After the Washington Post placed my column about Glenn Beck on the top line of a Tuesday afternoon e-mail, I got a call from a man who was angry. He demanded, “Where in the Bible does it teach social justice?”
I asked him to tell me his name. He said it was David. I said I didn’t do anonymous calls and asked again for his name.
He said, “Why don’t you answer my question?”
I said again I didn’t do anonymous calls and that he would need to tell me his name and identify himself before I would answer his question. I noted that my phone number is on our website, that our organization is transparent, that we don’t hide our work. I said that I expect others to be equally transparent.
He relented and said, “David Smith.”
I thought, “Right.”
He asked his question again.
I asked if he had a Bible. He said he did. I asked him to open it to Luke 4:18-19. He said his Bible was across the room.
So, I quoted Luke 4:18-19. I pointed out that the word for “poor” in Greek was “ptochos” and that ptochos meant the destitute, the materially poor, the marginalized. I worked my way through the passage – despite interruptions – closing with the phrase “acceptable year of the Lord.” I explained that was a time of economic transformation when slaves were freed, debts were forgiven and the land was given its rest.
That didn’t go over well.
David ranted about how “we’re” going to take “our” country back from you people, from the socialists, from Obama, from the Marxists.
Referring to the Glenn Beck rally, he said 500,000 were there and that they were going to win in November.
I replied that one media source reported tens of thousands, that Sarah Palin said 100,000, that Beck himself claimed several hundred thousand and that the congresswoman from Minnesota said 1 million. Clearly, no one knows how many people were there. Besides, it doesn’t really matter to me, I said.
Our “conversation” ebbed and flowed – mostly ebbed. He continually cited Beck and accused me of distorting Christian faith.
He alternated between calling me Rob, Bob and a Marxist.
Exasperated, at one point I said Glenn Beck doesn’t know what he is talking about when he talks about Christianity.
“And you do?” challenged David.
“Yes, I do,” I shot back. I know a lot more about Christian faith and the Bible than does Beck.
“Is Glenn Beck a Christian?” I asked. He answered yes. I replied that Beck was a Mormon and that Christians consider Mormonism outside of Christianity.
I asked David if he was a Christian. He said he was. I asked what it meant for him to be a Christian. He answered that a Christian was someone who believed in God.
“Are Jews Christians?” I asked, noting that they believe in God. He answered, “Yes. They got half-way.”
“Are Muslims Christians? They believe in God,” I said. He said that they were “strange” Christians.
I tried to explain that EthicsDaily.com wasn’t about winning the election in November, but trying to be faithful to our understanding of the Scripture, of our faith. I said faith was about more than Democrats versus Republicans, right versus left. Faith was about faithfulness.
Not wanting to hang up on David, I tried repeatedly to end the 22-minute exchange. He would not let go.
I welcomed David to read EthicsDaily.com every day. I told him that he would learn more about Christian faith. I asked him to think about Luke 4. I told him that because he had called me on my cell that I had his number.
Please don’t make my mistake. Don’t think that dialogue can take place with an anonymous caller – especially one who begins the exchange under the guise of wanting an answer to a question about the Bible, but really wants to vent anger at those who don’t share his or her political agenda. Don’t be so foolish as to think that those who believe Glenn Beck are open to another viewpoint, especially an authentically Christian one.
Be prepared, however. Glenn Beck’s “black-robed regiment” is on the loose. His followers believe he knows the Bible and is armed with the truth. Some of these folk will be your friends, fellow church members and co-workers.
So, what will you do when someone asks you where the Bible teaches social justice?
Here are seven texts to cite:
Luke 4:18-19, as referenced above, discloses Jesus’ moral agenda. It’s awfully hard to argue against Jesus. Be forewarned that some folk will try to make the word “poor” mean “poor in faith.” That’s not what the word means in the biblical language.
Luke 11:42 is another text: “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God.” Jesus is warning religious folk who have a legalistic definition of faith and avoid doing justice.
Amos 5:11-15 contains a blistering critique of those with economic power who exploit the poor, who “trample upon the poor,” who “take bribes” and who “turn aside the needy.” Amos says, “Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice” (v. 15). Amos 5:21-24 reveals God’s rejection of false worship and calls to “let justice roll down,” irrigating society.
Micah 6:8 asks the rhetorical question about what God requires. God requires us “to do justice, and love kindness, and to walk humbly” with God.
Leviticus 19:35-36 calls for justice in the marketplace: “You shall have just balances, just weights.”
Deuteronomy 15 identifies the sabbatical year as a time for economic transformation: “You shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him” (vv. 7-8). Deuteronomy 15:11 records, “You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in the land.”
James 2:15-17 says, “If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.