Friday, September 17, 2010

Glenn Beck and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
Luke 12:51-53

This is only my second blog post in September. And there is a reason for that.

Ever since the Glenn Beck rally on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech, I have wanted to comment but I have worried about just adding to the general hysteria. And yet I couldn’t seem to move on and comment on anything else.

Is it possible to speak about polarizing events and personalities, without just adding to the polarization? And on the other hand, if pastors avoid controversial issues, are they not guilty of abandoning their responsibility to look at the world, as Karl Barth said, with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other?

The religious tone of the event caught many people by surprise, even though Mr. Beck spent a lot of time leading up to the event telling his audience that he was trying to leave room for the Spirit to speak through him.

From a Christian perspective, there is much to criticize in Glenn Beck’s vision of America. Some of what he says is a rejection of central parts of the Gospel (his objection to “Social Justice” is a prime example). But he is right to call for a spiritual renewal in our society.

Many of us get nervous when we hear “politics” and “God” in the same sentence. We are reminded of Holy Wars and Crusades, and we know that few people are more intolerant than those who are certain that God is on their side. The caution is understandable and appropriate. But as Christian citizens we have a unique responsibility to wrestle with these issues, especially in a time when politicians often seem eager to claim God’s support for narrowly partisan issues.

The Bible is a profoundly political book. The prophets proclaim God’s passion for justice as the foundation of the social order. And the message of Jesus is centered on “the good news of the Kingdom of God.” In the Lord’s Prayer, our first petition is, “Thy Kingdom come.”

When the early church spoke of Jesus as “Lord,” and “Savior,” and “Son of God,” they knew that all of these terms were used to apply to the Emperor. And they knew that the Empire had killed Jesus because he was a political threat. When early Christians said that Jesus was “Lord,” they were also saying, “and Caesar is not.”

Jesus invites us, as he invited his first century disciples, to claim our citizenship in the Kingdom of God. In the old United Methodist liturgical calendar the Sundays from the end of August to the beginning of Advent were known as the season of “Kingdomtide.” It was a time to reflect on the biblical promise of the Kingdom of God and to ask ourselves what the world would look like if we were serious about building the Kingdom of God on earth.

Glenn Beck would not agree with my vision of the Kingdom of God, and he wouldn’t agree with John Wesley’s vision or Martin Luther King’s, either. But he is still right when he calls for bringing faith into the public arena.

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