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Glenn Beck, Martin Luther and Social Justice

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Last week, political commentator Glenn Beck set off a firestorm of controversy after he urged Christians to leave their church if it claims to be involved in social justice.

Here’s what he said: "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!"

He goes on to say that social justice is a political code word for communism and Nazism: “Communists are on the left, and the Nazis are on the right. That's what people say. But they both subscribe to one philosophy, and they flew one banner … But on each banner, read the words, here in America: 'social justice.'”

To Beck, the term “social justice” equates to government intervention, state-run social programs and political activism. The problem is, “social justice” is not a phrase that only describes political action—it describes social ones.

Sure, there are people on both sides of the political spectrum that would argue for different roles of the government when it comes to issues of social injustice. But what Beck seemed to insinuate, is that all social justice activity—even if it is solely done by the church—is a decisive, un-American action. (This may not have been his intention, but by making such a blanket statement, this is the only way it can be interpreted).

Rev. Jim Wallis was recently interviewed on CBN News’ The Brody File to discuss his problems with Beck’s statements. There are also a number of other high-profile Christians who have recently emphasized the need for believers to actively fight social injustices.

Lamar Vest of the American Bible Society visited The 700 Club earlier this year to discuss the new Poverty and Justice Bible—a Bible that highlights verses (more than 2,000) that talk about poverty and justice. Vest describes a survey in which they asked people to indentify the sources of several Bible verses that talked about the Christian’s responsibility to care for the poor and make sure justice is being done. He said that most of the respondents thought the quotes were from Hollywood celebrities. The highest vote-getter was President Barack Obama. Only 13 percent recognized them from the Bible. (You can watch the interview here.)

Despite some misconceptions, the issue of social justice is not controversial among Christians because of political implications. (After all, no matter what your personal politics are, there are ways to be socially active). The heart of the issue is not political—I believe that the heart of the issue is the responsibility of the Christian.

The book of James talks a lot about this responsibility. Its message is so jarring, that even Martin Luther, the father of the Reformation, famously wanted it out of the Bible. (He even joked that he wanted to throw the book into the stove.) Luther feared that James’ emphasis on actually doing good works could under-mind the message of salvation by faith alone. says, "You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone" (NIV).

In the book of James (ironically written by the apostle who is also known as “James the Just”), Christians are given a direct call to show our faith by doing good works—specifically caring for the poor and seeking justice. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” ( ).

He goes into detail about God’s thoughts on poverty and wealth: “Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor” (2:5-6).

Here’s another passage: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.’” (2:14-16).

James even gives a scathing warning to rich business owners who hoard wealth and mistreat workers: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you” (5:1-6).

This is not political rhetoric or economic ideology—this is a biblical command to fight injustice and serve the poor.

This is social justice.

It’s OK to debate politics and have different ideas about the role of government, economics and decisions by leaders. But it is dangerous to discount biblical passages just because they are uncomfortable. I honestly believe this wasn't Beck's intention in his statement, but for Christians—across the political spectrum—we have to remember that caring for the poor and seeking justice are mandates from God.

The God we serve is a just God, and He hears the cries of those that are suffering. As Christians, we are called to be the body Christ—to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ, and also show the love of God to those in need. We are called to help those suffering from injustice. No matter what your political preferences are, that is a message we should all agree on.


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About The Author


Jesse Carey is a contributing writer for and has a background in entertainment and pop-culture writing. He offers his insight on music, movies, TV, trends and current events from a unique perspective that examines what implications the latest news has on Christians.