Blog author: jcouretas
by on Wednesday, March 31, 2010

In a new commentary, “Beck Vs. Wallis,” Acton Research Fellow Marvin Olasky takes another look at the dispute between Glenn Beck and Jim Wallis over the meaning of social justice. Olasky, provost at The King’s College in New York, offers suggestions on how to respond to those who would define social justice as merely the expansion of the welfare state.

I can understand Glenn Beck’s frustration. As the Beck-Wallis tempest swirled on March 11, I spent 3½ hours in a long-arranged debate with Wallis at Cedarville University. He kept trying to position himself as a centrist rather than a big government proponent. Furthermore, modern usage by liberal preachers and journalists is thoroughly unbiblical: Many equate social justice with fighting a free enterprise system that purportedly keeps people poor but in reality is their best economic hope.

How to respond? I’d suggest four possible ways, one of which is a variant of Beck’s: Challenge those who speak of “social justice” in a conventionally leftist way. If your local church is committed to what won’t help the poor but will empower would-be dictators, pray and work for gospel-centered teaching. If necessary, find another church.

A second: Try to recapture the term by giving it a 19th- (and 21st?) century small-government twist. The Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute are trying to do this. I wish them success.

A third way: Accept the left’s focus on systemic problems but not its faulty analysis. Learn about the biggest institutional hindrance to economic advance for the poor: the government’s monopoly control of taxpayer funds committed to education and welfare. Work for school vouchers and tax credits that will help many poor children to grow both their talents and their knowledge of God.

Fourth and best: Tutor a child. Visit a prisoner. Help the sick. Follow Christ.

See the “note” at the end of Olasky’s column for more resources on social justice.

And add these Acton events to your calendar:

– “Must Social Justice & Capitalism Be Mutually Exclusive?” March 31 (***tonight***), Grand Rapids. Acton on Tap with Rudy Carrasco. Details: 6 p.m. casual start time; 6:30 p.m., Rudy speaks! Location: Derby Station (formerly Graydon’s Crossing), 2237 Wealthy St. SE, East Grand Rapids 49506. No registration required.

– “Does social justice require socialism?” with Rev. Robert A. Sirico. Acton Lecture Series in Grand Rapids on April 15; Chicago luncheon on April 29.


  • J.E. Rendini

    And don’t forget to read Michael Novak’s “The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism” and “The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.” In the latter (pp. 77-78), he suggests we define “social justice” as a “specific modern form of the ancient virtue of justice. Men and women exercise this specific social habit when they (a) join with others (b) to change the institutions of society. The practice of social justice means activism; it means organizing; it means trying to make the system better. It does not necessarily mean enlarging the state; on the contrary, it means enlarging civil society.” Anyone who suggests we further enlarge the state must have missed the 20th century.

  • almond603

    so is he trying to say that a rightist view of government is more in line with the gospel? perhaps the problem that the left and right won’t listen to each other is because (at least within the church) they both think that THEY are doing what Jesus really wants them to do. as far as I can see, it doesn’t seem like the right or left exercises any form of humility.

    just my two cents.

  • fundamentalist

    You’ll never get anywhere with Wallis because he is fundamentally dishonest, as are most “progressives”. Wallis likes the double meaning of “social justice”. He helps promote it so that if someone like Beck claims to be against social justice Wallis can condemn him for hating the poor. But if someone says “social justice” means charity, then Wallis can always come back and say it means much more than that. It means justice, which is the states responsibility.

    “Progressives” are socialists who want to deceive the naive into believing they’re not socialists. The whole point of “progressivism” is to deceive. They want the naive to think that “progressives” have a monopoly on caring for the poor, but try to talk to “progressives” about creating jobs for the poor. They are totally and completely uninterested. Mention the success that China has enjoyed with freer markets and you get nothing in return from “progressives” but hatred and bile.

    It took me a while to understand that “progressives” have no concern for the poor whatsoever. It’s all a charade. If they were concerned about the poor, they would look around for real examples where huge numbers of the poor have been lifted out of poverty, such as China. But they couldn’t possibly care less. All they want is their brand of “justice” implemented, by which them mean equality of wealth for all. And they don’t care about the consequences at all. If “justice” means the total and utter destruction of civilization and the deaths of million, so be it. They will destroy the earth in order to implement their brand of justice.

    No honest person can have a dialogue with such people.

  • Neal Lang

    “so is he trying to say that a rightist view of government is more in line with the gospel? perhaps the problem that the left and right won’t listen to each other is because (at least within the church) they both think that THEY are doing what Jesus really wants them to do. as far as I can see, it doesn’t seem like the right or left exercises any form of humility.”

    It depends on how you define “rightist” I suppose. The fact is that the leftist ideal of a secular, amoral, all powerful government is contrary to Natural Law. To believe that men are unequal, without the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and were not created by a loving God, is truly not what Jesus, the Christ, preach. If it were, then His “Good News” is totally without meaning, as man would only need government to flourish.