"Sponge Beck"

I have purposely strayed from writing about anything political in my Ministerial Musings lately. I wanted them to be more spiritually edifying than anything else. However, there are occasions when clergy need to raise a prophetic voice to critique injustices and hurtful ideologies when they arise from the mire of human existence.

That said — if you are a fan of Glenn Beck, then you should probably stop reading at this point.

Glenn Beck is one of the most offensive and insensitive pundits I have ever heard. His self-absorption is so unparalleled that “Sponge Beck” is the most fitting appellative for him.

On Saturday, August 28, 2010 — the forty-seventh anniversary of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s legendary “I Have a Dream” speech — Beck held a rally in front of the same Lincoln Memorial to call America back to God and to reinstate his understanding of “traditional” values. Beck touted the gathering on his radio and television programs (as well as on his website) as “Restoring Honor.” The word “honor” conjures up images of fairness, honesty, and integrity. Beck has been anything but honorable.

Mr. Beck has been quite vociferous as of late in condemning any religion, denomination, or church whose theology is rooted in social justice. According to Beck, salvation is about one’s individual commitment to Jesus Christ; it has nothing to do with communal responsibility.

Various schools of Liberation Theology (à la Gustavo Gutiérrez, James Cone, and Rosemary Radford Ruther, to name a few of its diverse pioneers) have added a much-needed corrective to traditional understandings of soteriology (the doctrine of salvation). Sin is not only individual; it is also corporate. Therefore, salvation has to do with the here-and-now as much as the what-is-to-come. It is deeply communal and connected to taking up the cause of the poor and the oppressed.

Jesus ministered to widows and orphans. He ate with tax collectors and sinners. He offered a healing touch to those with whom the Torah forbade physical contact. In a word, he associated with the marginalized of his time. To be true to the Gospel, we need to read it from that perspective.

However, that is not the Gospel of Glenn Beck. According to Media Matters for America, “Glenn Beck has repeatedly attacked the concept of social justice and churches that promote it, asserting that it is ‘code language for Marxism’ and warning that ‘when you see those words, run.’ In fact, numerous churches and religious faiths, as well as prominent religious scholars, espouse social justice, including the Catholic Church, the Conservative and Reform movements of Judaism, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.”

What was that? The Rev. Martin Luther King? That’s right!

This prominent leader of the Civil Rights Movement held social justice as the centerpiece of his ministry. It was MLK who refused to believe, “That the bank of justice is bankrupt.” It was MLK who stood in Washington, D.C. on that August day two score and seven years ago and declared that, “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.” It was MLK who said that we should, “Not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

But it was Glenn Beck who stood in the shadow of two great Americans who stood for equality for all people and deprecated the heart of Christ’s message. It was Glenn Beck who invoked King’s legacy for a purpose that stands counter to everything for which King stood. It was Glenn Beck who referred to any Christian who is part of a social justice-oriented church as a Nazi. According to Beck, I should be wearing a swastika on my arm.

Martin Luther King stood for social justice. Glenn Beck stands for Glenn Beck and should be ashamed for co-opting King’s legacy in such a deceitful way.

John Tamilio III (JT3) is the Senior Pastor of Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ in the Tremont neighborhood. A nationally published author and musician, JT3 lives in Lakewood with his wife Susan and their three children: Sarah, Jay, and Thomas. He is the religion columnist for The Lakewood Observer.

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Volume 6, Issue 18, Posted 2:15 AM, 09.08.2010