(You will recall that the other party of this destroyed friendship is referred to only as "Friend". No name, no personal pronouns. Friend could be anyone. Friend could be *you*.)
Where it started to become quite apparent to me that a civil discussion with Friend was no longer possible was about four months ago, and it was thanks to a back-and-forth between talk show host Glenn Beck and Sojourners head Jim Wallis. Sojourners, for the uninitiated, is a left-leaning Christian group dedicated to social justice, which sounds innocuous enough until one reads that Jim Wallis is described by some as a communist sympathizer. It should be noted that I have read multiple books by Mr. Wallis and, while I did note a liberal bias, I certainly was not aware of the accusations leveled against Mr. Wallis.
Now, as a lot of people are aware, Glenn Beck and Jim Wallis have had a few things to say to one another about "social justice", its meaning, and its relationship to Christianity. (Yeah, Mr. Beck is a Mormon, and I know that some people have said he thus is not qualified to speak about Christianity, but I'm not going into that here.)
Where I got caught up into the Beck vs. Wallis idea was when I decided to comment on the link Friend posted on Facebook to this Sojourners post urging people to send e-mails to Glenn Beck stating that they were turning themselves in as "social justice" Christians. I'm not going to comment on whether I agree with this tactic in the post Friend linked. Anyway, I commented thus:
I think there's a major disconnect between the two sides as to what "social justice" means. I personally do not think that Jesus intended for social justice to be mandated through government (it certainly wasn't during his earthly life), but rather that social justice be carried out voluntarily by Christ-followers as a way of expressing God's love.
Friend countered with the quite biblical idea of jubilee, which, I pointed out, was not being practiced at all by the governing Roman authorities of the time. Friend asked rhetorically whether Jesus endorsed the Roman government. I responded:
You're missing my point. Jesus was talking about a personal commitment to social justice. He wasn't speaking in favor of a government-run social justice program...Rome certainly wasn't inclined to have such a thing, and nothing short of divine intervention was going to change that (and that wasn't how Jesus chose to act, of course).
Wallis and I differ in that I do not trust the government to run such a program with any sort of efficacy or without a great deal of fraud and graft. And based on previous programs, I doubt such a program would truly help very many people. This is something that we, as Christians, should be doing on our own already, without a government bureaucracy telling us how and what to do.
My next comment in the discussion pointed to a discussion about social justice and what that phrase means. Opinions on the meaning of the phrase ran the gamut from helping the poor, which I would consider to be generally a good thing, to subsidizing the poor, which I would not consider beneficial.
In any case, Friend responded to both these comments, proving once and for all that this discussion was destined to come to an impasse with his statement that "Jesus' ministry was fundamentally political"--that is, that his ministry was communal in nature. Friend finished with this jab:
That's one reason why a libertarian approach to understanding Jesus will fail: it is fundamentally individual and looks for Jesus to say things about individuals' actions.
I will remind the reader at this point that I am not a libertarian; I remain a conservative with some, and only some, libertarian tendencies. Friend, however, felt a need to pigeonhole me as a libertarian in order to rail against what Friend called "the tyranny of the rich".
I made one final comment in that particular discussion, the majority of which went as follows:
I cannot agree that Jesus's ministry was fundamentally communal. When I think of what he said, I think of the sermon on the mount, or of his parables, and I see a lot of places where he talks of a person's heart.
Now, when a group of Christ-followers comes together, there can definitely be a community effort to effect some good in this world. WE SHOULD BE DOING THAT ALREADY.
I just don't think it should be run by some government bureaucracy.
I continue to hold to this statement. Now, obviously, modern American Christians have, in many ways and on many occasions, not met their obligations to love one another. (That's not to say that churches and Christians don't do a lot of good works.) We have missed opportunities to help each other, probably almost every day of our lives. But putting a government entity in charge of it, complete with a lot of people who would have opportunity to manipulate the system to their own gains, seems to me to be a really bad idea. (And on top of that, of course, a lot of the monies that could be used to help people would have to go to the overhead of such an entity, thus making the entire thing incredibly inefficient.)
While this discussion was mostly benign, it was becoming painfully obvious to me that Friend and I were going to be at loggerheads for the foreseeable future.
Part Three will explain how our conversations met a very sudden end.