an open letter to glenn beck

(tony auth, philadelphia inquirer, 3.14.10)

dear mr. beck,

have you ever read the bible?  from cover to cover, scripture reveals the overwhelming concern of God for the poor, oppressed, marginalized, hungry, and vulnerable.  warnings aimed at the wealthy and those who benefit from exploitation also feature prominently.

jesus himself couldn't be clearer:  he said that the legitimacy of our faith will be judged by how we treat those whom he called the "least of these."  he began his public ministry preaching from a well-known messianic passage in isaiah and claimed that his coming fulfilled it:

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:18-20).

any gospel that is not good news to the poor and oppressed is not the christian gospel.  if you are not hearing that message from the pulpit and seeing it lived out among your congregation, perhaps it is you who should look for another church.

justice isn't about communism, nazism, or class warfare.  pretending that we deserve every luxury and privilege that we enjoy and that everyone who doesn't have those things is lazy or otherwise undeserving does not make it so.

our systems, society, communities, and culture are as broken as the sinful individuals who form them, and social and economic justice are about righting wrongs, identifying persistent inequalities, and working for change.  charity alone is not the biblical mandate in the face of injustice.

i don't expect all people or chrisitians to agree on solutions or the roles that individuals, churches, and government should have, but can't we agree that seeking justice is a good thing?

while we're at it, can't we also agree that the nazis were known not so much for their concern for justice for the oppressed than they were for persecution, mass murder, and genocide?

mmkay.  glad we could clear that up.


"Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the house of Jacob their sins.

For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.

'Why have we fasted,' they say,
'and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?'

"Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD ?

"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

"If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
(Isaiah 58:1-12)


Glenn said...

Oh, yes, yes, yes!


Ashley said...


O'Brien said...

I have to say that I understand where Beck is coming from. I am not a fan of organized religion because I believe that the majority are stunted in their growth to understand Yahweh. I do not have a way with words so I suggest the book "So You Think You Don't Want To Go To Church." It says it much better then I am able...and much better than Beck (I'm not his biggest fan). I wonder...if all these Christians are confident in their churches....why the need to justify against Beck?

Lisa Lockwood said...

So... I stole your open letter for my blog. Don't worry, I gave you due credit.

Katie Jones said...

thanks for posting this. the scripture is particularly appreciated. :)

Mary Ann Hartzell said...

Well said! I appreciate you writing out Isaiah 58, God's chosen fast. All the passages you quoted are the ones that resonated with me. He promises that his word will not return void. May your writing bear fruit.

Anonymous said...

Beck is a Mormon . . .~ does that explain any of his reasoning????????

suzannah | the smitten word said...

@o'brien, for me it's not about being confident in my church but about wanting the gospel to be presented in a way that is consistent with scripture. christians can focus so much on personal sin and salvation that we fail to identify social sin or do anything to advance the Kingdom of God "on earth as it is in heaven."

i realize that beck is a mormon and not a christian, but many christians watch him and repeat his talking points, and i wanted to offer another perspective. poverty issues and the intersection of faith and justice issues are clearly passions of mine.

@anon, as i understand it, the mormon church is known for having active social ministries, and many mormon leaders are just as offended. i don't think his perspective is a fair characterization of mormonism (or conservative christianity for that matter). he's a demagogue.

Stef said...

thanks for articulating all of the thoughts keep rolling around in my mind. well put.

Lenae said...

I was archive-plundering ;) and stumbled across the post -- EXCELLENT. I love everything you said in it, and the verses you included from Isaiah brought tears to my eyes.

D said...

Good post, Suzannah. Here's where I believe Mr. Beck is coming from because on this point I agree with him. Justice in this context means forcing people to do what you or your church deem necessary or correct. Justice means that their is someone who has decided on the sentence.

We live in a country founded on principles of individual liberty. That includes the right to practice one's religion openly and the right to not engage in any religion. It's a personal choice.

Many religions include strong support for the poor and encourage their followers to do good. This is voluntary and a personal choice which if judged would be between God and man or the church and its member.

When groups of people decide to use government to force their beliefs upon persons who disagree, these groups cross the line and take the liberty of another.

When we casually go along with a collective with whom we agree when this collective forces others to comply under some framework imposing economic justice, we empower a system of collective decisionmaking which can just as easily take from you the liberty to express your Christian faith.

suzannah | the smitten word said...

@diane, i appreciate your contribution. i don't get a lot of libertarian comments;)

our country was founded on principles of liberty as well as justice, and the two are not mutually exclusive.

what is fair or right is not about imposing religion on anyone, and i'm not sure how you infer that "Justice in this context means forcing people to do what you or your church deem necessary or correct."

the actions of governments are not value-neutral. in my mind, social justice is partly about identifying some of those values (money? power? liberty-above-all-else?) and ensuring that human beings and the collective good are valued, too--and that our policies, budgets, and laws serve all citizens, even those whose voices aren't as loud (re: powerful).

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