Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Catholic, an evangelical and a Mormon

This has the making of a good joke. A Catholic priest, an evangelical pastor, and a Mormon are all in a boat one day and they agree that Glenn Beck is out to lunch.

Fr. James Martin, SJ, went on Steven Colbert's show to answer some questions in response to Glenn Beck's recent attacks on Churches that are concerned for the poor and who work for social justice.

Glenn Beck Attacks Social Justice - James Martin
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Okilee dokilee, that's the Catholic point of view. Surely evangelicals are lining up behind what Beck has said.

Oops. Maybe not.

Here is what one evangelical pastor had to say about Beck's recent pronouncement. The Rev. Charles M. Redfern, Jr., is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and is ordained in a (ahem) "non-conformist" tradition (let the reader understand). This is not nearly as insulting as as it sounds. I've known Chuck (Mind if I call you "Chuck?" Thank you very much.) since high school when we both went to the same Baptist church and asked embarrassing questions about a certain passage in Matthew chapter 25. Chuck is the poster child for "non-conformist pastor."

To: Glenn Beck

Dear Glenn (Mind if I call you “Glenn?” Thank you so much):

I confess. I’m guilty. As charged. ‘Cuff me. Throw me into the van. Cart me off and toss the key.

I always thought of myself as an evangelical Christian with a slightly liberal political bent: you know, one of those pro-life Democrats in the heritage of Tip O’Neill and Bob Casey. I’d love to high-five a Thomas Dewey/Teddy Roosevelt Republican, but they’re drowning their sorrows with former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman and the ghost of Nelson Rockefeller.

But you set me straight. You recently told America that Christians should clear out of churches whose pastors advocate social justice. You said this: “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 … If you have a priest that is pushing social justice, go find another parish. Go alert your bishop.” You held aloft cards with a hammer and a sickle in one hand and a swastika in the other, hinting that preachers like me are commies and Nazis.

Wow. And here I thought both World War 2 and the Cold War were over. Naïve little me.

I guess I fell asleep with the remote in my paw and missed the big news. You’re a Mormon. My seminary professors told me Mormonism was outside the pale of traditional Christianity and was grist for anti-cult literature. Now I wake up and I find many fellow evangelicals invoking you against Nazi-commies like me. Like, Rip Van Winkle and everything. I guess they’ve taken the scissors to Proverbs 29:11 (“A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control”) and a knife to Proverbs 12:18 (“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”).

Those professors quoted passages like Amos 5:11, where God rails against ancient Israel because “you trample on the poor and force him to give you grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine;” and verses 21-24: “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” They pointed me to Psalm 72, where the good Israelite king is marked with justice and defends the afflicted; and Daniel 4:27, where the command for kindness to the oppressed is extended to non-Israelite kings. And never mind Leviticus 25, which provides for the elimination of institutional, generational poverty.

So arrest King David, Amos, and Daniel along with me – and those seminary professors, who polluted my mind and curbed my spine. And lock up the great revivalists as well: John and Charles Wesley, Charles Finney, Phoebe Palmer, and William Booth of Salvation Army fame. Into the brig. And them Catholics: Thomas Aquinas, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Pope John Paul II. They all preached social justice, so they’re all commies and Nazis. And don’t forget the nasty, commie-Nazi Mennonites and Quakers — plus the early Pentecostals, who were pacifists. And Saint Francis. And Mother Teresa.

Oh, there have been debates galore over tactics since the fourth century: What role for government? Most agree it should have some role, what with the structure of things. Why, average Joe and Josephine Christian can be key players in pushing leaders away from inhumanity and toward mercy (hello, Clara Barton). Churches can have their soup kitchens and clothe individuals, but they cannot enact child labor laws, set up police forces, and enforce regulations so coal mines don’t cave in. Benevolent government is …

Nazism and communism.

Or so it seems in your world, Mr. Beck, the one who caws from your perch outside traditional Christianity: “Fly. Fly away. Fly away from those churches that are trying to apply the Bible in a pluralistic society. Fly away from preachers who are teaching what the church has taught for two thousand years.”

And arrest me — because I am one of those Nazi-commies who embraces social justice.

As Chuck points out, Beck is a Mormon. Converts can be pretty intense. Often they take it on themselves to learn more about their adopted tradition than those born into it. So in his intensive study of his new-found faith, has Beck found the heart of Mormonism? Apparently not, says Jana Riess on Beliefnet. He may need to go back to the old chalk board on this one.

Dear Glenn Beck,

Have You Read the Book of Mormon Lately?

As you know, Glenn, during the last week, Christians of all stripes have debated your advice about exiting any churches that mentioned “social justice” or “economic justice” on their websites or preached it in their sermons. As you apparently hoped, you have dominated the airwaves. The good news for me is that, if you follow your own advice, you must soon be exiting The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which we are both members. And if that happens, I will dance a little jig.

You may have missed it, but social justice is a dominant feature of all four of our key sacred texts, including the Bible and the Book of Mormon. We could look at hundreds of relevant scriptures, since poverty was the thing Jesus preached about most often, but let me turn your attention to a scripture you might have missed: King Benjamin’s sermon in the Book of Mormon. A tweetable highlight:

And now... for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants. (Mosiah 4:26)

See, Glenn? Not only are Mormons supposed to feed the hungry and all that, but we do this so we don’t lose our salvation. It’s not just a nice thing to do, or a civilized thing to do, or an optional thing to do. It’s a commandment of God. And if I were you reading this passage, I’d be quaking in my tailor-made Keds....

...It’s all wrapped up in that hymn we often sing: “Because I have been given much, I too must give.” Most Mormons could and should do more to live out the ideals of that song, and of our heritage. I know I ought to. But you most of all, Glenn. You most of all.

So the Roman Catholic, the evangelical and the Mormon all agree that what Beck said is a joke, and could be laughed off if so many people did not hang on his every word. He has found success and fame by trading on the things which scare people most. Beck is not the buffoon we like to paint him as. He knows exactly what he is doing.

This whole flap when Beck referenced Father Charles Coughlin on his March 11, 2010 radio show as proof that the phrase "social justice" and fascism are intertwined. Beck knows he stands four-square in the same tradition of radio-and-tv demagoguery that Coughlin pioneered, and he would gladly throw his hero under the rhetorical bus to further his own ambitions. Coughlin, of course, turned the phrase "social justice" on it's head by making the phrase a platform for a kind of American facism, grounded in popular anger against both the government and the poor.

Beck is counting on most of his listeners having no idea who Coughlin is. The thing is that what Beck stands for today, a religious faith that is selfish and without compassion and a political life founded on fear and hatred, is the exactly what Coughlin stood for then.

Personally, I think Beck should do what a lot of Mormon 18 year olds do. He should give up everything for a year, go someplace far away and do mission work. A year of shutting up and listening while doing a little physical work in the service of others might be just the thing Beck needs to really embrace his new-found faith.

1 comment:

Seth R. said...

Beck did do some digging when he converted to Mormonism. Unfortunately, he uncovered the wrong part.

Beck is a fan of Mormon writer Cleon Skousen. Skousen had a bit of a popular following in extreme right-wing Utah Mormon politics back in the 1980s when anti-Communist diatribes and the John Birch Society were in full swing. Skousen has since dwindled into obscurity in Utah culture - a bit of a historical relic (except in isolated pockets). Most Utahns today don't even know who he is.

But apparently Beck is quite taken with his writings.

You can find a discussion of this link between Beck and Skousen on this popular Mormon group blog:

Be sure to read the link to the PDF document with Mormon scholars basically roasting Skousen: