The fact that Rush Limbaugh is still allowed to go on the air simply boggles the mind sometimes.
It may be that Jon Stewart rejoices in his bleeding heart every time some conservative pundit or figurehead gets caught in an awkward situation. And if so, then the last week has been a very joyous time for him indeed, what with the recent George Rekers incident. Rekers, a prominent anti-gay activist who formed the Family Research Council with James Dobson, is the latest in a long line of conservative figures—which also includes Ted Haggard, Mark Foley, and Edward L. Schrock—who have been caught engaging in homosexual activity despite being known for their outspoken condemnation of homosexuality.
It’s the sort of hypocrisy that lends itself well to both righteous indignation and potty humor (both of which Stewart is very well-versed in). But it would be foolish to think that hypocrisy exists only within conservative circles. Certainly, there are folks on the Left who are just as stupid, ignorant, and hypocritical as any of the aforementioned individuals. However, it sometimes seems as if all we hear about are conservatives who have fallen from grace, and I’m curious as to why. (I’m not saying that’s actually how it is—I have no quantifiable data either way—just that that’s how it feels.)
Perhaps folks who lean to the left of the spectrum are just better at keeping their skeletons in the closet (so to speak). Or conservatives are so driven by the guilt over their double lifestyle—guilt which comes from the typical “conservative” values—that they eventually do something foolish so they can finally come clean. Maybe it does get reported in the news when a left-winger gets caught in a compromising situation, but their hypocrisy doesn’t seem like a big deal in comparison to the right-winger’s because of specific ideals that right-wingers espouse. Or perhaps it’s all part of some ominous, far-reaching liberal media conspiracy.
I have my own thoughts on the topic, but I’m curious what others think. Are there liberals who have been caught in Schrock-esque situations? Is there a liberal/left-wing equivalent to an anti-gay senator getting caught soliciting sex from a male prostitute? Are the typically “liberal” values and ideals capable of giving rise to that level of hypocrisy? What does it take to pick on the Left?
Recently, the Web lit up with responses to Glenn Beck’s most recent controversial statements. This time, he urged people to leave their churches if their churches promoted “social justice”. Here’s the statement that launched a thousand responses from all over the religious/political/ideological spectrum:
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! If I’m going to Jeremiah’s Wright’s church? Yes! Leave your church. 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 and tell them, “Excuse me are you down with this whole social justice thing?” I don’t care what the church is. If it’s my church, I’m alerting the church authorities: “Excuse me, what’s this social justice thing?” And if they say, “Yeah, we’re all in that social justice thing,” I’m in the wrong place.
We all know that subtlety, nuance, and context are not Beck’s strong suit. He’s all about the diatribe, and he’s equally loved and hated for it. However, those responding to Beck are often little better. As I waded through the responses, it felt like the general tone of most of them was “Glenn Beck is an idiot” and left it at that.
Which is why I appreciated Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr.‘s “Glenn Beck, Social Justice, and the Limits of Public Discourse” so much. Mohler—who is currently the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—begins with some criticism of Beck’s statements.
At first glance, Beck’s statements are hard to defend. How can justice, social or private, be anything other than a biblical mandate? A quick look at the Bible will reveal that justice is, above all, an attribute of God himself. God is perfectly just, and the Bible is filled with God’s condemnation of injustice in any form. The prophets thundered God’s denunciation of social injustice and the call for God’s people to live justly, to uphold justice, and to refrain from any perversion of justice.
To assert that a call for social justice is reason for faithful Christians to flee their churches is nonsense, given the Bible’s overwhelming affirmation that justice is one of God’s own foremost concerns.
Mohler then goes on to define and explore the history of social justice within the context of American Christianity. In other words, he brings some nuance and historical context to the conversation that was sorely lacking in both Beck’s statement and many of the responses.
