careful evaluation, as well.  But those who say that you have taken care of biblical injunctions if you simply keep government out of everything face biblical reminders with which they have to contend:  The Hebrew prophets all dealt with “nations,” and the apostle Paul, writing to people suffering under Nero, also said that civil “authority…is God’s servant for your good (Romans 13:4).  Paul even goes so far in 13:6 to urge believers to “pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants.”  Come on, Paul, don’t press your luck in Beck’s world!

Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, publications, and contact information can be found at
In this month’s edition of the Religion and Culture Web Forum, Sarah Imhoff introduces us to the Hasidic reggae musician Matisyahu, who weds reggae music with strong pronouncements of Jewish faith and identity.  Imhoff notes that a common concern for music critics and Matisyahu's coreligionists alike resides in issues of authenticity.  Music critics ask if he's "reggae" enough; Orthodox Jews debate whether he's "Jewish" enough. By troubling categories of identity and their relationships with artistic form, Imhoff explores the limits of "authenticity" in aesthetic and religious performance.  With invited responses forthcoming from Melvin L. Butler (University of Chicago), Judah Cohen (Indiana University), Annalise E. Glauz-Todrank (University of California, Santa Barbara), Elliot A. Ratzman (Swarthmore College),and Nora Rubel (University of Rochester). 
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.


John said…
It is not appropriate for uncharitable Christians to hide their hard heartedness behind a laissez faire government. We live in a country where we ARE the government, and we choose how that government is going to treat the poor and marginalized. If our government fails to care for "the least of these" the blame for that failure falls on us. And when the time comes for separating the sheep from the goats it will do us no good to claim credit for the pittance we gave at church and expect that God will ignore the fact that instead of employing the enormous resources of the state to foster God's justice we used those resources to preserve our hoarded wealth and coincidentally to perpetuate the plight of the marginalized.

I am not excited about tax increases or spending more of my hard earned money on people whom I suspect could be earning their own way. But I cannot ignore the clear and unflinching command to care for the least among us. And it is not for me to judge who is worthy to share from my pantry and who should be excluded. I can only trust that God will continue to provide, as he has always been faithful to me.
Anonymous said…
I'm disappointed we're still giving Bleck the time of day. He's self-destructing anyway. It's not nice to gowk and it slows down progress. David Mc

I think that the issue has gone beyond Beck, because we're seeing the same kinds of rhetoric coming from folks like Jerry Falwell, Jr. While we might want to ignore them, they are influencing political decisions in our own backyard.
Anonymous said…
That's scary. I still think they swung too far to the dark side (to quote Cheney) to be credible. Keep an eye on them then, so I don't have to. I don't have the stomach for it. David Mc
Anonymous said…
"Believe in something! Even if it's wrong. Believe in it!"

My favorite Bleck quote.
Jeff Linn said…
All good viewpoints. Our next step must be to mobilize and to do something to set the record straight. 'Evil wins when good men do nothing.'
Anonymous said…
You're right Jeff, we'll have to get our wives on it right away. Kidding... maybe not. David Mc

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