Hodges: Beck is wrong about social justice, but so are some churches

Published March 19, 2010 3:55 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck recently urged his viewers to leave churches that preach social or economic justice, saying they are code words for communism and Nazism.

"Look for the words social justice or economic justice on your church Web site," Beck said. "If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words."

When a church uses the term social justice, it generally refers to helping the poor and seeking equality. Beck, who is Mormon, is off base in linking social and economic justice to communism and Nazism. But his comments have sparked a debate among evangelicals as to where the pursuit of social and economic justice fits in the church.

The Bible teaches that, when one becomes a Christian, it causes an internal transformation, which should result in external actions such as loving others and caring for the poor. Therefore, engaging in social causes should be a natural expression of faith in God.

The Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, a network of progressive Christians, called for a Beck boycott, saying the Fox talk-show host attacked "the very heart of [the] Christian faith."

Wallis argues that social and economic justice is at the core of Jesus' message.

While Jesus advocated concern for the poor and less fortunate, this was not his main message. The central theme of the Christian faith is God's love for humanity, resulting in Jesus' death on the cross as a means of restoring man's relationship with him.

In the Bible, Jesus said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, this is the first and greatest commandment." Here, Jesus is referring to salvation -- one's relationship with God. He goes on to say, "The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself." While Jesus confirms that concern for others is important, he makes it clear that salvation takes precedence.

During his earthly ministry, Jesus fed the hungry, healed the sick and associated with societal outcasts. But each time he met a physical need, it was accompanied by the fulfillment of spiritual need; his social causes never were devoid of the message of salvation. Some churches become a platform for social justice and horribly neglect the message of the salvation; the church's primary mission is to preach the gospel.

The Bible teaches that the gospel changes lives. It provides peace, love, hope and the promise of eternal life. If a church offers social programs but does not preach the gospel, the benefits are only temporary.

Jesus once said to a woman he met at a well, "Whoever drinks this water will get thirsty again; but anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again." Christians should engage in social and economic justice and help improve mortal lives, but this cannot be at the expense of preaching salvation, which affects the immortal soul.

Corey J. Hodges is pastor of New Pilgrim Baptist Church. He can be reached at coreyjhodges@comcast.net" Target="_BLANK">coreyjhodges@comcast.net.

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