SALT LAKE CITY — Fox News talk-show host Glenn Beck has outraged some Christians by asking them to leave their church if it preaches about "social justice" or "economic justice" — terms he believes could be code words for communism or Nazism.
At least one Christian minister is now calling for a boycott of Beck's TV and radio shows.
Beck said on his March 2 TV 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."
Beck also said: "Am I advising people to leave their church? Yes! If I am going to Jeremiah Wright's church (a reference to President Barack Obama's former Chicago pastor). If you have a priest that is pushing social justice, go find another parish. Go alert your bishop."
Beck is not the first to suggest the terms are being used as euphemisms. Others for years have argued that they are used by communists as substitutes for Marxism, socialism and collectivism, but many church leaders were angered by Beck's attack on them. Some Mormons also reacted strongly.
The Rev. Jim Wallis, who leads the Christian social justice group "Sojourners" in Washington, D.C., took strong offense to Beck's comments.
Wallis has begun a "Tell Glenn Beck: I'm a Social Justice Christian" campaign on his Web site, www.sojo.net.
"Glenn Beck recently told his listeners to leave any church that teaches social justice, and to report its pastor to church authorities," Wallis wrote. "Since Sojourners' mission is 'to articulate the biblical call to social justice,' we thought we'd better turn ourselves in. But before reporting to any church hierarchy, we're going to report ourselves to Glenn Beck."
"Whether you're a church leader, a church member, or a church seeker, if you're a Christian who believes in the biblical call to social justice, we invite you join us … let him know that the biblical call to social justice is good news — not fodder for 'code word' scare tactics."
Wallis also stated on his blog: "What he has said attacks the very heart of our Christian faith and Christians should no longer watch his show."
He reported that more than 20,000 people have already responded to his Internet campaign and that at times, the site's server has been unable to handle the heavy traffic. Wallis said he would also like to debate Beck on this issue.
That church isn't alone. The Wantagh Memorial Congregational Church in New York has posted on its marquee: "Sorry Mr. Beck, Jesus Preached Social Justice."
Beck is a Mormon, but a church spokesman said Beck's comments are his own.
"Public figures who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints represent their own views and do not speak for the church," Scott Trotter said.
Phillip Barlow, the Arrington professor of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University, said Beck's comments have definitely stirred up passion.
"I'd have to let him speak for himself," Barlow said.
However, he stressed that it's possible to confuse a general principle with a specific strategy, and that the terms social justice and economic justice can be loaded phrases, as are "right to choose" or "right to life."
"A phrase like 'social justice' can be hijacked," Barlow said.
Barlow said he received a lot of responses after the New York Times quoted him Friday in a story on Beck's comments, , both pro and con.
"One way to read the Book of Mormon," Barlow told the Times, "is that it's a vast tract on social justice. It's ubiquitous in the Book of Mormon to have the prophetic figures, much like in the Hebrew Bible, calling out those who are insensitive to injustices."
He said some comments he received do suggest that Beck is asking even LDS Church members to leave their faith.
The Times also interviewed Kent P. Jackson, associate dean of religion at BYU. "My own experience as a believing Latter-day Saint over the course of 60 years is that I have seen social justice in practice in every LDS congregation I've been in," Jackson said. "People endeavor with all of our frailties and shortcomings to love one another and to lift up other people. So if that's Beck's definition of social justice, he and I are definitely not on the same team."
LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson encouraged members during the church's last general conference to reach out and help others every day.
"We are the Lord's hands here upon the earth, with the mandate to serve and to lift his children," President Monson said. "He is dependent upon each of us."
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