The immediate roots of this phenomenon go back to the mid-nineteenth century, when figures like Washington Gladden, a Columbus, Ohio pastor, promoted what they called a new “social gospel.” Gladden was morally offended by the idea of a God who would offer his own Son as a substitutionary sacrifice for sinful humanity and, as one of the founders of liberal theology in America, offered the social gospel as an alternative message, complete with a political agenda. It was not social reform that made the social gospel liberal, it was its theological message. As Gary Dorrien, the preeminent historian of liberal theology, asserts, the distinctive mark of the social gospel was “its theology of social salvation.”
Even more famously, the social gospel would be identified with Walter Rauschenbusch, a liberal figure of the early twentieth century. Rauschenbusch made his arguments most classically in his books, Christianity and the Social Crisis (1907) and Theology for the Social Gospel (1917). In a 1904 essay, “The New Evangelism,” Rauschenbusch called for a departure from “the old evangelism” which was all about salvation from sin through faith in Christ, and for the embrace of a “new evangelism” which was about salvation from social ills and injustice in order to realize, at least partially, the Kingdom of God on earth. He called for Christian missions to be redirected in order to “Christianize international politics.”
He follows that with some great words of wisdom for Christians regarding social reform platforms and movements:
As an evangelical Christian, my concern is the primacy of the Gospel of Christ—the Gospel that reveals the power of God in the salvation of sinners through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The church’s main message must be that Gospel. The New Testament is stunningly silent on any plan for governmental or social action. The apostles launched no social reform movement. Instead, they preached the Gospel of Christ and planted Gospel churches. Our task is to follow Christ’s command and the example of the apostles.
There is more to that story, however. The church is not to adopt a social reform platform as its message, but the faithful church, wherever it is found, is itself a social reform movement precisely because it is populated by redeemed sinners who are called to faithfulness in following Christ. The Gospel is not a message of social salvation, but it does have social implications.
Finally, Mohler closes with both a excoriation and a word of caution:
Glenn Beck’s statements about social justice demonstrate the limits of our public discourse. The issues raised by his comments and the resultant controversy are worthy of our most careful thinking and most earnest struggle. Yet, the media, including Mr. Beck, will have moved on to any number of other flash points before the ink has dried on this kerfuffle. Serious-minded Christians cannot move on from this issue so quickly.
All in all, a thoughtful, well-reasoned article that is respectful to Beck while being critical of his shallow announcements and that also fills in some of the context that Beck left out or ignored—context that is sorely needed when dealing with a hot button issue such as this one.
It can be a fun and very enlightening process to look at a painting or sculpture and “decode” the symbolism contained therein. We did this all the time in my art history classes and when done carefully, thoroughly, and responsibly, it not only fostered a deeper understanding and appreciation of the art in question, it often provided a unique window into the mores and traditions of societies now long gone.
But what Beck does reminds me less of art history class and more of those videos I watched in my high school youth group that “uncovered” the Satanic messages and symbols in the artwork of rock n’ roll records. “If you turn this Blue Öyster Cult album upside down, hold it at a 45° angle, and squint really hard, you’ll see that that tiny white blob in the corner is obviously a pentagram.”
At the 8:04 mark in the video, Beck references Mark 8:18a (“Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?”). It’s one thing to have “eyes but fail to see”; it’s quite another to have eyes that only see what you want to see.
If you look hard enough, you can find almost anything you want in a piece of art: communist imagery, Christian imagery, Satanic imagery, etc. That doesn’t mean that that imagery is actually there, or that that is what the artist intended to communicate. (And it’s especially easy to miss that if you begin exchanging the facts surrounding the art that you’re “decoding” for rabbit trails and non sequiturs.)
Russell D. Moore—Dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—wonders:
I’m not a media conspiracy hunter, and I don’t mind media bias, as long as one knows where the bias is. What bothers me is that Fox News is counted by so many as a ‘conservative’ voice, when so much of it seems to be simply pro-consumption, regardless of what one is consuming.