In March of this year, when Fox News personality Glenn Beck urged his listeners and viewers to avoid churches that preach social justice, he probably didn’t know he would be confronted by two generations of the same family.
“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,” Beck urged. “Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!” Beck went on to hold up images of the hammer and sickle, and to exclaim that churches that preach social justice are close to Nazism and Communism.
These pleas from the conservative talk-show host did not go unnoticed by ordained Baptist Minister, and Associate Dean of Religious Life at Princeton University, Paul Rauschenbusch. Rauschenbusch said Beck’s commentary helped provide a good starting point for the newly created HuffPost Religion, where he would hold an editorial position.
In a March editorial, Rauschenbusch wrote, “What Beck decries as the Church’s ‘social justice’ and ‘progressivism’ has been responsible for such consequential commitments as the abolitionist and civil rights movements.” He went on to say, “Glenn Beck provided us with a disturbing reminder of what is unhealthy religious rhetoric and it has reminded us of the desperate need for a sane Christian witness in the world.”
Paul Rauschenbusch was not alone in his criticism of Beck. Many Evangelicals, Catholics, and Mainline Christians from across the country rejected Beck’s commentaries, noting that Jesus taught and preached about social justice and care for the world. Many churches acted upon Beck’s diatribe as an opportunity to return to the source, seeking out the original texts that laid the groundwork of how to preach the social gospel.
Walter Rauschenbusch (1861 – 1918) served as pastor of the Second German Baptist Church in New York City in the early 1900’s, where he witnessed unemployment, poverty, child labor, malnutrition, disease, and rampant crime. His teachings are still influential among the very churches Beck urges his viewers to abandon.
Moved to action during America’s Industrial Age, Walter Rauschenbusch immersed himself in the literature of social reform and began the Social Gospel movement, believing social work to be Christ’s work. Rauschenbusch urged others to see that “Christianity is in its nature revolutionary.” Rauschenbusch and others responded to the issues of the day with an emphasis on the social justice preaching of Jesus and The Social Principles of Jesus outlined the methodology.
We at WordStream decided to release this special edition of The Social Principles of Jesus in celebration of the 15th anniversary of Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City and, in some part, as a response to Glenn Beck’s statements.
What Walter Rauschenbusch saw around him a hundred years ago, is not all that different than some of the conditions and issues churches face today…what should the church do about poverty and other justice issues?
We published this book to remind individuals and churches that this age-old question has the same answer today as any time in history. We are to address needs, confront injustice, and be active in the world around us.
For many, Glenn Beck’s statements have had an opposite effect than he intended. Instead of running from churches that preach social gospel, people are running to them, urged by the words of two theologians, from two generations in the Rauschenbusch family. And we are proud to do our part to help!
– Marti Williams, Publisher