In view of last week’s post, and this week’s political and religious developments, some reflections again about the need for prophets.
Prophets exhort, invite dialogue, and call for and promote change. They cannot, however, angrily promote a kind of nasty polarization in which people who disagree become vicious enemies. They can be outspoken, direct, and challenging. They cannot be hard-nosed warriors who denigrate, disable, and destroy their opponents. Prophets do not have an “enemies list.” Prophets speak out and bring change. Their primary values must always be compassion, truthfulness, and respect. Yes it takes strength, courage, thoughtfulness, AND humility to be a prophet.
Prophets and prophetic movements are much-needed agents of social change. We also need to support them. Being a prophet on one’s own, especially in the era of Twitter and Facebook is very difficult. Prophetic team-work is much better…. It is not easy to combat tweeting bullies and their ignorant followers, who thrive on distorted information.
One must also be alert to the prophetic occupational hazard: that prophets lapse and become arrogant, distorted, and deviant warriors —- just as distorted as the people and movements criticized by the prophet. Friends can be particularly helpful here….They can see closely what’s happening. Prophets must speak out, but they need to listen as well. And they need to maintain self-respect and respect for others.
We need prophets in religion and of course in politics. We need prophets especially today when the two get mixed up and the religion becomes a populist political cult which is “Christian” in name only.
Just to confirm: I am not anti-Catholic, nor am I anti-bishop. I am very proud, in fact, of some of my former students who are now competent, compassionate, and pastoral bishops. As a Catholic, however, I am amazed and disappointed how many lay Catholics and bishops have become strong supporters of the current White House resident, because he is “anti-abortion.” Is he really “anti-abortion”? Or is he good at political campaign rhetoric? He is certainly not “pro-life” in his policies and behavior.
Strange times for sure. The pastor of a Catholic church in Queens, New York recently encouraged his anti-Trump parishioners to just take a flying leap off the nearest building. “Show your hate for Trump,” he said. “Do it for social justice. #JumpAgainstTrump.” Tom Roberts, the Executive Editor of the National Catholic Reporter, wrote last week: “The selling of the church’s moral authority is complete. When someone so morally bankrupt and demonstrably anti-life as Trump, a misogynist who brags about assaulting women and whose primary interaction with others is to demean and degrade, can command the obeisance of the nation’s Catholic leaders, the moral tank has been emptied.”
Perhaps we need ongoing education and formation centers for training prophets. We need effective change agents. If I were pastor of a parish, I would make that my priority for a 2020 Lenten activity.
Yes I mentioned several months ago that there are five qualities necessary for effective prophetic change agents. Today I summarize:
1. Prophets have a clear vision: – Having a clear vision means one can draw on the strengths of the people one works with and can help them see that there are many ways to work toward a common objective. Dialogue is important. Know-it-all little dictators are not bonafide change agents. They are absolutely no help in combating the know-it-all big dictators.
2. Prophets are patient yet persistent – Change does not happen overnight. Many people get frustrated that change does not happen fast enough. The danger is that they lose sight of the vision as something that can really be achieved. Effective change agents need to help people see that every step forward is a step closer to the goal.
3. Prophets ask tough questions – Effective change agents ask questions to help people think.They inform and combat the real fake news. The don’t just tell people what to do.
4. Prophets are knowledgeable and lead by example – Effective change agents have character and credibility. They are knowledgeable in what they are speaking about. If one wants to create change, one must not only be able to articulate what that change would look like but actually show it to others.
5. Prophets have strong relationships built on trust – All of the points above, mean just about nothing if one does not have solid relationships with the people one is serving. People will not want to grow if they do not trust the person who is pushing for change.
My concluding observation for this week: I am a firm believer in the separation of church and state. Church leaders have no business telling people for whom they should vote. Church leaders, however, do have a responsibility to encourage believers to Observe, Judge, and Act: (1) Observe how our religious and political leaders are speaking and behaving, (2) Judge whether or not their rhetoric and actions are consistent with their often-professed Christianity, and (3) if there are obvious values failures and shortcomings, to take appropriate Action. There are many contemporary applications here…..
United States Senate Chaplain Barry Black in his opening prayer for the impeachment trial session on January 31, 2020, addressed God, saying “Remind our senators that they alone are accountable to you for their conduct. Lord, help them to remember that they can’t ignore you and get away with it. For we always reap what we sow.”