Updated Thursday, September 9, 2010
At first read you might think Jeremiah must have missed the memo from his congregation that he should not preach about politics. But Jeremiah would likely be the first to say that he didn’t want the job, God gave it to him.
First, I want to say more about the context Jeremiah was
preaching in before looking more at what I see as our nation’s crossroads.
According to Old Testament commentator R. E. Clements (1988, p. 42):
“Jeremiah appears to have addressed a people who were so self-assured in the rightness of their cause, and in the backing God must give to it, that they discounted the serious possibility of harsh Babylonian reprisals taken against them.”
In Jeremiah’s day, the people of
We have many prophets of doom in our own day, calling for the nation to return to various versions of justice and righteousness. There is so much doom and gloom now, you almost have to be hopeful to be truly contrarian. There is a great unease right now, from all quarters of the political, religious and economic spectrums, that we are not on track as a nation. Which of the many voices might be our Jeremiah? This morning I want to look two men at odds with each other, Glenn Beck and Jim Wallis. I feel compelled to talk about Glenn Beck today, because at his big rally two weekends ago, he moved out of politics and into theology, which is my turf as a preacher. He held his rally on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech, and talked about reclaiming the legacy. Glenn Beck moved into theology and used the language of a preacher, saying he wants a movement of faith, hope and charity
There is an element of Jeremiah that reminds me of Glenn Beck, weeping for the nation during his prophecies, as in verse 19,
“My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh, the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent….For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.” 23I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light.
Jeremiah or Glenn Beck? (I preach, you decide!) In style they share a weepy, manic depressive warning of disaster if people do not repent and return to God. In substance the similarities end. Not all prophets of doom are created equal. Jeremiah preached in a context where he saw immanent political and military disaster for his nation, and he eagerly hoped to turn back the tide. He desired honest soul-searching that would lead kings to be more humble on the world stage and the people to be more mindful of righteousness. My view of Glenn Beck is he leading us towards less soul searching by covering up the real issues and instead finding other people to blame –immigrants, Muslims, socialists and most amazingly to me-social justice oriented Christians.
I find it odd that one of his main targets on his
blackboard, has been Jim Wallis, the founder of the Sojourners Community and
But for the last few years, Jim Wallis has dedicated his
ministry to seeking dialogue between liberals and conservatives to find common
spiritual ground, especially about how to do justice for the poor. He wrote an open letter to Glenn Beck last
week, invited dialog, and made several important points. First, Glenn Beck is a Mormon, and therefore
he should know about the dangers of religious persecution and the importance of
religious freedom. Wallis challenged
Beck to offer the same hard-won religious freedom he enjoys to practice
Mormonism to Muslims as well. Second,
Wallis praised Beck for amending his statement that President Obama is a
racist. However, an apology would have
been more in order. Wallis took Beck to
task for continually mis-characterizing Obama’s faith. Since I am ordained in the United Church of
Christ, I know he is a Christian, not a closet-Muslim from a madrassa in
Finally, Wallis reminded Glenn Beck that Jesus put the poor
and oppressed first in his ministry.
Beck has claimed that Wallis’ call for social justice is just a code
word for socialism, communism and Nazism.
Wallis said it is about compassion and mercy and following the biblical
mandate to deal with poverty, not blame the poor. I hope Beck will agree to public dialogue
with Wallis. It could highlight a move
that is already happening out of the spotlight in
There is another movement quietly happening out of the media
spotlight. Many Christians, liberal and
evangelical, are starting to talk and discard the old debates in favor of
finding common ground and common solutions.
David Brooks, the conservative commentator at the NY Times, wrote on
Wednesday about David Platt, who is the youngest pastor of a mega church in the
Now we are getting closer to the real heart of Jeremiah’s message. Its not a time to take back our nation, as if someone stole it from us. It is a time for honest soul searching, to find what we have ourselves lost. Like the shepherd who goes out to find the lost sheep, let us also be seekers and bring more into the fold.