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03.24.10

The Glenn Beck Haiku Project

Outrage is building over the Fox News host's claim that churches advocating "social justice" are using code words for Nazism and communism. Now a Jewish group is fighting back—through haiku.

Glenn Beck’s call this month for listeners to abandon churches that preach “social justice”—words he linked to Nazism and communism—has set off perhaps the largest backlash the host has received since his comments on President Obama’s “deep-seated hatred for white people.”

“I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words,” Beck said during a March 2 radio show. He added: “If you have a priest that is pushing social justice, go find another parish. Go alert your bishop.”

Christopher Buckley emailed his contribution to the Glenn Beck haiku genre on Wednesday: “Hurling expensive / coffee at the expensive / TV screen now, Ahhh.”

Yes, the Fox News host says crazy things all the time that get attention. But to many people of faith, the “social justice” remark stood above the rest, a direct assault on their most cherished values. Now a faith-based philanthropy group whose very name might provoke Beck’s ire, Jewish Funds for Justice, is leading a campaign to publicize the remarks—using the power of haiku.

On Wednesday, JFSJ launched HaikuGlennBeck.com, a site where readers can submit haiku responses to Beck’s “social justice” quote. Chief Strategy Officer Mik Moore said his site will feature a parallel campaign on Twitter using the hashtag #becku, and celebrities are expected to contribute as well. Comedian Nick Kroll has already offered a poem to accompany the launch.

“For someone to say social justice is just a code word for Nazis or communists, we really take it personally,” Moore said. “When we sat down to talk about what we could do in addition to writing an op-ed or putting up a blog post to express ourselves, we wanted to do something that showed some wit, some humor, is little bit cathartic, and is highly participatory, and we thought a haiku was a great way to do that.”

Moore has plenty of experience in faith-based activism online—he founded The Great Schlep in 2008, a grassroots effort to encourage young Jewish Obama supporters to travel to Florida and convince their grandparents to vote Democratic. The movement became a viral sensation after comedian Sarah Silverman recorded a video on its behalf that went viral.

Moore said he hoped the timing of the site’s launch, less than a week before Passover, might give visitors some added food for thought. The holiday and its story of achieving freedom from slavery and persecution has long been an inspiration for religious activists across a number of faiths, with “Go Down Moses” among the most recognizable songs of the civil-rights movement.

“These are tremendous moral lessons that I try to live my life by and many in my community try to live their life by, so I think the timing with the Passover holiday is a really powerful example of the role of social justice in religious communities,” Moore said.

The Glenn Beck haiku project has already found some fans among The Daily Beast’s columnists; Christopher Buckley emailed his contribution to the genre on Wednesday:

Hurling expensive
coffee at the expensive
TV screen now, Ahhh.

Beck’s comments have drawn criticism from other religious scholars and clergy as well: The Rev. Jim Wallis, an antipoverty activist, denounced the remarks on his blog, while Philip Barlow, a scholar of Mormon history, told The New York Times that Beck’s Mormon faith is associated with the concept of social justice.

Benjamin Sarlin is Washington correspondent for The Daily Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.