The Glenn Beck Effect

“You have to put Glenn Beck’s name in the title.”  That was Bob’s advice yesterday on the off-chance that I ever write a book.  Bob thinks more people would buy the book- regardless of it’s content- if people think it has something to do with the Fox News commentator.  I’m not sure what this says about what Bob thinks about the quality of my writing, but we’ll put his theory to the test.

This morning Out of Ur posted my latest article and they titled it, “Glenn Beck is Not the Enemy.” In this case the article does have something to do with Beck- and social justice and Christian identity- but it will still allow us to see if Bob’s “Beck effect” actually works.

I’d be curious what you think about my article’s observations and argument.  The comments at Out of Ur can get a little odd and would benefit from the thoughtful civility of the Signs of Life regulars.

18 thoughts on “The Glenn Beck Effect

  1. I don’t know. Something about Beck stirs the best and worst out of people. And, beneficial for me at least, I’ve seen Christians identifying fundamental truths of social justice in regards to this hornet’s nest that Glenn’s kicked around. For too long, Evangelical leaders have been silent on the theological and historical soundness of Christian involvement in social programs to aid the poor and outcasts of society. The recent disaster surrounding health care reform is largely the fault of the silence of those who knew better and allowing evil men to speak up in place, crushing any chance of REAL, essential reform with crazy talk of how this should be handled on an individual basis…

    So, yeah, maybe Mr. Beck isn’t the enemy. If we spoke up much sooner, maybe there wouldn’t be so much anarcho/libertarian confusion masking itself as Christian reason and compassion in the first place.

  2. David –

    Not a regular poster to your blog – but I’ve added you to my Google Reader, so perhaps I will become one. I posted the response below at Out of Ur. And you may find it falls into your category of “out of hand”. I’ll let you decide.

    I, too, received a request from Sojourners/Wallis to email Beck. I declined to do so because Beck himself is not the enemy – a point I think we agree on – nor is there any hope in convincing him to change a position he is well-paid to cling to – nor is there any hope of a retraction or apology regarding his erratic, quasi-psychotic ramblings. The best revenge here is perhaps enjoying Stewart’s regular send-ups on The Daily Show. And while I think the spirit and intent of your article are well-meaning and perhaps even laudable, the article is ultimately misinformed and reaches completely unacceptable conclusions.

    “This is simply a wrong-headed and poorly researched.

    The author claims, “many white Christians supported the Civil Rights movement of the early 1960’s…from a distance”. What study substantiates this? Where is the data?

    Further, “[w]illing to chide their backward Southern brethren, these more urbane Christians ultimately disappointed the movement’s leaders with their lack of action.” How do we document their “chiding” (an author without bias might have chosen a term such as “challenged”, “confronted”, “educated”…) while simultaneously accusing them of “lack of action”.

    Since when, in a democratic society, does vocal protect, public outcry and debate become translated into “lack of action”? Does the author suggest that only specific kinds of legal or illegal activities meet some new standard of “action”?

    It seems to me that challenging the voice of erratic monomaniacal demagogues is exactly the responsibility of the church as well as informed political and social action demonstrating our values. The church has a “self-esteem” issue on these kinds of optics exactly because many have chosen to not “chide” wrong-headed, unchristian and unjust people, policies and parties in the past – not that we didn’t act morally to help and serve, but that we didn’t rise to the full level of our place in our society to use our voice to create broader action.

    The author concludes, “[i]f we believe that social justice is central to God’s character and mission, then it is time for most of us to ignore Glenn Beck. Instead of simply talking about social justice perhaps we can begin taking our identity in Christ very, very seriously…We will be known not by feigned (me – now the author knows the hearts and motives of his anti-Beck brothers?) outrage or easy labels but by sustained and loving action rooted in our new life in Christ”.

    This is not only naivety sparked by misinformation and ignorance, it is just plain bad counsel. If the church is to work out its purpose, it will do so on both an individual and corporate level as well as by both personal service and challenging the power structures of our world (and their willful mouthpieces like Beck) in the public arena. Any lesser response will only result in our children looking on this generation of the faithful as weak and failed guardians of a great legacy.”

    Lewis argued long ago that “good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, than to answer bad philosophy”. The church has too often let the systems and structures of the world turn their tortuous gears while we refused to look up from our plowshares – convinced that “minding our own business” was our only moral obligation. Thank God for the chiders like Wilberforce and King and the long line before and since who chose to speak up in the face of their own brethren who derided their efforts as fruitless and futile. I don’t believe opposing Beck is an important exercise in itself, but mobilizing our voices to oppose his demonic ideas is important.

