Two entertaining controversialists, Glenn Beck and Jim Wallis, blasted each other in mid-March over the meaning of "social justice."
Their antagonism has a backstory. Wallis, a religious adviser to Barack Obama, took on Beck last September after the FOX News and radio commentator criticized Democratic healthcare proposals. Wallis asked his followers to "tell Glenn Beck that healthcare reform is pro-life," but The New York Times and CNN did not publicize Wallis' call, and Beck did not give Wallis more attention by firing back.
This past month Beck advised listeners to "look for the word 'social justice' or 'economic justice' on your church website. If you can find it, run as fast as you can." Beck said those two terms are "code words" for giving government more power. Wallis again struck back: "Beck says Christians should leave their social justice churches, so I say Christians should leave Glenn Beck. Christians should no longer watch his show."
This time the Times and CNN megaphoned Wallis' attack. This time Beck responded with criticism of Wallis that gave Wallis an opportunity to shoot back on the show of Keith Olbermann (the anti-Beck). Beck said 19th-century Roman Catholics and 20th-century Communists and Nazis had talked about "social justice." Meanwhile, Wallis said Beck's show was "in the same category" as that of sex yakker Howard Stern.
Oh, what a tangled web we weave! Let's review the history: Was "social justice" born as a Catholic term? Yes, Jesuit theologian Luigi Taparelli tried to stem a socialist surge in the 1840s by arguing that religious and civic groups could justly improve living conditions without relying on governmental force.
Did Communists and Nazis flip "social justice" into a promotion of government power? Yes. Communist Party USA leaders instructed me in 1972 and 1973 to use those words. I haven't personally researched Nazi usage, but a leading Nazi sympathizer during the 1930s, radio priest Charles Coughlin, established a National Union for Social Justice and published a million-subscriber magazine, Social Justice. His radio audience of 16 million heard him attacking an "international conspiracy of Jewish bankers."