Tuesday, December 14, 2010
The Problem of Being Prophetic
Some of those in the ELCA, and other church bodies where gays and lesbians have achieved a recognition and a status unthinkable a generation or two ago, have spoken of this movement as a prophetic movement -- similar to the Civil Rights Movement, for example. And there are many who describe the move toward acceptance of gays and lesbians as the natural extension of that Civil Rights Movement or the newest chapter in a larger movement toward rights, recognition, and respect for others who are different (of which the Civil Rights Movement is another chapter, women's liberation still another, etc.).
I have no problem with saying that some of these voices are being prophetic. It is clear that Americans (and others throughout Europe and other parts of the world) are moving toward a definition of marriage in which gender plays little, if any, role and toward an egalitarian vision of society in which all people are not only equal but interchangeable -- without any real significance to gender or sexual orientation. Those who thought that the most successful TV shows would feature gays and lesbian main characters or those who thought that places in the heartland like Iowa would legalize gay or lesbian marriage were indeed visionary or prophetic. The Church was almost caught by surprise by the quickness with which this movement has entered the mainstream of politics, society, and even military service.
But... the problem is with the idea that this prophetic voice is from God. God does not change -- I learned in catechism as a youth that one of the attributes of God is His immutability -- His inability to change. Now this attribute is important to us first and foremost with reference to justification and salvation. Since it is God who declares us righteous and who justifies us by declaration, without any merit or worthiness on our part, how can we have confidence in this declaration unless we believe that God cannot change His mind at the last minute? It is by His nature that God is not reactive and changeable but proactive and immutable. This is key to our salvation but it also has consequences for the prophetic role of the Church in the world.
Christians do not understand the prophetic voice of God and His people to be the voice of change, a disconnect with the Scriptures and the sacred deposit of the faith once handed over to the saints. God does not change. The prophetic voice and role is to speak the unchanging will, word, and work of God in our changing world. The prophetic voice is the anchor that holds secure a world headed toward destruction on a sea of change. The prophetic voice of God speaks what God has always said -- we do not reinterpret His Word to mean something different today than it did before nor do we discard portions of His Word in favor of a "gospel principle" of liberation, tolerance, acceptance, equality, and egalitarianism. The voice of God's prophets speaks what God has always said -- not something new and different that represents a disconnect from His Word and truth.
We need to be careful about claiming the prophetic role in culture and society. So often what happens is that the prophetic role is co-opted by those who adopt the current whim and trend of political, societal, or cultural change and then go backwards to advocate for these in the name of Jesus -- in effect putting words into His mouth that He did not speak, would not speak, and cannot speak.
As an example, I believe in the stewardship of God's creation as part of our vocational responsibility in baptism. We recycle in our household, we use CFL bulbs in most fixtures, and we try to act responsibly with respect to chemicals, pesticides, and the like. It is a good thing but the green revolution is not the voice of the Gospel and those who speak prophetically for the environment cannot make this into the Gospel. The Gospel is about sins forgiven, lives reborn, death overcome, and heaven promised. The Gospel is not advocacy for windmills or electric cars or solar energy. I am not saying these are bad things but it is worse than bad when these become the prophetic voice of the Church to the world. God has put us here to speak prophetically of one thing -- the Kingdom of God of which John was messenger and Jesus is fulfillment and of our place in that Kingdom by grace through faith.
So when somebody takes a stand for something and tells me they are speaking prophetically... I get a little nervous. The prophets of God speak forth His Kingdom. Anything else and we are simply putting words into the mouth of God that He did not, would not, and cannot speak. The world needs prophets for justice and other causes, this is true. But the only prophet of God's mercy in Christ is the Church and her individual members. We dare not forget that.