'Social justice' definition gains national attention

Sojourners, the largest network of progressive Christians in the United States, has spent most of March at odds with Glenn Beck, a Fox News network television host who urged Christians to leave churches that mention or support social justice. Sojourners, whose mission is to articulate the biblical call to social justice, responded by inviting Christians to instead leave Glenn Beck.

Sheldon Good, a Goshen College 2009 alumnus, has been on the front lines of the debate as the communication and media assistant this year for Sojourners in Washington, D.C.

Rev. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, responded to Beck’s statement against social justice with a blog entry calling all social justice Christians to leave Beck and send letters of response to Fox.

“It was basically a boycott of his show,” Good said. He added that about 50,000 people have turned themselves in to Beck as social justice Christians.

When Beck announced his position on social justice—even stating that it was another word for communism, Nazism and Marxism—Wallis called a meeting together.

“There [were] about 10 of us,” Good said. ‘“We met, and Jim said, ‘We’re going to respond to this because he’s getting at the core of our mission and we have to respond somehow.’”

On March 10, the morning after the meeting, Wallis published a blog that invited people to write to Beck and “turn themselves in” as social justice Christians. Good drafted a press release, which resulted in interviews for Wallis with various media outlets across the county, including The Washington Post, The New York Times and CNN. Good spent part of the next few weeks scheduling and prepping Wallis for television, radio and newspaper interviews.

“I was also part of the team that comes up with media briefings and talking points for when (Wallis) does interviews,” Good said. Part of Good’s job involved responding to phone calls and e-mails from the press. But working with the primary message of the public debate was the most engaging, he said.

“I’m partly involved in crafting the message, too,” he said. “That’s the part that’s more fun.”

Wallis offered to meet Beck in person for a public dialogue, but Beck has not replied. Being part of a national news story wasn’t a reality for Good right when the news coverage began.

“It kind of hit home a few weeks ago when CNN broke their first story that quoted Jim,” Good said. “Being on these shows is a big deal and does reach potentially millions of people.”

He explained that seeing social justice get attention from the mainstream media is the most rewarding part of his job. Over the last month, stories that reference Sojourners and Glenn Beck have reached over 4.5 million people through print media and more than 477 million people online.

Remaining objective and fulfilling his role as a communication and media assistant has at times been tricky, Good explained.

“We all feel somehow personally attached to the things we’re working on,” Good said. “It’s been at times fun and at times incredibly difficult to be a part of. But I love it.”

The initial intensity between Wallis and Beck seems to have died down, Good said. He described last week as a cushion period, as both men took separate vacation weeks.

For Good personally, social justice means reaching out to the poor.

“(Social justice) comes out of Jesus’ mission that he declared in Luke 4. He says that his mission is to preach good news to the poor,” Good said. “For me, the poor is as broad and all encompassing as possible.”

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Written by Laura Schlabach

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