Thus says the Lord:
Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.
--Isiah 56:1 NRSV
One party’s political convention just ended and another is set to begin in a few days. As I listen to the media coverage of this political season and the varied opinions of pundits, I find myself hungry for something deeper than political conventions can offer. I believe these conventions matter, in spite of their manufactured nature, because they hold up a mirror to where we are as a society and the offer competing visions of where we can go from here. I also believe this coming election matters greatly—more than any election in my lifetime—in terms of what kind of nation we will be now and in the future. Yet, I am reminded every election season of the limitations of politics when it comes to offering us a vision of what humanity should look like and why our individual contribution to the complex web of humanity matters
Walter Brueggemann is a scholar of the Hebrew Bible (what Christians dare to call the Old Testament). His work on the Hebrew prophets has set the standard for understanding the biblical vision of how faith and politics mix. He writes in his classic work The Prophetic Imagination that prophets exist to offer an alternative reality to what he calls "royal consciousness. Royal consciousness, the worldview of the powerful elite, was marked by three characteristics:
“Royal Consciousness” sounds an awful lot like the culture we live in. No, we do not have a king, but I believe it is fair to say that in our culture those in power are out of touch with their own pain and the pain of the world, especially the cries of the oppressed. I think it is also fair to say that those in power think of God in terms that are too “immanent.” God is not holy and cause for humility and self-reproach. Instead God is a means to political power and merely a rhetorical tool under their control.
Our image of the biblical prophets may be one where we see them as only pronouncing doom and gloom. Yet, they also offered amazing visions of hope and beauty. Brueggeman called these wondrous visions "the language of amazement." He writes: "It is a language that engages the community in new discernments and celebrations just when it had nearly given up and had nothing to celebrate." The prophets’ job was to not only critique the dominant worldview in order to point out its inadequacy but also to point towards an alternative worldview more awesome than human institutions can offer on their own.
Right now I’m looking for more than political campaigns, as important as they may be. I am looking for present day prophets who not only reveal the shortcomings of our society but s how us that a better one is possible.
In my opinion, we can find an example of a present-day prophet offering up an alternative vision of our society in Rev. William Barber II, a Disciples of Christ minister and leader of The Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. This movement intentionally echoes the “Poor People’s Campaign” of Martin Luther King, Jr. which sought to address issues of poverty for people of all races and skin colors. Barber declares, “There is not some separation between Jesus and justice; to be Christian is to be concerned with what’s going on in the world.” Although often pigeonholed by critics as “liberal," Barber says, “Republicans have racialized poverty, and Democrats have run from poverty, And we’re forcing them to deal with the reality. We are very political, but we’re not partisan.” He offers a form of advocacy rooted in the tradition of the biblical prophets. You can find more about Barber’s work at www.poorpeoplescampaign.org.
I’d love to hear examples of who you see as a present-day prophet.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples