By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services
It was bad enough, in July 2009, when Glenn Beck called President Obama a “racist” with a “deep-seated hatred of white people.” But when, on Aug. 29, he finally apologized — 13 months later, the morning after his big rally on the Washington Mall — he only made it worse by attacking what he called the president’s distorted brand of Christianity.
He shouldn’t have called Obama a racist, Beck admitted to Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.” Instead, he meant to criticize Obama for being a follower of “liberation theology” — which Beck described as “Marxism disguised as religion.”
“You see, it’s all about victims and victimhood,” Beck explained to Wallace. “Oppressors and the oppressed; reparations, not repentance; collectivism, not individual salvation. I don’t know what that is, other than it’s not Muslim, it’s not Christian. It’s a perversion of the gospel of Jesus Christ as most Christians know it.”
Now, honestly, I don’t know whether or not President Obama knows anything about liberation theology. But I do. And I can tell you: Beck is dead wrong.
Liberation theology was born in Latin America in the 1950s, after many priests and nuns grew tired of the Catholic hierarchy’s support for the powerful and corrupt. While priests and nuns worked among the poor in the barrios, bishops and cardinals hung out with the generals, CEO’s, and dictators in their palaces, while supporting their suppression of the poor.
The official Church has its priorities backward, taught Dominican priest Gustavo Gutierrez, generally considered the father of liberation theology. In his book, “A Theology of Liberation,” Gutierrez argued that Christianity’s mission is to serve, not shun, the poor. How could it be otherwise, he noted when “I come from a continent in which more than 60 percent of the population live in poverty, and 82 percent of those find themselves in extreme poverty.”
Christians don’t have to go far to discover that Gutierrez is right. Just read the Gospels, Matthew 25, where Jesus tells his followers how God will separate the sheep from the goats on Judgment Day. “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. … I needed clothes, and you clothed me.” When did we do all that, they asked? And, in response, these defining words: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
According to liberation theology, in other words, Christianity is not about whether you believe in this doctrine or that. It’s whether you imitate Jesus in helping “liberate” the poor from social, economic, and political hardship. That’s not a perversion of the Gospel. It IS the Gospel. Which Glenn Beck, apparently has never read. But what do you expect from a man who saw a dozen Canada geese fly over his rally and declared it a “miracle” sent by God? Believe me; residents of Washington, often up to their knees in goose poop, don’t call it a miracle.
The day after Beck’s latest attack on Obama, I disputed his characterization of liberation theology in an interview with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, filling in for Keith Olbermann on “Countdown.” Furthermore, I told O’Donnell: “We don’t need a Mormon to teach Christians what the Gospel is all about.”
At which point, Beck turned his guns on me personally. After playing that clip on his radio show, Beck puffed: “Bill, I do think you need somebody to help you out with that. Because the things you advocate and stand for don’t. … I mean, at least I don’t get the sense that you’ve ever gotten anywhere near the Gospels.”
Wrong again! This isn’t the first time Beck has spouted off without knowing what he’s talking about. But maybe he doesn’t realize that after high school, I joined the seminary. I studied 10 years for the Catholic priesthood as a member of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. I taught high school religion. And, as part of my training, I received a degree in theology from the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, where I studied Scripture in Latin and Greek. So, yes, I know the Gospels.
As a Christian, however, I would never dare tell a Jew how to practice Judaism, nor a Muslim how to practice Islam. And I repeat: We don’t need a Mormon, especially one named Glenn Beck, to teach Christians what the Gospel is all about.
© 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.