    1. Jeff- I appreciate the time you took to comment and am flattered that my blog has made it to your Google Reader. However, I’m finding it hard to engage with you after being called naive and ignorant. Ouch!

      A couple of quick points:

      1) My comparison of the current outrage towards Beck and the Civil Rights Movement is informed by the book I quoted from in the original article by Charles Marsh, The Beloved Community. I can’t recommend this book highly enough, though there are other places one could read about the ambiguous role played by northern white churches during the movement.
      2) I hope nothing in my article would make you think I disagree with your point that the church’s purposes must be worked out corporately and individually. My concern is that, on an individual level, we are prone to quick responses backed up by very little sustained action. The article’s point was to surmise two reasons for this (poor public image and a crisis of Christian identity) and suggest that neither will sustain one’s participation in the pursuit of social justice.

      I hope you’ll comment again in the future Jeff, but I would ask that you do so with a bit more kindness. We try to keep the conversation around here civil enough that it will never feel awkward should we ever get the chance to meet in person.

      1. Dave –

        Thanks for the reply. And welcome to the Internet! I miss the days when my challengers used words as civil as naive and ignorant. Truly, these are dark times. (h/t Monty Python).

        I agree that for the large majority of honest, average believers (in anything, mind you), it is difficult to create anything other than transitory interest and action for a given issue. I think the point you are making, however, is that we shouldn’t, therefore, make attempts to capitalize on galvanizing or exciting events to drive interest – even of a transitory nature – since its “doomed to fail” in terms of substantive change.

        But this assertion is patently false (there I go again…). In fact, all great movements – including Jesus’ own preaching – were characterized by using ongoing events to gain people’s attention as a starting point for working – among a very few – real change. The fact that the masses would shuffle off and forget after the event” fades was just an unavoidable reality – not an excuse to abandon legitimate opportunities to communicate great and important truths to those who “had ears to hear”.

        Also, don’t over look the fact that in large part, the very basis of sustained engagement and action of any human organization – including the church – requires continued and repeated rhetorical prompting, reminding and encouraging – rallying points and sometimes sensationalism – at least to get the ball rolling. In fact, this is biblical and, I believe, at least in part the source of your income – preaching.

        While the vast majority of your hearers – whom you no doubt attempt to engage with some humor, some relevant culture references, some powerful proclamations – will, sadly, listen week after week unaffected by your no doubt powerful and moving sermons, a few will hopefully begin to be changed by it. Should you therefore cease preaching because for the large majority (I say this as a statistical fact, not as a pejorative, lest there be any doubt) of your listeners your words will have no effect? I don’t think so.

        In the same why, when an marginally psychotic ass like Glenn Beck makes ridiculous and neo-blasphemous statements about the purpose of the church and the message of Jesus, why in God’s name would any sensible (sorry) believer not heed the rallying cry and speak out in opposition to such tripe? Yes – many initially inflamed will ultimately settle back into a life of inaction, but if even a small percent react in a transformational way to response, isn’t that the very idea Jesus based his entire movement on – the response of the few?

        Using your own references, didn’t the very rallying cries uttered in those urbane churches of last century affect some – how many? 1%? 5%? – to begin real introspection and ultimate transformation?

        No, unfortunately for your position, the great witness of history is that it is exactly these kinds of “teachable moments” that become rallying points that ultimately lead to real transformation and action.

        Now, I don’t know if this is one of those moments. But neither do you.

  3. David–I agree with you…Glen isn’t the enemy. Here’s why I agree with you:

    First, whenever we put a label on anyone, we have distanced them from ourselves and made it easier to see them as object to be criticized rather than person to be loved. I wish we could be stirred up by one another while learning how to love, honor, respect and live in unity with people who are left or right of us. Glen’s point of view is interesting in that he represents others who think just like him. For those who don’t agree with him, this should be an opportunity to trade opinions not jabs, to educate not boycott, to build bridges not dig the divide deeper.

    Whether or not you agree with Glen isn’t really important, unless you have an opportunity to have a conversation with him or one of his followers. What is important is how each one of us lives the great commandment to love God and people. When we obey this commandment, it will rock our worlds and we will do many things, including caring for the poor, working to right injustices, loving our neighbors who may or may not be here legally, and respecting people who think really differently than we do. We have to wrestle with what that looks like–we may not all come to the same conclusions on issues–but we all should practice obedience to what Jesus said.

