Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Baptists vs. Beck (kinda-sorta): Richard Land

I'm sorry, but this is a classic example of Southern Baptist mealy-mouthing: SBC [Southern Baptist Convention] leaders criticize Beck's choice of words, but say he has a point by Bob Allen Associated Baptist Press 03/15/10. The article has the face of our friend Brother Al Mohler staring at us. The topic is Glenn Beck's warning that the phrase "social justice" when uttered by a preacher just means Commie and/or Nazi subversion.

Brother Al, the most prominent theologian of the SBC, addresses the issue at length at his blog in Glenn Beck, Social Justice, and the Limits of Public Discourse 03/15/10.

Richard Land, a longtime senior figure of the SBC (he heads the SBC's Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and is in practice the SBC's leading voice on social-political issues), Glenn Beck, social justice and the church on a 03/13/10 radio program.

Here was the statement by Glenn Beck that is their topic, as quoted in Brother Al's blog post from Beck's 03/02/10 radio show:

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. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes! If I'm going to Jeremiah's Wright's church? Yes! Leave your church. 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 and tell them, "Excuse me are you down with this whole social justice thing?" I don't care what the church is. If it's my church, I'm alerting the church authorities: "Excuse me, what's this social justice thing?" And if they say, "Yeah, we're all in that social justice thing," I'm in the wrong place.

Land's view is somewhat more straightforward than Brother Al's, although he's not specifically defending non-fundamentalist Christian churches against Beck's attack over "social justice". He doesn't like Beck because Beck's a Mormon. Fundamentalist Christians don't consider Mormonism part of Christianity, though the main Mormon group, the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, views themselves as Christian and mainstream Christian denominations recognize them as such. Land makes it clear in his radio segment that he shares the fundi position on that question.

But the Christian Right generally doesn't let religious sectarianism interfere with cooperating with heathens and reprobates on conservative political matters. Land didn't like Beck's complete rejection of the concept of "social justice", nor Beck's comment that conservatives should leave churches that support "social justice". Politics is politics, as Joe Stalin said on a famous occasion (when he was about to make his non-aggression pact with Hitler Germany). But SBC leaders can't just ignore attempts to use politics to have heathen Mormons try to poach from their congregations. So Land had some pushback over that matter.

But Land also makes it clear that he doesn't want to surrender the Christian concept of "social justice" to mainstream Christians. As he repeats several times in the radio program, he wants to advocate "social justice" in the form of outlawing abortion and longer prison terms. At about 22:00ff in the tape, he describes explains, "taxes are not voluntary." And therefore the notion of a public program financed by taxes doesn't fit into the SBC concept of social justice for the poor, which focuses on voluntary charitable contributions. He elaborates by explaining how "liberals ... want to turn around and impose their morals on me by saying that they're gone take my money that I've earned, and give it to people who, er, uh, who haven't earned it."

Well, you know, we preach social justice. Uh, we preach, uh, uh, that there should be no discrimination. Ah, but for me social justice is defending the unborn. For me, social justice is, is, ah, ah, trying to, ah, trying to protect those who, who can't protect themselves. I mean, I, for me, social justice is keeping sex offenders in jail, so they can't prey on, uh, young girls, uh, when you know they're going to.
So, if you're idea of "social justice" is keeping the dang loose wimmin in line and keepin' blacks in jail (most Southern lynchings back in the day were based on accusation of rape or attempted rape), you wouldn't hear anything in that presentation that would cause you to lose confidence that the SBC sees things your way. I grew up in a Mississippi town where the brave white respectable white men of the town in 1942 tortured and murdered to 14-year-old African-American boys because they had allegedly spoken improperly to the daughter of a particularly bigoted local white guy. So Land's version of "social justice" sounds depressingly familiar to me.

Presumably, Land wouldn't be inclined to endorse the hermeneutics (Biblical interpretation) of Hassidic scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel, who argued that the concept of justice in the Hebrew Bible had the very specific meaning of siding with the poor against the rich. But according to Land's theology, Heschel was a Jew and he went to Hail when he died, so who cares what he says about justice?

Land also several times uses the kind of mirror-image reversal of which dogmatic conservatives are so especially fond. He cites Martin Luther King's fight against racial discrimination and says it was a good thing he fought for anti-discrimination laws. In the real world, white Southern fundamentalists were almost uniformly bitter opponents of King's, and today's conservatives aren't the least comfortable with King's actual positions on race, social justice or war. But in the mirror-image scam, King wanted everyone to be judged by their character, not the color of their skin, so anti-discrimination laws that take any account whatsoever of race are wrong - especially in looking to see if people of a certain race are being discriminated against - are wrong.

But white conservatives like to claim that Christians are being persecuted and discriminated against all the time in the US and make a big deal of whining about that. They also like to argue that outlawing abortion and driving women in need of the procedure to the back-alley and coathanger approaches just like back in the good ole days is also an anti-discrimination measure, to prevent discrimination against the unborn.

As weird as that sounds, that segment by Land, including his interaction with his callers, shows people working from just that framework.

The bottom line on Land's criticism of Beck is that he agrees with Beck's criticism of mainstream and liberal Christian (i.e., non-fundamentalist) concepts of "social justice" but doesn't like Beck's marketing approach. And he is leery of any hint of proselytizing by those heathen, Hell-bound Mormons.

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