Preface: If you are (1) an atheist and believe that religion is crazy or (2) of a faith that doesn’t value the Bible, please remember that the overwhelming majority of Americans identify themselves as Christian, and that most people make decisions and process information based on their beliefs. As I pointed out last month:
The overwhelming majority – 75% – of all Americans consider themselves to be Christian. It is irrelevant for this discussion … whether or not those 75% are all living up to their values, whether every word of the Bible is true, whether Christianity is a detrimental force undermining democracy and reason, or whether all organized religion is a con…What is important is that most Americans are Christian, and so [I invite you to become at least a little bit “bilingual” and to] speak in language meaningful to Christians.
As James 2:20 reminds us:
Faith without works is dead.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Chris Hedges points out that:
Anger at injustice, as Martin Luther King wrote, is the political expression of love.
In other words, having faith and love is only half of what it means to be Christian. The other half is putting that faith and love into action, by fighting for justice.
As I wrote in November:
The Bible does not counsel us to ignore the breaking of laws by the the powerful.
In fact, the Bible mentions justice over 200 times — more than just about any other topic. The Bible asks us to do justice and to stand up to ANYONE — including the rich or powerful — who do injustice or oppress the people.
There have been widespread, credible allegations that Goldman Sachs and other giant banks have broken the law (see this, for example).
Indeed, one of the first things God asks of us is to do justice:
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)
While many churches and synagogues have become obsessed with other issues, many have arguably ignored this most important of God’s demands of us. As pointed out by a leading Christian ministry, which rescues underage girls trapped as sex slaves in third world countries:
In Scripture there is a constant call to seek justice. Jesus got upset at the Pharisees because they neglected the weightier matters of the law, which He defined as justice and the love of God . . . Isaiah 58 complains about the fact that while the people of God are praying and praying and praying, they are not doing anything about the injustice.
Should Christians just pray for justice and leave the rest to God?
That’s not what the Bible asks us to do. Instead, Hebrews 11:33 tells us that we are God’s hands for dispensing justice, and God uses us to “administer justice.”
We have to “walk our talk” and put our prayers into action.
God demands that we do everything in our power to act as “God’s hands” in bringing justice. And as Saint Augustine reminds us, “Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.”
Please reflect on the following Scripture:
The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, He was appalled that there was no one to intervene. (Isaiah 59:15-16)
This is the only place in the Bible where the word “appalled” is used for the way God feels — in other words, the only thing which we know God is appalled by is if people are not doing justice.
There are hundreds of other references to justice in the Bible, including:
- Blessed are they who maintain justice . . . . (Psalm 106:3)
- This is what the LORD says: Maintain justice and do what is right . . . . (Isiah 56:1)
- This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. (Jeremiah 22:3,13-17)
- Follow justice and justice alone. (Deuteronomy 16:19, 20)
- For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice . . . . (Job 11:5,7)
- Learn to do right! Seek justice . . . . (Isaiah 1:17)
So if the powerful players in the giant banks broke the laws, they must be held to account.
Moreover, there have been credible allegations that Goldman Sachs and other giant banks manipulate the currency and other markets.
As Ron Paul notes, the Bible forbids altering the quality of money (which, at the time and place, was entirely in the form of coins):
Even the Bible is clear that altering the quality of money is an immoral act. We are instructed to follow the rules of “just weights and measures.” “You shall do no injustice in judgment, in measurement of length, weight, or volume. You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin” (Leviticus 19:35-36). “Diverse weights are an abomination to the LORD, and a false balance is not good” (Proverbs 20:23). The general principle can be summed as “You shall not steal.”Proverbs 11:1 also provides:
Dishonest scales are an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is His delight.
So to the extent that the giant banks have engaged in any dishonest acts or the manipulation of currencies, they are violating scripture.
Of course, any bankers who charge usurious interest rates should remember the little story about Jesus turning over the money changers’ tables.
Oppression of the Poor
Finally, the Bible condemns oppression of the poor for the benefit of the affluent:
He that oppresses the poor to increase his riches, and he that gives to the rich, shall surely come to want. (Proverbs 22:16)
To the extent that the giant banks have oppressed the poor to increase their riches, they are violating scripture.
Real Christians Versus Fake Christians
In view of the foregoing, Glenn Beck calling churches which teach justice “nazis” and “communists” is fairly amusing.
Of course, churches in Nazi Germany mainly supported Adolph Hitler’s unjust fascist policies. And communist Russia largely banned churches and persecuted Christians. So Beck’s comparison of American churches which teach social justice to nazi or communist churches is – on its face – nonsensical.
More importantly, in a must-read essay, Reverend James Martin rips apart Beck’s fake Christianity:
Glenn Beck said last week on his eponymous show that Christians should leave churches that preach “social justice.” Mr. Beck equated the desire for a just society with—wait for it—Nazism and Communism.
I’m begging you, 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.
Of course this means that you would have to leave the Catholic Church, which has long championed that aspect of the Gospel. The term “social justice” originated way back in the 1800s (and probably predates even that), and has been continually underlined by the Magisterium and popes since Leo XIII, who began the modern tradition of Catholic social teaching with his encyclical on capital and labor, Rerum Novarum in 1891. Subsequent popes have built on Leo’s work, continuing the church’s meditation on a variety of issues of social just in such landmark documents as Pope Pius XI’s encyclical on “the reconstruction of the social order,” Quadregismo Anno (1931), Paul VI’s encyclical “on the development of peoples,” Populorum Progressio (1967) and John Paul II’s encyclical “on the social concerns of the church” Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (1987). Social justice also undergirds much of Catholic social teaching on peace. “If you want peace,” said Pope Paul VI, “work for justice.”
The Compendium of the Social Teaching of the Church, published by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, says this:
The Church’s social Magisterium constantly calls for the most classical forms of justice to be respected: commutative, distributive and legal justice. Ever greater importance has been given to social justice., which represents a real development in general justice, the justice that regulates social relationships according to the criterion of observance of the law. Social justice, a requirement related to the social question which today is worldwide in scope, concerns the social, political and economic aspects and, above all, the structural dimension of problems and their respective solutions….
Justice is particularly important in the present-day context, where the individual value of the person, his dignity and his rights — despite proclaimed intentions — are seriously threatened by the widespread tendency to make exclusive use of criteria of utility and ownership.
Oh, and social justice is not just some silly foreign idea. American Catholics know that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have an Office of Justice, Peace and Human Development. On that website the U.S. bishops say: “At the core of the virtue of solidarity is the pursuit of justice and peace. Our love for all our sisters and brothers demands that we promote peace in a world surrounded by violence and conflict.” I.e., social justice.
Okay, you get it, right? Social justice is an essential part of Catholic teaching. It’s part of being a Catholic. So Glenn Beck is, in essence, saying “Leave the Catholic church.” Or, if you like, the Catholic church is a Nazi church. (Which would have surprised Alfred Delp or Rupert Mayer or Maximilian Kolbe.) Or a Communist one (Which would have suprised Jerzy Popieluszko and Karol Wojtyla).
But Glenn Beck is saying something else, which might get lost in the translation: “Leave Christianity.” …
Our responsibility to care for “the least of these” does not end with simple charity. Giving someone a handout is an important part of the Christian message. But so is advocating for them. It is not enough simply to help the poor, one must address the structures that keep them poor. Standing up for the rights of the poor is not being a Nazi, it’s being a Christian. And Communist? It’s hard not to think of the retort of the great apostle of social justice, Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” …
Ignoring the poor, and ignoring what keeps the poor, is, quite simply, unchristian. For the poor are the church in many ways. When St. Lawrence, in the fourth century, was ordered by the prefect of Rome to turn over the wealth of the church, he presented to him the poor.
Glenn Beck’s desire to detach social justice from the Gospel is a subtle move to detach care for the poor from the Gospel. But a church without the poor, and a church without a desire for a just social world for all, is not the church. At least not the church of Jesus Christ.
Churches working for social and economic justice are also speaking out:
“Economic and social justice are central to the gospel of Jesus Christ,” the petition reads. “Quit using your bully pulpit to spread misinformation and fear by comparing faithful Christians who care ‘for the least of these’ to Nazis and communists.”
The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good … has started a campaign to raise money towards a video rebuking Beck’s assertion.
“We are launching a campaign to reclaim love of neighbor, especially the least, last, and lost, as an Evangelical Christian value. We believe love is central to everything Jesus taught, and we think Glenn Beck needs to hear about it,” the group stated on its Web site.
While fighting unjust conditions which cause poverty is a core task for Christians, it is not the only task.
For example, unless we do everything we can to prosecute government officials who ordered crimes against humanity (such as starting unjust wars under false pretenses and ordering widespread and indiscriminate torture), we are not fulfilling our responsibilities as Christians.