    In this wrestling match with Glen, God is giving us a platform for conversation and evaluation. How are we doing at living what we believe? Are we hiding behind words and not living up to our convictions? Do our values drive us or do we just feel good about ourselves because we vote or talk a certain way? There are probably some, if not many, who need to ask themselves what they really believe is the church’s role with justice and mercy issues.

    Glen is not our audience (though we may be in his)–neither is he the one who should be forming us (though he probably is at least a little bit). Our audience is our Heavenly Father who deeply cares about justice and mercy and loves those who we can help. Are the words of Jesus forming us and our daily choices? If they are, then I think we’d respond like Billy Graham in this story I recently read: “A famous Christian man was found guilty of many grievances. His ministry was condemned, he was shunned, and despised by people who shared his faith and those who didn’t. He lost everything–family, friends, ministry, home, lifestyle and he exchanged all he had for life in prison. One day, dressed in his usual ugly prison garb, he was assigned to clean toilets. In the middle of his work, a visitor was announced and he was told he could go to the visitors room. Looking at himself, seeing his filth, he wondered if he should go. He wondered who had come to see him when he felt so shunned and forgotten. He mustered the courage to walk into the room and was so surprised to see Billy Graham there waiting with outstretched arms to hold him, hug him, be with him.”

    This story hits me hard. It reveals my own bigotry–how often I abandon someone because I’m embarrassed by the way they express their faith, disappointed because of the way they live their values, and or angry when they seem to destroy things I believe important. Christ never ever abandons anyone. No matter what side of the aisle we/they live on, He is present. Always. No matter what we’ve/they’ve done–He is ready to forgive, give grace, mercy and freedom. Always. He is my example. I can get very angry with the Glen Becks and other politicos, and people who seem really obnoxious to me. I want my response to change–to become more like Jesus who wasn’t afraid to confront, who loved the most despised, and who gave His life for everyone–pharisee or sinner, liberal or conservative. And in learning to listen with respect, maybe I’ll give the Holy Spirit permission to stir things in me that will prompt me to live more fully the teachings of Jesus.

    No–Glen isn’t the enemy. He is one of God’s creatures–someone created just like me in God’s image, and who is loved by God. How could he be the enemy? I may not agree with him, but I can learn many things about my God, myself and others when I listen to learn rather than listen to condemn.

  4. David-

    Rather than engage in your actual point of the article, let me (re)emphasize… if that post doesn’t earn you more comments in the 1st 24 hrs than any other post you’ve written for Out Of Ur, I’ll buy your first beer tomorrow night… But, due to the inability of Christians/Americans/Whatevers to hold their tongue, interest, and/or intrigue to absurdity… I guarantee you the theory will hold…

    SOOOO…. I prefer Alpha King.


  5. David-

    I really do agree with your points, and it was sad to see how readily the comments on your article reiterated the issue. We as American Christians spend far too much time going in circles arguing for against and around the issues when we don’t do enough about them. If anything it will only show the world that we are just like any other political group – we make a lot of great points defending our ideas but when push comes to shove we are unable or unwilling to act our beliefs and promises.

  6. The book, “Dezinformatzia” describes the KGB’s systematic and well-funded plan to infiltrate and influence the major Christian denominations in the US and Europe. It also explains how an agent of influence can spread the socialist line without even realizing he is a dupe. Thus evolved “social justice” “liberation theology,” and “America is always the Bad Guy and the Palestinian terrorists are the Good Guys.” Also women and gay priests, etc. etc. The smaller denominations, especially those who realized that the World Council of Churches was and is a communist influence organization, were not exposed to the sweet talk of socialism and, thus, are not as much into “social justice.” Christans should practice “social justice” by giving their own money and time to the sick and poor, not to lobbying the government to confiscate by force other people’s money. Christians can harbor criminals, such as illegal aliens, in a church, but eventually these aliens should confess their sin and return to their home country.

    1. Nancy,
      Your book is nonsensical and, to be honest, ignorant of greater concerns that are happening outside of the secluded walls of the American Church.

      These ideas evolved loooong before and outside of the KGB.

      Like, with Jesus. And the prophets. And Exodus.

      1. jasdye: “Dezinformatsia” was written by Richard H. Shultz and Roy Godson, not me, in 1984 probably before you were born. According to former KGB specialist Stanislav Levchenko, “Dezinformatsia is the most complete study of Soviet active measures ever published in the West. It identifies the main lines of Soviet overt and covert propaganda, and discloses the structure and mechanisms of Soviet influence operations against the Free World.” If you think ideas like “social justice” came out of our seminaries and universities due to original thinking, then you need to read this book. If you disagree, then supply some evidence, not liberal name-calling.

