The pastoral prophetic edge
The pastor’s prophetic witness isn’t always obvious or dramatic, but it is real.
By Mahan Siler
Prophetic is such a vigorous word. It brings to mind the courageous actions of an Amos, Shiphrah and Puah, Ghandi, Day or King. Prophets stand up, stick out with their actions for justice in the face of oppression.
I have been thinking about the prophetic edge of pastors.
In North Carolina there is currently a groundswell of protest to current legislation called Moral Monday. When legislators were in session, rallies led by the state NAACP gathered each Monday in Raleigh to protest legislation that many regard as unjust and immoral. Thousands gathered each week. Over 900 were arrested in non-violent witness. I joined in both.
Recently I participated, along with my granddaughter, Leigh, and son, Mark, in a Walk for Our Grandchildren culminating in a rally at Layette Park in front of the White House. We were protesting the destructive effects of fossil fuels on global climate in general and the Keystone XL pipeline in particular.
Were my actions prophetic? Hardly. They cost me little. I hold no position to protect. I have the time. I have the health. I have little to lose.
What about the prophetic edge of pastors? Their prophetic witness is not so obvious or dramatic. Here is a way to see it.
Johanna Macy and Chris Johnstone in their provocative book, Active Hope, list three dimensions of the prophetic. One is direct action, the kind I just named. This collective witness can expose publicly the damage caused by political, educational, religious and economic policies. Events, like rallies, boycotts, campaigns, petitions and other forms of protest, can awaken the larger population to awareness — and possibly to action.
A second form of prophetic witness is changing the system. This involves rethinking the way we do things and, likely in the process, redesigning structures and policies. The current attempt to recreate our health care system would be an example. So would the increasing options for socially responsible financial investing. It’s the hope that these protests of Moral Monday will affect future elections and, as a result, future legislation.
There is a third dimension of prophetic action: the change in consciousness. It is probably the most important, least measureable and less noticed of the three. Neither protesting nor changing systems will stick unless there is a change in our mind/heart set. New structures or policies will not survive without deeply embedded values to sustain them. These external changes require a consciousness that both summon and undergird the actions for “mercy and justice.”
This takes us to the home turf of pastors. We are in the business of advocating a new way of seeing. We are all about worldviews, the way we see the world, inviting others to “put on the mind (consciousness) of Christ.” Reality, we declare, is thoroughly relational with no separation from a Love that never ends, not now or later, nor in life or death. Within this network of interdependence, communion, and mutuality, the Spirit is ever present working for just relationships. It’s gospel, good news.
I submit this to be a prophetic edge, even a prophetic wedge, toward personal and social change. What is “good news” to us is “bad news” to those seeing reality as consisting of separate parts with the point of life being individual success, gain, freedom, power or salvation.
We proclaim partnership, not domination; power-with, not power-over; community, not individualism; collaboration, not binary either/or thinking; non-violence, not violence as problem-solving; and grace as gift, not achievement.
I close with what you know all too well. When you talk this way and walk this talk, watch out!
Resistance happens next. It’s the prophetic edge that cuts both ways. Count on it. Nothing is more threatening than messin’ with the way people see the world and themselves in it. Those captivated by the Dream always call forth killers of the Dream. The more we live this Way and invite others to this path, the greater the push back, criticism and, yes, persecution.
It was promised by Jesus — along with the barrels of joy.
OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.