I confess. I’m guilty. As charged. ‘Cuff me. Throw me into the van. Cart me off and toss the key.
I always thought of myself as an evangelical Christian with a slightly liberal political bent: you know, one of those pro-life Democrats in the heritage of Tip O’Neil and Bob Casey. I’d love to high-five a Thomas Dewey/Teddy Roosevelt Republican, but they’re drowning their sorrows with former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman and the ghost of Nelson Rockefeller.
But you set me straight. You recently told America that Christians should clear out of churches whose pastors advocate social justice. You said this: “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 … If you have a priest that is pushing social justice, go find another parish. Go alert your bishop.” You held aloft cards with a hammer and a sickle in one hand and a swastika in the other, hinting that preachers like me are commies and Nazis.
Wow. And here I thought both World War 2 and the Cold War were over. Naïve little me.
I guess I fell asleep with the remote in my paw and missed the big news. You’re a Mormon. My seminary professors told me Mormonism was outside the pale of traditional Christianity and was grist for anti-cult literature. Now I wake up and I find many fellow evangelicals invoking you against Nazi-commies like me. Like, Rip Van Winkle and everything.
Those professors quoted passages like Amos 5:11, where God rails against ancient Israel because “you trample on the poor and force him to give you grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine;” and verses 21-24: “I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” They pointed me to Psalm 72, where the good Israelite king is marked with justice and defends the afflicted; and Daniel 4:27, where the command for kindness to the oppressed is extended to non-Israelite kings. And never mind Leviticus 25, which provides for the elimination of institutional, generational poverty.
So arrest King David, Amos, and Daniel along with me – and those seminary professors, who polluted my mind and curbed my spine. And lock up the great revivalists as well: John and Charles Wesley, Charles Finney, Phoebe Palmer, and William Booth of Salvation Army fame. Into the brig. And them Catholics: Thomas Aquinas, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Pope John Paul II. They all preached social justice, so they’re all commies and Nazis. And don’t forget the nasty, commie-Nazi Mennonites and Quakers — plus the early Pentecostals, who were pacifists. And Saint Francis. And Mother Teresa.
Oh, there have been debates galore over tactics since the fourth century: What role for government? Most agree it should have some role, what with the structure of things. Why, average Joe and Josephine Christian can be key players in pushing leaders away from inhumanity and toward mercy (hello, Clara Barton). Churches can have their soup kitchens and clothe individuals, but they cannot enact child labor laws, set up police forces, and enforce regulations so coal mines don’t cave in. Benevolent government is …
Nazism and communism.
Or so it seems in your world, Mr. Beck, the one who caws from your perch outside traditional Christianity: “Fly. Fly away. Fly away from those churches that are trying to apply the Bible in a pluralistic society. Fly away from preachers who are teaching what the church has taught for two thousand years.”
And arrest me — because I am one of those Nazi-commies who embraces social justice.