For many people on this side of the Atlantic, I suspect their impressions of Fox News’ Glenn Beck are mediated through the spoofs of Daily Show comedian Jon Stewart, whose programme is aired on Channel 4.
Beck identifies himself with Christian America, and is a self-proclaimed guardian of what he perceives to be America’s Christian values. Last month, it was revealed that Beck’s staff is now ‘funding opposition research and internet attack campaigns’ against Christian pastors who disagree with his vision of America.
Last month, Beck said that any church that talks about "social or economic justice" is not of Christ but is instead spreading Nazi or communist propaganda, and that his listeners should leave those churches. His actual words were,
"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. … 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!"
Beck’s main target has been Sojourners’ Jim Wallis, an outspoken pastor and author who is a friend of President Obama.Wallis’ 2006 book, God’s Politics: Why the American Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get it, was a critique of the way economically conservative and moralistic Christians have made inroads in the Republican Party, essentially taking over Christian discourses in the American public sphere.
In this book, Wallis called American Christians to consider Jesus’ messages of social and economic justice. Wallis sees Jesus as critiquing those who abused political, religious, and military power in order to protect their own interests. Wallis has also been a critic of the US’s huge military budget and the invasion of Iraq. He has said that the Democratic Party should not shy away from claiming its Christian heritage and employing Christian discourses to justify its social and economic policies.
In an open letter to Beck, Wallis offered to engage in public dialogue about social justice. He wrote,
Christians can have different views of the role of government but still agree that social justice is crucial. Very few who believe that are “Marxists.” And while we all preach empowerment to live out the gospel, we don’t think the meaning of social justice should be reduced to just private charity. Biblical justice also involves changing structures, institutions, systems, and policies; as well as changing hearts to be more generous. So there is still a lot to talk about here.
Beck’s response? To get his staff digging for dirt on Wallis, apparently, as he said on his radio show,
So Jim, I just wanted to pass this on to you. In my time I will respond — my time, well, kind of like God’s time, might be a day, might be a week to you, I’m not sure. But I’m going to get to it in my time, not your time. So you go ahead and you continue to do your protest thing, and that’s great. I love it. But just know — the hammer is coming, because little do you know, for eight weeks, we’ve been compiling information on you, your cute little organization, and all the other cute little people that are with you. And when the hammer comes, it’s going to be hammering hard and all through the night, over and over…
Over the last month, Beck has gone on the offensive, airing clips and recordings of Wallis – some widely out of context, such as an exchange between Wallis and Dorothy Day (who Beck clearly hadn’t heard of) in which he accused both of being ‘Marxists.’
But what really made me mad was when Glenn Beck called Dorothy Day a “Marxist” and went after us both with guilt by association. Guilty again. I couldn’t be more proud of that association. It was clear that Beck had never heard of her, so somebody really needs to tell him that Dorothy Day is regarded as a modern saint in the Catholic Church and is already in the process of canonization—before he puts her up on his blackboard. Beck recounted a conversation I had with Dorothy as a new young convert to Christianity. She was in her eighties and asked me if I had been a radical student in my early years as she had been. “Yeah,” Beck recorded me saying. And if I had been attracted to Marxism, as she had. “Yeah” I said again. Gotcha! Beck said. They’re both Marxists! What he left out was the next lines of our conversation that I still remember and, of course, were on the same tape he abruptly cut off. “And now, you’re a Catholic?” Dorothy Day asked me. “Well, now I’m a Christian,” I said. “You’re not a Catholic?” she chided. I lamely responded that “some of my best friends” were Catholic, and Dorothy smiled. We were sharing our conversion stories from secular radicalism and Marxism to Jesus Christ and his gospel of love and justice. Glenn Beck just left that part out, as he often leaves stuff out or just makes up stuff and puts it in.
Wallis and others like him are claiming that stopping the oppression of the poor is the central message of Jesus and the Hebrew prophets. Jesus and the Hebrew prophets didn’t blame the poor for their poverty, rather they saw how the policies of the powerful were self-serving, and exploited those who were not born with the economic or political power to challenge them.
I think that people like Beck believe that if people are poor, it is their own fault. Therefore, for people like Beck it is a Christian duty not to devise governmental policies designed to lift them out of poverty, or to provide them with basic healthcare that they do not deserve.
For Wallis, it is ‘true religion,’ as the Book of James says, for Christians to align their interests with those who were not benefitting from unfair economic, political and religious systems.
Beck is saying that this isn’t a part of the gospel at all. Or maybe Beck is saying that the American system is already fair and just – which is probably even a scarier thought, because the US has one of the widest gaps between rich and poor in the industrialised world.
What is it about American Christianity that so many people seem to agree with Glenn Beck?
(The first image, of Glenn Beck, is taken from the Sojourners website and its campaign for Christians to ‘tell Glenn Beck I’m a social justice Christian.’)