So what is happening to prophetic voices?
What is the juggler that trumps the pastoral voice? Is it lack of courage? Or ambition? Courage and ambition seldom hang out together. Or is it just the desire not to rock any boats?
When John F. Kennedy was in Berlin in 1963 for the birth of the German Peace Corps, he cited a passage from Dante’s Inferno in his speech: “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintained their neutrality.” It was actually a liberal paraphrase. What Dante actually singled out were “those disembodied wretches who were loath, when living, to be either blamed or praised.” He said that Heaven cast them out for fear of losing its beauty; and Hell didn’t want them either, lest the wicked should glory over them. (Canto 3.)
Prophecy requires the capacity to grieve about injustice, to quit pretending that things are all right, to imagine that things could be different, and to courageously say so to the people, risking the consequences. It requires confronting the principalities and powers.
For compassion to move to action requires an alliance of love, power, and justice. As Paul Tillich said: “In both interpersonal and political relationships, love, power and justice are inseparable. Without love, power becomes tyrannical and justice is only a name for the rule of the strong. Without power, love is reduced to sentimentality and justice to an impotent ideal. Without justice, love is a perverse dance of domination and submission.”
Always, the prophet must be imaginative. One does not prophesy about what is but about what ought to be. Which usually makes prophecy sound absurd to the common ear.
Let me give you an example. A pastor mentioned to me that he did not like the beginning of our CLC flyer, that it could cause controversy in his church. Here are the words, aptly authored by Joe Haag, so I’ll brag about his work:
“To follow Christ means that we allow his life to gain leverage against our lives. Against our lust for power, he endures the cross. Against our pride and arrogance, he washes the disciples’ feet. Against our upward mobility, he preaches good news to the poor. Against our self-absorption, he has compassion on the multitudes. Against our tight circles of family and friends, he reaches out to strangers. Against our safe noninvolvement, he confronts the powers. Against our violence and hatred, he demands that we love our enemies. Against our self-righteousness, he welcomes sinners. Against our bigotry, he tells us about a Good Samaritan. Against our frenzy, he invites us to trust God. Against all the lies which enslave us, he tells the truth which sets us free. How can we be transformed into the image of Christ? One answer is that as we surrender our lives to God’s purposes, God changes us.”That pastor did not like the words “our pride and arrogance” or “against our self-absorption.” He said, “I’m not going to say either one of those about America.” Which means what? That he accepts the Lordship of America? Then who will be left to speak a word for the Lordship of Christ?