Fox News commentator Glenn Beck elicits strong reactions from people, but never more so than this week on The Washington Post’s On Faith blog where the question itself was based on comments he made on his television show.  The question was this:

Wallis vs. Beck: The politics of social justice

Fox News commentator Glenn Beck claims that faith-based calls for “social justice” are really ideological calls for “forced redistribution of wealth . . . under the guise of charity and/or justice,” and that Christians should leave their churches if they preach or practice “social justice.”

Rev. Jim Wallis disagrees, saying social justice is a faith-based commitment “to serve the poor and to attack the conditions that lead to poverty,” central tents of the teachings of Jesus and at the heart of biblical faith.

Who’s right? How does the pursuit of justice fit into your faith? Is ‘social justice’ an ideology or a theology?

The On Faith panel of respondents ranged from calling Beck “insane” or “our national fool” to frank agreement with him.  Of great interest was the response of Michael Otterson who heads the worldwide public affairs office for the LDS Church.  He wrote:

I have met both of these men just once.

I found Glenn Beck – despite the image generated by the entertainer, the hype and the passion – to be a sensitive and decent man who has struggled mightily to overcome problems in his own life. He is not an uncompassionate man. He is not an enemy to the poor.
Jim Wallis is a man with boundless empathy for the poor and disadvantaged. He is a Christian to the core, and he lives it. I admire any man who selflessly devotes his life to lifting those less fortunate than himself.

The issue here isn’t purely theological, however. The essay by Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, gets it right. Care of the poor and needy is such a fundamental obligation for anyone claiming to embrace Christianity that it shouldn’t need further discussion. (For that matter, most other religions embody the principle of helping the poor as a moral obligation).

As many have pointed out, Glenn Beck is a convert to Mormonism (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). That, however, is irrelevant in this debate. Beck doesn’t speak for the Church and he would be the last person in the world to suggest that he does. It’s worth noting that nowhere does he attribute his opinions on social justice to his Mormon beliefs. Aside from that, the Church he belongs to has its own massive programs to aid the poor and deliver humanitarian aid and has elevated the charge to care for the poor and needy as one of its central missions

Here is the issue in a nutshell: Should care of the poor and needy fall to our individual, charitable and church responsibilities, with government playing a minimal role? Or should government take the major role, with individual charitable efforts in support?

What makes this interchange on the On Faith blog especially intriguing and disquieting to Latter-day Saints, however, are the comments about the Church following the panelists’ responses to the question about Beck.  As we see everywhere on the Internet where people can comment at will, it is an open field on Mormonism where civility, accuracy and truth are often discarded. Comments can become outrageous.

John Schroeder, a Presbyterian, who often follows the defamation of Mormons because he is interested in religion, politics and the presidency, noted on his Article 6 blog www.article6blog.com  that the editors of the On Faith Blog, “apparently screen comment for profanity, but beyond that everything seems to be fair game unless a reader ‘complains.’  He noted, for instance, this ridiculous comment following Susan Jacoby’s response to the On Faith question.

Well, I learned one thing from this week’s exchange of opinion: Glenn Beck is a Mormon.

So, a lot of disjointed pieces have fallen into place. Clearly, Beck has been bankrolled by the LDS church and positioned to do maximum damage to legitimate presidential candidates in 2012 so that Mitt Romney can roll into Washington as our next president.

Ok, I’ll concede that that sounds awfully like conspiracy theory – a mode of thinking that I don’t generally indulge in.

Etc. etc.  Schroeder wondered why a comment that made SO little sense would make it up at a site like this. “It is clearly ranting without concern for reason.  Such would never make a letter to the editor column so why make it into comments?”

What Schroeder did in response to this comment was, in fact, to complain. He flagged the comment as offensive and it was removed.  The comments on many sites can be reported as offensive, if they are, and then are often removed.

He recommends to readers of his blog that if they find offensive, unreasonable comments about Mormons or anything to flag them as offensive (without being offensive yourself.)

Schroeder wrote a letter to the editors of another publication, Politico, concerning blasphemous and ugly comments about Mormonism a few days ago.  Here it is:

We are asking our readers to routinely monitor Politico and especially your blog for such comments and to use the report abuse system as necessary.

My reason for writing to you is to ask why it is necessary for our readers to do so?  Would you allow comments that referenced the “n-word?”  Politico seems to be a site that prides itself on sane political reporting and generally does so, so why would it tolerate such hateful and vile content in the comments that appear?

As a blog writer myself, I understand the burden that comment moderation places on a writer – it is time consuming and often irritating, not to mention the potential legal complications that can result. Regardless there are limits to what can be tolerated even by the most liberal of comment policies (BTW, I could not find such a policy posted anywhere on the Politico site?)

I write to you to implore you to not allow such ugly, vile and heinous comments to appear on your blog – AT ALL.  Our readers acting as comment police is insufficient as these clearly bigoted insults will appear on your site for some period of time before we can get to them, and you can respond to the reports of abuse.  Do you really want the Politico brand to be tarnished by such filth?  Even for a short period of time?

I find Politco and you to be better than that generally, but as I have watched this pattern for several months now, my opinion is lowering considerably. These comments are beneath the preeminent political reporting organ in our nation.  If they came in the form of a letter I am quite certain they would find the round file.  Why should it be any different electronically?

John Schroeder

Schroeder’s advice could well be taken by all of us who frequent the Internet.  If we see offensive comments about Mormons or the Church online, we should articulately and calmly ask that they be removed. No group or individual should be defamed.