Mercer professor joins fray in Beck matter

A Mercer University professor of Christian ethics says right-wing talk-show host Glenn Beck didn’t have his facts straight when, this month, Beck bashed churches over the concept of “social justice.”

Professor David P. Gushee, in a recent entry on his Huffingtonpost religion blog, wrote that Beck “inadvertently poked a finger in the eye of every person who takes the Bible as God’s revealed Word.”

Beck, who hosts a radio show and a Fox News Channel program, has gone on the air and contended that churches’ backing of “social justice” is comparable to communism or Nazism. On his TV show, he held up images of a swastika and a hammer and sickle to make his point.

Beck, on his radio show, “The Glenn Beck Program,” said: “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. ... If you have a priest that is pushing social justice, go find another parish.”

Gushee says Beck’s decrying of social justice as something sinister was misleading.

“What he was doing was attacking what he believes to be liberal Christians,” the professor said in a telephone interview Monday. “The way he was doing it was by equating their emphasis on justice in society with justice language that was thrown around by the Nazis and the communists.”

Gushee said social justice “is the restoration of right and fair relationships in communities.”

“Social justice is a central theme of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, but also the New Testament,” the professor said.

“Just because some radical ideology like the Nazis or the communists misuses a word doesn’t mean that the concept is of no value. ... (Beck) probably had no idea how many people he would offend with this particular gambit, because you’re talking a central theme in the religions of a large part of the United States and of the world,” Gushee said.

The professor added that, in part at least, Beck “was trying to attack the reduction of Christianity to social justice, and that would be worth attacking because Christianity should not be reduced to social justice. But to just dismiss the whole theme as somehow non-Christian, somehow Nazi or communist, it’s absurd.”

Gushee, 47, lives in Atlanta and teaches at the Mercer campus there. He travels to the Macon campus to teach once a week.

Gushee wrote that Beck “managed to do something few have been able to do. ... He has united Catholics and Protestants, evangelicals and mainliners, Christian progressives and moderates and conservatives.”

The refutation of Beck’s comments that Gushee posted over the weekend caught the eye of noted film critic Roger Ebert. Ebert mentioned Gushee on his own blog, “Roger Ebert’s Journal,” on Sunday.

“I’ve been reading his movie reviews since I was a kid,” Gushee said. “That’s awesome.”

To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.