Yesterday I was at a gathering with some ecumenical clergy friends from Holden: together we are truly a microcosm of the wider church, representing the spectrum of faith and practice in the church today. One of my colleagues (who is also a Facebook friend) made a comment something like this: "I'm not a fan of Glenn Beck, but I don't hate him the way Rich does."
Everyone laughed, of course, including me. I have been a bit obsessed with Glenn Beck's rantings and ravings lately, I admit. But I do not hate the man. Really. In fact, here is the thing: I do not know the man. If he were my brother-in-law, or next door neighbor, or a parishioner, I don't know what I would think of Glenn, the man. The piece that I have read that comes closest to what I think is an accurate description of what I imagine that person to be like "in real life" was written recently by Kathleen Parker, who I think rightly diagnoses him as a "dry drunk." http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/31/AR2010083104879.html
All I can really know is the clown-face he presents to the public by way of his right-wing persona. And it is fair to say that I'm not fond of that persona. I know him mostly by way of John Stewart, who loves to skewer him. But even though I 'm a huge Stewart fan, I don't take him at face value. So on occasion I turn on Glenn Beck "live" so I can see him unfiltered and watch him at least until my blood pressure gets dangerously high.
While I sometimes wonder if he really even takes himself seriously, I do worry that others do; and I think in an already polarized and fearful world he doesn't help matters. I don't hate Glenn Beck. But I find his ideas dangerous and I am genuinely mystified as to what some people (including some of my friends whom I do know and totally like) see in him.
First he told his viewers to "run" from churches that preach social justice. More recently he's taken on liberation theology. As a pastor I know something about both, and I dare to believe I know more about both topics than Glenn Beck does. In taking him on, I may be "taking bait" that would be better left alone. But in challenging his ideas, this is not the case of a pastor venturing into the politics of the day. Rather, Glenn Beck is trying to claim the mantle of "theologian" and it seems that clergy like yours truly ought to respond by saying, "he has no idea what he is talking about." One is entitled to one's own opinions, as the saying goes; but not one's own facts.
Glenn Beck's "theology" (if one can really call it that) is focused almost exclusively on a narrow personal morality rather than neighborly love. So when Christians speak of "social justice" or God's "liberating love" and turn to the Exodus story, the prophets, and ultimately to Jesus of Nazareth (who said we would be judged by how we treat the "least of these" among us)they are on way more solid footing with Biblical faith than Beck is.
That doesn't mean that "social justice" is the sum-total of the Christian gospel, or that "liberation theology" is the only way to do theology. It is, however, to say that those who mean to take up their cross and follow Jesus are saying yes to the Kingdom of God, which is not only about getting to "heaven" when we die, but about the work of doing justice and loving mercy and walking humbly with God right now.