On the Other Hand: Huckabee, Portman, and Prophecy Today

Each week in On the Other Hand, Ben Bartlett defies the common wisdom and identifies the other side of the story of cultural hot-topic issues.

Of late, Mike Huckabee has been in the news for his comments on single motherhood in general and Natalie Portman in particular.  On the whole, I think the media treatment of the incident has been biased at best, harsh and unfair at worst, and foolish in general.  At least the above link contains the actual quote rather than an oversimplified paraphrase.

Huckabee is in a tough position, because he is evaluated not just as a thought leader, but as a potential political leader.  Open minded people (fairly) want to know what he’s about and whether he can be a leader for all the people, liberals (unfairly) want to hurt his credibility with that group, and conservatives (unfairly) want him to pull even farther to the right and yet win office anyways.  You can see why politics is a minefield.

But the whole event caused me to ask another question:  When is it the right time for Christians to take on a prophetic role?  We usually use prophecy as a word describing the act of seeing and telling the future, but most biblical prophecy is actually indictment of sin.  In effect, the prophet is a truth-teller who knows the heart of God intimately and professes his anger and disappointment at sin to those commiting it.

Here at CaPC, we put a lot of emphasis on engaging culture, enjoying culture, understanding culture, and representing ourselves well to culture.  For the most part, we don’t take on the role of speaking in a challenging way about sin to those who don’t acknowledge the same God we do.  That’s fine, that’s our role.

But who should?  When should they?  How should they?  I am bothered by the notion that evangelicals have not found a good, clear way to simultaneously profess love of individuals but ALSO hatred of sin.  It seems to me that Mike Huckabee could have easily avoided the issue for the sake of his political career, but that he actually walked a careful line in his statements in a way designed to promote civic health for all people.  If his role WERE a prophetic one, this would be an extremely soft version of it.

What do you think?  Is there a prophetic role of speaking about sin to the culture today?  How should that role be carried out?  Who should do it? What can be done to prevent coming across as “holier-than-thou?” What are some of your good or bad experiences with this area?

About Ben Bartlett

Ben Bartlett lives in Louisville, Ky., with his wife and two terrific kids. His degree is in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy from Michigan State University, and he has a bunch of education from a bunch of other places with nothing official to show for it. He has taught high school speech and debate, worked for a congressman in Washington DC, and worked in the health and energy industries. He is interested in how pop culture, history, politics, and theology interact with the inner and community lives of individuals... which is weird because he now works as a business analyst. Few things make him happier than reading, discussing, and recommending books.

  • Peter Bartlett

    I think it the way you address sin in society is important. Sin is sad because it is disobedience towards God. Telling non Christians that they are disobeying God, though, will inevitably cause alienation and anger.
    I too get frustrated when someone tries to convince me of wrongdoing based on a moral system that I don’t agree with.

    Sin, however, almost always has visible and destructive consequences. Pointing those out are a great way to begin when talking to non Christians about sin, which is exactly what Huckabee did. Being a single mother is usually not wonderful or easy or something to strive for.

    I personally found his comments to be insightful, but today’s media is all too happy to point out when someone even hints at fitting their stereotype. It is sad to see that insightful comments were taken out of context and sensationalized, but I think it was well done all the same.

  • Ben

    Those are thought points, Pete. I 99% agree… the only area where I struggle a bit is when I look at Biblical or historical examples of speaking prophetically about sin… Jonah, Nathan, Jeremiah, Paul, Augustine, Luther, and of course Christ himself. These prophetic calls to repentance went out to hypocritical Jews, ignorant Gentiles, entire cultures with no knowledge of the one true God… I just wonder when it IS the right time to speak in that way. It takes a special type of person, for sure.

    That said, it should probably be a lot more rare than it is. I think the problem we see MOST of the time is that Christians enjoy the idea of speaking “prophetically” when in fact what they really enjoy is speaking “condescendingly” because it makes them feel better about themselves and the lives they have chosen. As you say, that’s not what Huckabee did here, but because it sounded so similar to the caricature the media has of Christians (built and encouraged, in large part, by Christians themselves), he got reamed for it. Definitely a tough area.


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