Column: Beck to Obama - heretic!KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Not quite two years ago, I noted America’s waning patience with efforts to close the income, education and achievement gaps between the races, and I predicted that the election of Barack Obama as president would mark a turning point in such attitudes.
By: Mary Sanchez, Tribune Media Services, Worthington Daily Globe
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Not quite two years ago, I noted America’s waning patience with efforts to close the income, education and achievement gaps between the races, and I predicted that the election of Barack Obama as president would mark a turning point in such attitudes.
“As I see it, this nation has a window of opportunity to close the gaps,” I wrote. “I’d give it 10 years. If disparities don’t improve within that time, the gaps will only become more entrenched, and the public’s willingness to understand how they came to exist in the first place will dry up.”
My intuition was that, with a black man in the Oval Office, people of color would have a hard time ascribing poverty or lack of opportunity to underlying historical causes. They wouldn’t get far blaming the lingering effects of legalized segregation, which helped create America’s poor urban centers, or discrimination in lending and hiring, which made it hard for blacks to build wealth that could be passed down through generations.
If Barack Obama could be elected president, the reasoning would go, whom could minorities blame but themselves if they failed to succeed?
Ten years seemed right at the time, but I didn’t count on the diatribes of Glenn Beck. Now I wonder if time is already up. Because it seems Beck’s resentful and conspiracy-obsessed worldview is being readily soaked up by America.
Fresh from his huge “Restoring Honor” rally at the National Mall, Beck observed that President Obama “is a guy who understands the world through liberation theology, which is oppressor-and-victim.”
“It’s a perversion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as most Christians know it,” Beck added.
It’s not clear how much Beck understands about liberation theology, the actual thing, or what it has to do with the president, beyond mere word association. Early in Obama’s campaign for the presidency, you may recall, the media first publicized the fiery rhetoric of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Wright was Obama’s pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, and was said to espouse “black liberation theology.” To Beck, any distinctions between Catholic liberation theology, black liberation theology and Christian social justice teaching seem unimportant — as does engaging them on their own terms. To him it’s all just Marxism.
Liberation theology is a complicated set of teachings with roots in the Latin America Catholic left in the 1950s and ’60s. At its root was the idea the church should do more to lift people out of endemic poverty here on earth, rather than simply offering them the hope of salvation in the world to come. The church, liberation theologians believed, was called by the Gospel to confront the social causes of poverty, even if that meant confronting the rich and powerful.
Social justice, a body teachings embraced by many churches, calls upon Christians to live the Gospel not just by helping the poor with charity but also by creating a more egalitarian society where all have equal rights to dignity, freedom and security. Broadly speaking, social justice teaching looks at the complicated mixture of factors beyond personal responsibility that work against these rights. It partakes of a long tradition in mainstream American Christianity, the “social gospel.” This was the churchly arm of the progressive movement of the late 19th and early 20th century, and its spirit lives on in most mainline Protestant churches today.
In Beck’s world, this social orientation equates to some sort of demonic collectivism.
Theology is an intellectual pursuit well beyond Glenn Beck’s considerable gifts. Many a learned scholar, including the current pope, has examined liberation theology and found it in error, but Brother Glenn is up to something else. He wants to demonize the president, and any old pretext will do. Where last year he called President Obama a racist, he now calls him a heretic. If the president prefers to find special significance in the more egalitarian teachings of Jesus Christ, that’s not good enough to Beck, whose Christianity must square with free-market individualism — arguably a perversion in its own right.
Beck has no special expertise, either moral or intellectual, to speak on matters of race or Christian orthodoxy. But he does have a special talent: He’s pretty persuasive. And right now he’s using all his energy to rile up feelings of resentment and cynicism in Middle America.
One of the major issues this country faces is how to lift people out of poverty. It transcends race. Given the Great Recession now underway, the ranks of the destitute are growing and the mood is growing darker.
Glenn Beck wants to “take America back.” No, we need to move it forward, for all of us.
Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via e-mail at email@example.com.