Time's Sullivan: Why Does Glenn Beck Hate Jesus?

March 15th, 2010 5:46 PM

Time cover for June 21, 1971 edition"Why Does Glenn Beck Hate Jesus?" asked Time's Amy Sullivan in a Sunday March 14 Swampland blog post:

When Glenn Beck told listeners of his radio show on March 2 that they should "run as fast as you can" from any church that preached "social or economic justice" because those were code words for Communism and Nazism, he probably thought he was tweaking a few crunchy religious liberals who didn't listen to the show anyway. Instead he managed to outrage Christians in most mainline Protestant denominations, African-American congregations, Hispanic churches, and Catholics--who first heard the term "social justice" in papal encyclicals and have a little something in their tradition called "Catholic social teaching. (Not to mention the teaching of a certain fellow from Nazareth who was always blathering on about justice...)

So to whom did Sullivan turn for complaints about Beck's characterization? Some theologically conservative Catholic theologian? A conservative Protestant theologian like Baptist seminary president Al Mohler or Presbyterian theologian R.C. Sproul?

Nope. She highlighted two stalwarts of social gospel-oriented liberal Christianity:

He also managed to bring the National Council of Churches--once a powerful umbrella organization for Christian churches--out from hibernation, in the form of a withering response from leader Peg Chemberlin. Progressive evangelical leader Jim Wallis, taking a page from his conservative counterparts, is calling for Christians to boycott Beck's shows.

The formerly "powerful" National Council of Churches (NCC) largely represents dwindling mainline denominations that share a decidedly liberal theological bent and liberal political affinities.

Indeed, a cursory review of the group's policy statements page shows that the lion's share of NCC issues and policy prescriptions skew leftward from garden variety issues like nuclear disarmament or gun control to far-left pet issues like a petition of clemency for Leonard Peltier).

But on hot-button where the NCC could speak out against the orthodoxy of the secular Left, the organization is stubbornly silent.

Here's how the NCC punted on that issue in its 2006 paper "Fearfully and Wondefully Made: A Policy On Human Biotechnologies":

As a result of a lack of clear consensus, the National Council of Churches neither endorses nor condemns experimentation on human embryos, and takes no position on the use of human embryonic stem cells for research purposes.

Lack of consensus? I don't recall Jesus cobbling together unanimity among his apostles before preaching the Sermon on the Mount.

What's more, the NCC has persistently punted on abortion and same-sex marriage controversies:

Not every pressing social or theological issue is addressed in these documents. For example, the 35 member communions of the National Council of Churches have no consensus on basic ecclesial issues – infant vs. adult baptism, historic creeds (some of us are non-creedal), standards or ordination, apostolic succession or the role of bishops. Nor do the communions agree on abortion, family planning or same-sex unions. Historically, the member communions of the National Council of Churches have declared their own positions on these issues and the Council plays the role of hosting the space where they come together to exchange views.

Sullivan is on somewhat firmer ground in her concluding paragraph:

The term "Social Gospel" has been considered a dirty phrase by conservatives for a while now. But if that's what Beck meant, he has quickly learned the consequences of sloppy language. And in any event, he has certainly discovered the dangers of publicly practicing theology without a license.

Yes, Beck's wording appears to have been sloppy. But that doesn't change that fact that Social Gospel-peddling Protestant churches are by-and-large the same ones that eschew or timidly defend historic, orthodox Christian doctrine.

Isn't that reason enough for theologically conservative churchgoing Beck fans to be wary of preachers who are overly fond of an emphasis on "social justice"?

Image above is Time magazine's June 21, 1971 cover, via Time.com.