March 12, 2010— -- Glenn Beck has stirred the pot again, but President Obama can rest easy for a few days because he was not the central target this time.
Backers of the concept of Christian "social justice," however, were not so lucky. Beck compared it to communism and Nazism -- and at least one religious leader is calling for Christians to stop watching the conservative broadcaster, radio host and best-selling author.
On his radio and television shows, Beck suggested any church promoting "social justice" or "economic justice" merely was using code words for Nazism and communism.
"I beg you look for the words social justice or economic justice on your church Web site," he said. "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 they're going to Jeremiah Wright's church, yes!
"If you have a priest that is pushing social justice, go find another parish," he said. "Go alert your bishop and tell them, 'Excuse me, are you down with this whole social justice thing?' If it's my church, I'm alerting the church authorities: 'Excuse me, what's this social justice thing?' And if they say, 'Yeah, we're all in on this social justice thing,' I am in the wrong place."
Later, Beck held up a picture of a swastika and one of a hammer and sickle, declaring again that "social justice" has the same philosophy as the Nazis and communists and that the phrase is a code word for both.
Stu Burguiere, executive producer at "The Glenn Beck Radio Program," sought to clarify Beck's comments today.
"Like most Americans, Glenn strongly supports and believes in 'social justice' when it is defined as 'good Christian charity,'" he said. "Glenn strongly opposes when Rev. Wright and other leaders use 'social justice' as a euphemism for their real intention -- redistribution of wealth."
Nevertheless, the original comments have made waves in the religious world as the majority of Christian churches promote social justice and economic justice through programs to help the poor and other humanitarian services.
The Rev. Jim Wallis, an evangelical leader who is the CEO and president of Sojourners, a Christian networking group in Washington, D.C., has been one of the loudest voices against Beck.
"When Glenn Beck is asking Christians to leave their churches, the Catholic Church, the black churches, Hispanic, evangelical, to leave all our churches, I'm saying it's time for Christians to leave the Glenn Beck show," he said. "This offends Christians. This is salt, something at the heart of their faith. It's something many of us have spent our lives trying to do, to practice.
"Yesterday, he went further and he said social justice is a perversion of the gospel. ... I'm saying it's at the heart of the gospel."
Wallis said it's time for a conversation.
"Brother Glenn, let's dispense with personal attacks," he said. "I don't know you. I have no reason to attack you. But you made a statement here that needs a serious conversation. ... I know you're used to monologues, but when you say things like this, you invite a dialogue. What do you say about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., what do you say about Desmond Tutu, about Mother Teresa, what do you say to the reverends and rabbis who gave their lives to social justice because that is their faith?"
Wallis is in good company among leading Christians. The Rev. Canon Peg Chemberlin, president of the National Council of Churches of Christ USA, which oversees 100,000 congregations across the country and has about 45 million members, has objected to Beck's comments as well.
"I hesitated to respond," she said, "because it seemed like such a ridiculous statement. But this is really an attack ... a misunderstanding, at least, of what the Bible says. Justice is a concept throughout the scriptures. It's one that should be and must be organized around any congregation.
"It's very disturbing," she added. "He's speaking on behalf of his political views and trying to take out of the biblical text the things that are going to oppose his political views. This is primarily a political motivation. ... It's not that Christians haven't been Nazis and socialists, but we're not talking about political parties here. We're talking about 2,000-year-old gospel."
A Divisive Figure
It's not hard to find Beck supporters commenting on the Internet.
"Glenn Beck calls it like it is and people can't handle the truth!" posted one woman.
Beck's own church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which he joined in 1999 with his wife and children, suggested Beck's comments did not necessarily represent its position.
"Public figures who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints represent their own views and do not speak for the church," a church statement read.
Beck, of course, is no stranger to controversy. Part of his success seems to be based on the intense feelings he stirs up among his audience of almost 3 million viewers and countless listeners, be they fervent supportors or hostile critics.
In the summer of 2009, Beck drew heavy criticism after dubbing President Obama a racist.
"The president is a guy who has exposed himself over and over again who has deep-seated hatred of white people," Beck said. "This guy is, I believe, a racist."
The comment incited a boycott and prompted 80 advertisers, including Proctor and Gamble, Lawyers.com and Progressive Insurance, to pull their ads from Beck's 5 p.m. show on Fox News.
However, the outrage did not diminish his ratings.
In September, Time magazine declared Beck, "the hottest thing in the political rant-racket, left or right."