Social Justice for Glenn Beck


Beck.jpgUnder withering fire from numerous corners of the religious blogosphere, Glenn Beck first doubled down on his animadversions against religious bodies that place “social justice” on their escutcheons, then walked himself back a bit (relevant clips here). What emerges is the Beckian doctrine that religious injunctions to care for the poor and do other socially just things are fine so long as they are understood as being about you. Which is to say, individuals can do all those things enjoined in, for example, Isaiah 58 for their own spiritual benefit (“the Lord will guide you always”), but are not to use such injunctions to advocate for government social welfare programs.

To give the devil his due, Beck is here taking one side in an old debate: “Do we help our neighbor for the neighbor’s sake or for our own?” Twelfth-century monks and regular canons wasted a lot of parchment debating this issue, with the monks taking the Beckian position and the canons arguing the opposite. Be that as it may, it’s worth considering what those parts of Scripture that enunciate laws for society (i.e. not the Gospels) have to say. Here I’d point to the laws on gleaning laid down in the so-called Holiness Code of Leviticus (so beloved of American conservatives for its apparent condemnation of homosexual acts):

19:10 Do not go over your
vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave
them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.
 23:22 When you reap the
harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or
gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the
alien. I am the LORD your God.

Now, under that distinctive Israelite species of polity that Josephus called theocracy, this is not voluntary charity undertaken for your own spiritual benefit. It is mandated welfare–social justice of just the sort that Beck despises. Not to belabor the point, but the Judeo-Christian tradition from which Beck’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints springs expects the poor to be provided for as a matter of public law. And indeed, in the days when the LDS Church ran its corner of North America as a theocracy, that’s just what it did.