The Common Good

Beck, Nazis, and Civil Dialogue

Sojomail - September 30, 2010


"This is completely unacceptable. Sacrilege would not be too strong a word. It's loot, taken violently and inappropriately in the first place. A tabot is a very holy object; no one can see it apart from priests. Westminster Abbey is one of the most visited sites in London. To have it on public display there is an offence to Orthodox Ethiopian Christians. For one Christian church to refuse to return it to another seems profoundly wrong.”

- Rev. John McLuckie, a British priest, on Westminster Abbey’s refusal to return a tabot, a small tablet that symbolises the Ark of the Covenant, taken by British troops in the 19th century, to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. (Source: Guardian/Observer)

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Hearts & Minds by Jim Wallis

Beck, Nazis, and Civil Dialogue

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Glenn Beck can do better. FOX News can do better. When it comes to upholding truth and having civil dialogues, let's be honest, we all can do better. Last Thursday, I asked you to take up the challenge and say, "I disagree with you, but I'm pretty sure you're not Hitler." When the next day Glenn Beck told his audience that I was "dangerous," mischaracterized what I believe, and then took that mischaracterization and said that it "always leads to mass death," my first desire was not to be civil. When his next step was to leap to the Nazi corruption of churches in Germany, and to suggest that I and "progressive Christians" were like the Nazis, I got angry.

The Bible says, in your anger, do not sin. So, I took a deep breath and decided with my staff that it was time we give FOX News some encouragement. How do we respond with truth in a civil manner? We decided that we should tell FOX News that they can do better than this. If you think FOX can do better, click here and send its CEO an email.

At the end of August, at his rally at the Lincoln Memorial, on the anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream Speech," Beck seemed to want to take a higher road. But this latest and absurd violation of both truth and civility takes him back to his habitual low road, and, from his brief stint on the Mall as a would-be evangelist, back to an, "entertainer," as he has previously called himself. This repeated poisoning of our civil discourse is not entertaining at all, but more and more serious and alarming.

Unfortunately, Beck has not accepted my invitation to have a dialogue about the real meaning of "social justice," which he so regularly maligns. But, some of the topics he tackles are ones that concern us all. The segment on Friday was about church and state issues. So, in my own narrative form that I will try to keep civil, I'd like to dialogue with some of the things Beck said on Friday.

First he said, "There is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Tea Party and small government people, that immediately goes into church and state …. You can't have the evil church because those evil Christians are going to gobble up the state and then the next thing you know you're going to have to have communion, you know, five days [a] week, otherwise you'll go to jail. And I don't know what they think is going to happen."

Glenn's right about that mischaracterization of religious conservatives by some on the political left. I believe that most Christians in this country aren't interested in legislating their religion. We saw that misunderstanding again, and a distortion of someone's positions, when Democrat Alan Grayson ran a recent attack ad against his opponent, Republican Dan Webster. The ad called him "Taliban Dan," and said, "Religious fanatics try to take away our freedom in Afghanistan, in Iran, and right here in Central Florida." I don't know Webster and I might not agree with him on everything, but I doubt he wants to set up a Taliban-like religious dictatorship in the United States.

But then Beck fundamentally mischaracterizes progressive Christians and others. His latest attack last Friday said, "That's why Jim Wallis is so dangerous. All the preachers that surround the president, they are progressives and they are big government progressives. When you combine church and state, and you take a -- you take a big government and you combine it with the church, to get people to do the things that the state wants you to do, it always ends in mass death."

And that is really ridiculous. First of all, there is not a group of preachers who "surround the president." But for Beck to accuse all the preachers or religious leaders who have advised Obama on any issue of being like the Nazi corruption of the church and on a course that "ends in mass death" is the worst kind of civil poison. It's just not right at all, and would be laughable if such irresponsible and hateful talk were a laughing matter.

My own view of the government has been heavily influenced by two passages in the Bible -- Romans 13 and Revelation 13. In Romans 13, the apostle Paul talks about the intended positive role of governments. It teaches that government is God's servant to do us good, to reward good and punish evil, to uphold a just and lawful society. It even encourages us to pay our taxes! But, I have also been arrested 22 times for protesting the government's policies because the government isn't always good, and I would remind Beck that his new hero, Dr. King, was arrested many more times than that. I interpret the Revelation 13 description of the "beast" to be one about the Roman Empire and any other government that has become totalitarian, including Nazi Germany. But the leading opponents of Hitler's totalitarianism were social-justice Christians in Germany such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Revelation 13 presents a scary picture of oppression in which the people worship the "beast" instead of God; and all of the Christian leaders I know who have given any advice to President Obama would agree, as would the Christian leaders I know who did not vote for Obama. I believe that at its best, the church should function as a conscience for the state, and not be its cheerleader. Nor should religious leaders be chaplains for any political party, but should instead offer prophetic words to the entire system.

I read Beck's newest attacks from New Zealand while preparing to speak at a Salvation Army conference where everybody believes in social justice. Tomorrow I will attend a World Vision conference about the same topic. And Glenn's own religion, the Mormon Church, has invited me to come to Salt Lake City so they can take me around and show me their "social justice" ministries. Beck needs to learn what social justice really means and, in the meantime, must stop suggesting that the Salvation Army, World Vision, and the Mormon Church are all "communists" and "Nazis."

Beck and I both agree that Christians have a call to be personally charitable, but I also believe that the principles we see in the Bible and taught by Jesus mean that the government has responsibilities to the poor as well.

Beck said, "I'll get up from my church, and I will walk out when my church starts to tell me who to vote for or how to vote. I want my church to teach me correct principles and then I can figure it out."

Me too. I'm not in the business of endorsing candidates. Good Christians will never all vote the same way, and I think that's a good thing. In fact, I've written a few books on this topic. Maybe they could help Beck in his continuing theological education. So why doesn't Beck want to talk, instead of just erupting all the time?

Glenn Beck, you can do better than this.

+Tired of the hatred? Tell FOX News: You can do better than Beck!

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On September 19, the federal government declared the Deepwater Horizon well "dead." The repercussions, however, of almost 5 million barrels of oil saturating the Gulf are still a reality. Since the oil spill, thousands of Christians across the country have chosen a new energy future for themselves and their families, pledging to change their energy use and consume less. Personal transformation is a start, but we must also transform our communities and our nation.

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