Nine Years after 9/11: Islam, Glenn Beck, and a Nation Divided
Mr. Beck is entitled to read the Bible using whatever filters he believes are faithful, and, as I was reminded by James Payton's fine new book Getting the Reformation Wrong, disagreement about some details of faith can lead to good things. I am trying hard, as I said, to seek common ground rather than schism, and while I don't know if Beck would extend the same courtesy to me, this disagreement over social justice might not be a deal breaker, the kind of thing worth creating schism over. It might actually force us both to refine and redefine our beliefs.
So I am unwilling to call Mr. Beck an unfaithful person just because we disagree, and I am reminded of Clement of Rome, who advised, "Be contentious and zealous, but only about the things that relate to salvation." I don't know that justice work is required for salvation, whatever that might be, and I have no wish to consign my opponents to hell, whatever that might mean.
Still, an inescapable observation is that thousands of verses in the Bible concern how we treat those who are on the margins -- the poor, the widow, the alien. In the first centuries of the Church, before Christianity became the state religion of Rome and more closely tied to the interests of those in power, the Sermon on the Mount was one of the most-read and preached on of texts, focusing as it does on the blessing God intends for those who seem at first glance to be on the outside of blessing. And as I read the Bible, which I do as both a literary scholar and a trained theologian, the narrative of God moving in the world is a story that trends toward love, toward kindness, toward reconciliation, and toward charity.
Jesus healed, fed, comforted, and thus I believe we are called to do these things as well.
In his speech to a conservative action group earlier this year, Mr. Beck noted that Americans now give more than $300 billion to charities. I applaud this generosity and don't want people to stop giving of their financial resources, but I know from experience that it is relatively easy to take money out of my wallet or write a check; it is much harder to live with charity.
In his recent encyclical (a letter to the faithful and all people of good will), Pope Benedict XVI (a leader no one would describe as anything but conservative) wrote that "Love -- caritas -- is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace." Justice and peace, people. But the pope went further, to argue that love and reconciliation are at the heart -- or should be -- of all we do and every relationship we hold:
Charity is at the heart of the Church's social doctrine. Every responsibility and every commitment spelt out by that doctrine is derived from charity which, according to the teaching of Jesus, is the synthesis of the entire Law (cf. Mt 22:36-40). It gives real substance to the personal relationship with God and with neighbour; it is the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones). For the Church, instructed by the Gospel, charity is everything because, as Saint John teaches (cf. 1 Jn 4:8, 16) and as I recalled in my first Encyclical Letter, "God is love" (Deus Caritas Est): everything has its origin in God's love, everything is shaped by it, everything is directed towards it. Love is God's greatest gift to humanity, it is his promise and our hope.
Greg Garrett is (according to BBC Radio) one of America's leading voices on religion and culture. He is the author or co-author of over twenty books of fiction, theology, cultural criticism, and spiritual autobiography. His most recent books are The Prodigal, written with the legendary Brennan Manning, Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination, and My Church Is Not Dying: Episcopalians in the 21st Century. A contributor to Patheos since 2010, Greg also writes for the Huffington Post, Salon.com, OnFaith, The Tablet, Reform, and other web and print publications in the US and UK.