Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times has religious reaction to Glenn Beck’s rant last week about churches that preach “social justice.” The voice of outrage she quotes is Jim Wallis of Sojourners, saying “What he has said attacks the very heart of our Christian faith, and Christians should no longer watch his show.” I agree with Wallis, but that’s beside the real point. Beck could care less what Jim Wallis thinks. Folks who read Sojourners are not in Beck’s audience, and that isn’t who he was speaking to.
When Beck spoke last week, he was talking to the Catholics in his audience, particularly those on the far right.
Look again at what Goodstein wrote (emphasis added):
In attacking churches that espouse social justice, Mr. Beck is taking on most mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, black and Hispanic congregations in the country — not to mention plenty of evangelical churches and even his own, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Mr. Beck said on his radio show on March 2, “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.”
“Am I advising people to leave their church? Yes! If I am going to Jeremiah Wright’s church,” he said, referring to President Obama’s former pastor in Chicago. “If you have a priest that is pushing social justice, go find another parish. Go alert your bishop.”
Beck doesn’t have any listeners among Jeremiah Wright’s crowd, but he’s got plenty of conservative Catholics. For these Catholics, Beck is equating Wright with that liberal priest you don’t like, and encouraging you to talk to your bishop and get this guy pulled into line.
Now do you see who Beck is really trying to reach?
Ultimately, Beck is speaking to Roman Catholic bishops like Cardinal Francis George, head of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, one of the strongest conservatives in the US Catholic hierarchy who is not a cardinal — both of whom have spoken out recently in an effort to try to build bridges to others on the religious right to further their political agenda around abortion, gay rights, same-sex marriage, and other issues of the culture wars.
On February 23, Cardinal George spoke at BYU, and the title of his address was “Catholics and Latter-Day Saints: Partners in the Defense of Religious Freedom.” [pdf] This was the first time a Roman Catholic cardinal had spoken at BYU, and George made the most of it to stress the common cause that the LDS church and the RCs have made to defend marriage. He spoke in the LDS-friendly language of the sanctity of the family and the supposed dangers posed by LGBT rights. “Dear friends, I believe, lastly, that Catholics and Mormons stand together with one another and with other defenders of conscience, and that we can and should stand as one in the defense of religious liberty.”
Less than a week later, Archbishop Chaput spoke at Houston Baptist University about “The Vocation of Christians in American Public Life.” He introduced his remarks like this (link added):
[W]e cannot – nor should we try to – paper over the issues that still divide us as believers in terms of doctrine, authority and our understandings of the Church. Ecumenism based on good manners instead of truth is empty. It’s also a form of lying. If we share a love of Jesus Christ and a familial bond in baptism and God’s Word, then on a fundamental level, we’re brothers and sisters. Members of a family owe each other more than surface courtesies. We owe each other the kind of fraternal respect that “speak[s] the truth in love” (Eph 4:15). We also urgently owe each other solidarity and support in dealing with a culture that increasingly derides religious faith in general, and the Christian faith in particular. And that brings me to the heart of what I want to share with you. . . .
Fifty years ago this fall, in September 1960, Sen. John F. Kennedy, the Democratic candidate for president, spoke to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. He had one purpose. He needed to convince 300 uneasy Protestant ministers, and the country at large, that a Catholic like himself could serve loyally as our nation’s chief executive. Kennedy convinced the country, if not the ministers, and went on to be elected. And his speech left a lasting mark on American politics. It was sincere, compelling, articulate – and wrong. Not wrong about the patriotism of Catholics, but wrong about American history and very wrong about the role of religious faith in our nation’s life. And he wasn’t merely “wrong.” His Houston remarks profoundly undermined the place not just of Catholics, but of all religious believers, in America’s public life and political conversation. Today, half a century later, we’re paying for the damage.
Chaput went on to use a rightwing understanding of US history, sprinkling his address with plenty of biblical references in a very Baptist-friendly way. Both Cardinal George and Archbishop Chaput had the same purpose — to reach out to recruit allies in their political battles — and both speeches got standing ovations.
Beck — a Mormon himself — was joining this conversation, speaking to the conservative Catholics in his audience. These Catholics have long been upset about priests who talk about “peace and justice” and “social justice,” and raised a big stink last fall about the USCCB’s social justice organization, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development. The bishops pushed back, hard, but the fight goes on.
Simply put, last week was Beck saying this to George, Chaput, and their brother bishops: “If you want to ally yourself with the LDS and evangelicals, you better clean up your own house first and deal with all those lefty peace-and-justice priests. We don’t need allies like that.”
(photo h/t to Catchpenny)