I have this tendency, and maybe you do too.
It’s the tendency to speak out strongly against something that seems to be an injustice or an area of dishonesty or hypocrisy that is causing others real harm or pain. It’s the tendency to act on a conviction – not out of unrighteous anger, but out of urgent passion – and write that post or respond to that tweet or preach that message or interrupt that conversation where almost everyone seems to be agreeing about all the wrong things. It’s the tendency, really, to function prophetically – in the justice sense of the prophetic – and remind people that God hates harmful hypocritical religion and wants justice to roll on like a river, and righteousness like a never-failing stream.
I have this tendency to function prophetically…and, I have a tendency to then recoil.
To pull back out of fear.
Out of self-doubt and second-guessing my motive or mood.
I have a tendency to shrink back and flinch in the face of disagreement.
In the face of straight-up public chastising, ridicule, and trolling.
I have this tendency, and maybe you do too.
And I’ve got to be honest, this tendency has been kicking in quite a bit lately, especially as a particular Christian movement in which I spent a chunk of my adult life is fraught with a scandal of child sex abuse that stokes a fire of prophetic angst in me (angst like Amos had). There are things I know – that I know that I know – about this general movement because I experienced those things, and thus the root causes for the abusive fruit that is now hanging low on the tree of powerful neo-reformed evangelicalism seem abundantly clear to my prophetic eye. I can feel the desperate need for John the Baptist’s axe – he brought the powerful trees low by putting the sharp edge of his words to their roots.
But the prophetic is rarely welcome, especially among those with religious power. And, because the kingdom of God inaugurated by the Messiah ushers in a subversive, backwards path of peace and grace as the primary way to transformation in the world, the halls of religion often resound with the songs of peace, peace, all paying lipservice to that kingdom. Stop being critical! Hold back your judgment! Perhaps you need to work on your anger! That language is not holy! Peace! Peace!
But crying peace, peace when there is no peace is not the kingdom, either. The kingdom is peace but the kingdom is justice too. The kingdom is grace but the kingdom is truth too. In fact, this is precisely the point of the subversive, backwards kingdom – that through a just kind of peace and a truthful kind of grace the world is being bent back to shalom, back to wholeness, back to rightness. Whenever peace and grace and love and reconciliation ignore truth and righteousness they become twisted dopplegangers of themselves, leading hearts astray and sentencing them to wandering outside the peaceable kingdom realm.
Because in the peaceable kingdom, there is no flabby tolerance of child sex abuse in the name of pathetic political power.
In the peaceable kingdom, that very same variety of twisted worldly power is brought to its knees.
And it is often the prophetic voice that brings them there.
Therefore, I believe that fighting any injustice with more arrogance, violence, greed, selfish ambition, power grabs, and unrighteous anger merely perpetuates the cycle of sin and gets us even further away from the kingdom way. But that does not mean the kingdom way is to sit back, wait it out, and just look for the least common denominator belief that will allow us to all get along because it’s a small Christian world after all. Hell no – the kingdom way is more powerful than that, subversive though it may be. The kingdom way doesn’t mind kicking hornets’ nests and making a mess of things to wage right-making peace in the face of injustice. The kingdom way doesn’t balk at pointing out the vipers and shouting down the whitewashed tombs and exposing wolves in sheep’s clothing. The kingdom way wrecks temples. The kingdom way is anything but passive.
The kingdom way is bold.
In the empire’s prison, writing to the church in Philippi, the apostle Paul said:
I’m waiting eagerly and full of hope, because nothing is going to put me to shame. I am going to be bold and outspoken, now as always, and the king is going to gain a great reputation in my body, whether in life or in death.
See, that’s the posture of a prophet.
So, next time the temptation to recoil arises, I’ll remember that nothing is going to put me to shame. I’ll be bold and outspoken, now as always. And I’ll endeavor to do this, not out of pride or vanity, seeking selfish rewards, but so that the King of Righteousness and the Prince of Peace gains a good reputation through my short, beautiful life, before these few years I’ve been given are over and done. (And to die is to make a profit anyway, so might as well speak out now!)
Next time, I’ll be bold.
And maybe you will be too.
What do you think? Do we need a bold, prophetic voice that doesn’t recoil?