Over coffee recently, a group of evangelicals were speculating that perhaps the gospel of Jesus was losing traction with some American Christians and was being supplanted by dictums from Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. One fellow suggested that many people of faith might consider replacing their WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) bracelets and bumper stickers with WWRD (What Would Rush Do) or WWGD (What Would Glenn Do).
While Rush and Glenn attract huge audiences, they incorporate distinctly un-Jesus-like screeds in their broadcasts. On one program Beck said, “I’m thinking about killing (filmmaker) Michael Moore. I could kill him myself. … I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out. …”
More recently Rush urged listeners not to contribute to Haiti in the aftermath of the massive earthquake, arguing that America has already wasted millions in taxpayers’ aid to that country.
Would either of these pronouncements have passed Jesus’ lips?
Another man at our table said he’d heard someone in his church narthex joking about the song “Barack the Magic Negro,” which Rush used to play for his ditto-heads.
Disdain for the poor
Racism and racist innuendo aside, many radio talk jocks are disdainful of the poor, labeling them indolent welfare moochers — undeserving souls with whom the current administration wants to share in a massive redistribution of wealth.
Most of these same jocks and their listeners embrace a political concept that argues government-run health care, taxes, and welfare are inimical to the Christian faith.
But who first uttered the conceit regarding redistribution of wealth? In response to a rich young man who inquired how he might attain eternal life, in Matthew 19:10 Jesus said: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. … ” How unRush-like or unGlenn-like is that?
Later in Matthew, the 26th chapter and 11th verse, Jesus says, “The poor you will always have with you.” But this has been co-opted by some to mean that there will always be the sluggards and the shiftless in our midst who refuse to help themselves. Honorable persons never rely on their government or others for succor and sustenance.
Incomes up, contributions down
Hearkening to the hedonistic messages from Limbaugh and Beck, many evangelical Christians decry government spending on anything other than defense, and instead of striving to assist the weak and struggling, have adopted a position that, from 1968 through 2001, saw their incomes increase while concomitant charitable contributions diminished.
According to Ronald J. Sider’s book, “The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience,” “As we got richer and richer, evangelicals chose to spend more and more on themselves and give a smaller and smaller percentage to the church” (and other charities).
Sider also notes that white conservative Protestants are more than twice as likely as other whites to blame lack of equality (e. g. income) between blacks and whites on a lack of motivation rather than discrimination. And evangelicals are the most likely of active practitioners of religion to object to black neighbors.
Are Limbaugh and Beck to blame for these views among many evangelicals? Not entirely, but their rants support long-held preconceptions, and because they are aired on Clear Channel or Fox News, adherents are emboldened to articulate them in conversation.
But what about biblical imperatives to bear one another’s burdens, or to regard others more highly than ourselves?
The primacy of individual rights
One of Limbaugh’s constant references is the primacy of individual rights. He eschews any suggestion that listeners make a sacrifice for the well-being of others. Robert Parham, executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics, has written, “Limbaugh’s agenda had no room for the parable of the Good Samaritan, perhaps no longer a valued Christian narrative. … One wonders if talk radio’s man of excessive individualism and political extremism has replaced the biblical witness as a moral compass.”
Beck, who has called President Obama a racist, is also on record opposing increased federal funding for food stamps, and for COBRA extensions so that the underemployed and unemployed could receive health insurance. He may not hold Rush’s eminence among evangelicals, because he is a Mormon — a fact that seems more distressing to evangelicals than Rush’s multiple marriages and illegal drug use.
While it’s unlikely we’ll be seeing WWRD or WWGD paraphernalia any time soon, it is sad that edicts emanating from these talk jocks will continue resonating among many who claim they live by the precepts of Jesus.
Michael Fedo is the author of “The Lynchings in Duluth,” “The Man From Lake Wobegon” and other books.