Glenn Beck’s recent diatribe on how the words “social justice” are codewords for Nazism and Communism got me thinking, in general, about the idea of codewords. When a military commander sends a message to headquarters in code, he assumes that 1) there is actually a place called headquarters; and 2) that this place called headquarters has the algorithm that will allow them to decrypt and correctly understand the code. Code is not code unless there is someone “in on it,” someone who can receive and decipher the message.
When guys like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh refer to codewords, neither of these things is the case. Therefore, when a church talks about social justice, it cannot – by the laws of logic – be speaking in code. Applied to the church, this code thing is not only preposterous, but almost insanely paranoid. Ask any church leader how hard it can be to get even a small congregation to agree on some random trivial matter. Ask any church leader how hard it is to get a room full of other church leaders to agree on something. Guys like Beck and Limbaugh either know this term “codeword” is hyperbole and are being disingenuous, or else they actually believe there is some kind of conspiracy going on, which is hilarious.
Let’s look at how hilarious it is. If “social justice” is code for “Nazism” or “Communism,” then the senders of these messages must know what the messages mean. If I’m speaking in “code,” then you may not understand what I’m saying, but the assumption is 1) that I understand it; and 2) that someone else understands it. But as a pastor who has talked about social justice, I have never understood it to mean anything like either Communism or Nazism. I know that none of my other pastor friends understand it to mean this. I know that’s not what our bishops mean, since our church has stood for social justice since long before there were any such thing as either communism or Nazism. Hmmm….so maybe the conspiracy is higher up?! After all, that’s what we do with conspiracy theories — we say, “Of course you and your pastor friends won’t admit this is a conspiracy. And even if you truly DON’T know it’s a conspiracy, that only means it’s an extra-special-super-scary conspiracy reaching to the highest levels of the church.” (Are Glenn Beck and Dan Brown related?)
Since the Christian church has preached social justice long before the dawn of 1) Nazism; 2) Communism; 3) the United States of America; 4) the printing press; 5) Camelot; 6) everything else in the past 1900-2000 years, I think it’s safe to say that the church’s understanding of the message of Jesus as being essentially rooted in social justice is safe from all connections with communism, Nazism, and anything else, other than what it appears to be — actual concern for the poor. I know it’s boring and unflashy when something is what it appears to be, but that is the case here. It doesn’t attract media attention, but it is true nonetheless.
What is really amazing is that when guys like Beck and Limbaugh refer to code words, who are the people who are able to decipher the code and let the cat out of the bag? Obviously it’s not me as a local church pastor, and it’s not any of my friends, and I’m pretty sure it’s not our denominational leaders – in other words, it’s not we in the church who are actually USING these terms who understand what they mean. After all, since it is Glenn Beck who created the code, then only Glenn Beck can interpret it. The words “social justice” are code simply because Beck has determined that they mean something other than what the church has meant by them for 2000 years. I’m very nervous now. I’m preaching currently about the love of God, but what if that is actually code for, “Give all your money and all your children to the government.” How will I ever know? If the words I say don’t mean what I intend them to mean when I say them, I’m in big trouble. I don’t even know how to communicate with my kids anymore. What if “I love you” is code for, “I wish you had never been born”?
I propose some new codewords. From now on, when people like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh use the term “code words,” let’s consider that code for, “I live in a world shot through with irrationality and paranoid visions and therefore my opinions are unworthy of serious consideration.”