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Outraged by Glenn Beck’s salvo, Christians fire back

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Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck

KNRS Radio

Last week, the conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck called on Christians to leave their churches if they hear preaching about social or economic justice, saying they were code words for Communism and Nazism.

This week the remarks prompted outrage from several Christian bloggers. The Rev. Jim Wallis, who leads the liberal Christian anti-poverty group Sojourners, in Washington, called on Christians to leave Glenn Beck.

"What he has said attacks the very heart of our Christian faith, and Christians should no longer watch his show," Wallis wrote on his blog, God's Politics. "His show should now be in the same category as Howard Stern."

In attacking churches that espouse social justice, Beck is taking on most mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, black and Hispanic congregations in the country — not to mention plenty of evangelical churches and even his own, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Beck said on his radio show on March 2, "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."

"Am I advising people to leave their church? Yes! If I am going to Jeremiah Wright's church," he said, referring to President Barack Obama's former pastor in Chicago. "If you have a priest that is pushing social justice, go find another parish. Go alert your bishop."

Religion scholars say the term "social justice" was probably coined in the 1800s, codified in encyclicals by successive popes and adopted widely by Protestant churches in the 1900s. The concept is that Christians should not merely give to the poor, but also work to correct unjust conditions that keep people poor. Many Christians consider it a recurring theme in Scripture.

Beck himself is a convert to Mormonism, a faith that identifies itself as part of the Christian family, but is nevertheless rejected by many Christians.

Philip Barlow, the Arrington professor of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University, said, "One way to read the Book of Mormon is that it's a vast tract on social justice."

"A lot of Latter-day Saints would think that Beck was asking them to leave their own church," he said.

Barlow said that just this year, the church's highest authority, the Quorum of the Twelve, issued a new "Handbook of Instructions" in which they revised the church's "threefold mission" and added a fourth mission statement: Care for the poor.