Glenn Beck's God is not my God

September 1, 2010

Like many Americans I watched the news last weekend and saw the pictures of people gathered on the mall in Washington, D.C., at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial.

There conservative talk show host Glenn Beck stood at Lincoln's feet, looked out across the crowd and declared, "America today begins to turn back to God."

As I listened to him speak, it suddenly became clear to me. Glenn Beck and I may both call ourselves Christians, but we don't worship the same Christ or the same God.

The God whom I worship is a God who frequently reminds us that we live out our faith in large part through our relationship with the other – by showing hospitality to strangers, by loving our neighbors and our enemies, by reaching out to those on the margins of society.

Beck and his cohorts build their following by promoting a fear of the other, a fear that is in full bloom across much of our country.

We see it in the Arizona immigration law that recently went into effect, a law that gives police the authority to ask people to prove their citizenship or immigration status -- questions that most likely won't be asked of white Americans.

We hear it in the congressman who, on the House floor, urged the repeal of the 14th Amendment guaranteeing citizenship to all people born in this country because, he claims, terrorists have a scheme to have babies here and then raise them to kill Americans.

We hear it in efforts in Georgia to amend the law so that our places of worship can become armed fortresses where the stranger is greeted with suspicion, not hospitality.

We see it in polls that show increasing numbers of Americans believe that our president is a Muslim and not really an American citizen, and in Beck's claim that the president has "a deep-seated hatred of white people."

We hear it in Christian ministers who plan to commemorate September 11 by burning copies of the Koran.

And we hear it in the hysteria that greets plans to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque two blocks from the World Trade Center site, and attempts to block the building of mosques in other American cities from Tennessee to California.

The common factor in all these efforts is fear -- fear that is whipped up by Beck and other right-wing personalities, including many of our political leaders.

At the heart of that fear is suspicion of the other, defined by the fear mongers as those who are not Caucasian and Christian.

In the changing demographics of America, the other is increasingly around us, not just on the street corner looking for day labor, but in the Oval Office, the very seat of power.

Changes and the unknown often arouse fear in us. I believe there is something innate in that. But fear is one of the greatest impediments to hospitality. And Scripture reminds us repeatedly that acting out of fear is not faithful.

So how can we faithfully react to the fear of the other that is so rampant? How do we address that fear when we find it in ourselves?

For people of faith, we begin by turning toward God.

In practical terms, that means not buying into the climate of fear that so many seem eager to whip up. It means finding out the facts, the truth of a situation.

It means having empathy for the others around us. It means looking at the Hispanic woman registering her children for school and remembering that our ancestors, too, came to this country as strangers looking for a better life for their children.

It means looking at those who want to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque in New York and remembering that many Muslims worked in the World Trade Center and died in the September 11 attacks.

It means realizing, as Jesus says, that we are blessed by those who differ from us.

It means regularly reminding ourselves of our Baptismal Covenant, whose questions lead to the heart of what it means to be a Christian, not only in what we are to profess and believe, but in how we are to live out those beliefs in our actions each day.

The last two questions, in particular, address our relationship with the other.

"Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?"

"Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?"

The answer to both questions is the same, "I will, with God's help."

The day of Beck's gathering was the 47th anniversary of another rally at the footsteps of the Lincoln Memorial, a rally in which a quarter of a million Americans of every color and creed came together to show their support for justice and freedom for all people.

The culmination of that rally was a speech by one of this nation's greatest prophets, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

King, too, urged Americans to turn towards God. But the God to whom he prayed and the country he envisioned are the antithesis of what we heard from Beck and his cohorts.

King that day spoke mostly of the civil rights of African Americans, but if he were alive today I believe that he would include Hispanics, Muslims, and all others who are marginalized in his dream of a better America.

That dream of which he spoke is deeply rooted in the gospel, a call for us to help establish the kingdom of God here and now, a kingdom where there are no "others," only beloved children of God.

Related Topics: