Unless you’ve managed to craft a mass-media-free universe for yourself, you’ve probably heard that conservative media heavyweight Glenn Beck (who is Mormon) recently urged his listeners to “run” from any church that preached “social justice” or “economic justice.” In response, some church groups have pushed back against Beck, calling for public dialogues, apologies, and even boycotts.
Last week, the following email arrived in the Ask Mormon Girl inbox from a fellow religion writer.
I’ve been following the latest Glenn Beck “social justice” controversy. Is there a Mormon angle here?
Well, JD, Several Mormons have stepped up in the national media to say that Beck’s comments on social justice are not in keeping with the spirit of Mormon belief and practice. Yesterday, Mormon author Jana Riess published an especially powerful rejoinder to Brother Beck, recalling from the Book of Mormon the beautiful words of that social justice crusader King Benjamin in Mosiah 4 (see especially verses 16 – 26).
Which makes me sad.
Sad to think that the brethren felt even a twinge of responsibility for the former morning zoo radio shock jock who once made a living cavorting with Zippy the Chimp and who now makes a living by comparing do-gooder churches to the likes of Stalin and Hitler.
The fact is that while Mormons may not use the exact words “social justice” (the phrase has Catholic origins), humanitarian service and social welfare programs, including, yes, experiments in wealth redistribution, have a profound place in Mormon history, life, and values.
And although we are the most conservative religion in America, 49% of Mormons polled by the Pew Foundation recently said the government should do more for the needy; 42% disagreed.
If there is a Mormon angle to this story, it is the way that the flaws and missteps of public figures known to be Mormon sometimes get connected back to our much misunderstood Church.
Mormons take credit for lots and lots of things, like the invention of television and the women’s one-piece bathing suit. Heck, last Friday when I took the kids to the new Mormon Battalion Visitors Center here in San Diego, I learned that we even take credit for the Gadsden Purchase. But should we take responsibility for Glenn Beck?
I have argued elsewhere that after his 1999 conversion Glenn Beck borrowed some ideological and rhetorical elements from Mormon culture for his on-air repertoire. But Mormonism is not the source of Glenn Beck’s latest antics. (And while we’re at it: a special note to Bill Maher, Joseph F. Smith is not the reason Mitt Romney got into a dust-up with a fourth-rate rapper on Air Canada.)
The source of Glenn Beck’s latest antics is Glenn Beck’s genius for generating controversy. After all, Beck didn’t get where he is because he chose a life dedicated to service. Nope. Beck is all about building market share and has been since his beginnings back at the morning zoo.
So, readers, what shall we do the next time Glenn Beck acts up? Apologize? Hold him accountable? Ignore him altogether? Or, perhaps, circulate this little You Tube gem, featuring Glenn and his buddy Zippy the Chimp?
What do you think?
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