      2. I do not contend, nor do I know of any who contend, Nancy, that social justice is original thinking. It’s frankly biblical thinking. And began long before Soviet agents were ever in place.

        See, for instance, my dear sister, the Year of Jubilee:

        Or consider the governmental intervention to provide for all that the prophets condemned the Israelite nation against. That Daniel despaired about for his own people.

        Consider for a moment the needed intervention and protection that Nehemiah’s people received from a secular government.

        And consider this quote from David Fuselage:
        Brown-skinned socialist who gave out free health care? You’re not thinking of Obama. That’s Jesus!


      3. Brother Jasye: You are forgiven for knowing not what you post. Socialism is stealing and has killed tens of millions of Christians.

    2. Jason:

      I hope you understand that the Social Justice that us people over 40 are referring to is the concept that churches are supposed to lobby the government to act in a certain way they feel is just, which usually coincides with what left-wing political groups are promoting that month. This has nothing to do with Jesus or the Bible. Early Christians gave their own money to the poor and did not lobby Caesar. Jesus did not tax the Romans nor bill Medicare for healing. Socialism kills Christians.
      I am a great admirer of Glenn Beck, and find it amazing that someone whose church doesn’t believe ing the Trinity could manifest such energy of the Holy Spirit in promoting the values of our Christian founders.

      1. Aw, Nancy! You got my age! 🙂

        But if you’ll hear me out for a second. Evangelical Christians in the 1800s-early 1900’s lobbied government for these very same types of aid. Food, shelter, hospital care, abolishing slavery, humane working conditions, domestic violence…

        And why did they go after the government for these needs? Because the problem was too massive for them to care for on their own. Now, some of the solutions we look back on and say, “Well, *that* was foolish!” But then they were trying to protect battered women. (Fortunately, women aren’t as tied down to their mates, so there is more freedom to leave. But, then again $0.75 to every dollar…)

        Don’t you think Jesus and the Church Fathers would have lobbied the government for aid for the destitute if they could have? Rome didn’t care about them (much as Judah and Israel forgot about them – which is why God sent the prophets. And, destruction too…). So they had to do it themselves.

        Based on the new kingdom rules laid down by Jesus throughout the Gospels. And the Old Testament. And the Epistles. And the Acts of the Apostles (cf, chapters 2 &3. Which, btw, is about as close to pure socialism as you can get.)…

      2. Let me ask you another question, though, sister Nancy. You say “Socialism kills Christians.” What’s your reference for this. This is a pretty bold and quite specific statement. Socialism means that workers control the means, rather than a capital provider, meaning that workers share the profits.

        I don’t understand how one could get out of that it is murder. Is sharing murder? Or are you thinking of a state-controlled machine like Soviet or Chinese Communism?

  7. Hi Dave! Here are my comments also from Out of Ur (for what they’re worth). I like the way you get us thinking.


    Dave, I can really relate to what you say here, but I have also read (sorry, can’t remember the sources) that local Christian churches are the social justice backbone of this nation and provide more, and more effective, social services than any other agency (gov’t or private). That, I believe, was a study published in a book a few years ago. Secondly, I recently heard that conservative Christians are far more generous and give much more sacrificially to charity than secular liberals (who tend to be perceived to be the loudest public advocates for social justice). This was a recent broadcast statistic I heard on a WMBI commentary.

    I do believe that many of us do exactly what you talk about in this post (cover up our angst over our identity and public image by noisy dissociation from embarrassing public figures perceived as in our group), but I also believe it is highly likely that as a population subculture, at least comparatively with many others, conservative Christians are much more engaged in social justice through personal sacrifice of some sort than the average citizen (and that is as it should be).

  8. Jason and Nancy, we also have the biblical example of Joseph in the OT, whose exalted position under Pharaoh in Egypt allowed him to provide for his family during a time of famine. Not only that, but his wisdom in order to do so (which basically delivered all land and wealth into the hands of Pharaoh) came directly from God! At the time, it was God’s plan for saving the Israelites, Egypt, and many nations around them from starvation.

    Nancy, there are dangers in Socialism, as recent history in Communist nations has shown, but Republicanism and Capitalism for all their blessings for many, are not perfect either. God may choose in His own timing to use one as well as the other for His own purposes. Only His Kingdom is perfect and forever, and it is not of this world system (nevertheless God can operate within and through any earthly system as He deems best).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s