As I sit here contemplating the magnitude of pain associated with the sinister act of terrorism the world experienced yesterday I am more convinced than ever that religious dialogue must reclaim its prophetic voice. Manchester may have been the site of a bombing, but what ails this society cannot be limited to a specific act or location. There is a cancerous evil eating away at the fabric of our global community. This violent lovelessness experienced as terrorism, extreme capitalism, imperialism, and a host of other social ills is fueled in part by extreme religious fundamentalism in multiple faith traditions. Extreme fundamentalism can be identified in any religion by a fixation on specific concepts, rituals, and forms of conduct and thereby is not the sole burden of any one particular faith tradition (Soelle 2001). I am left in my musing with a call for prophetic voices who will both decry the current state of abysmal folly and paint for us a picture of a preferable future.
My own faith tradition is full of prophets of one sort or another, but has failed miserably in its ability to remain true to the prophetic paradigm of its founder. A prophet is person who threatens culture’s power structure by holding up a mirror to its folly and showing where such folly leads (Pearce 2002). However, a true prophet does not stop there, it is their task to then forecast and proclaim an image of the future where the present impediments to human flourishing cease to be. This in the end is what Christian faith as a prophetic religion is all about—being of God, for the sake of human flourishing (Volf 2011). Whether Christian or not, “God,” in religious consciousness, names that power which is the foundation not only of existence, but of liberation, enlightenment, and healing (Farley 1990). The prophetic voice always points people Godward.
In our churches, temples, mosques, synagogues, and other houses of worship have we truly made room for the prophetic voice? Prophets take risks and speak out in righteous indignation against society’s treatment of the poor, even risking their lives, because courage is the primary test of prophesy. In some sectors of faith communities people who mysteriously and magically call out phone numbers or tell of new cars are calling themselves prophets, but this totally misses the mark of the true prophetic voice. Prophets understand that suffering is the inevitable fate of those who stand up to the forces of hatred (Cone 2011). Suffering or not, we must stand up and we must make communities where standing up to injustice is not just the norm, but the required. A prophet and a prophetic people will speak back to the interlocking systems of our world’s politic by lifting the voices of those most marginalized by the insidious nature of imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchal norms. Each community will have to ask itself, what ways are we inviting and welcoming prophetic inspiration in our fellowship, music, teaching, preaching, and even Eucharistic moments?
Because religion in many spheres has been hijacked by hate, we who are justice-loving religious practitioners must provide prophetic insight not limited to what injustice looks like, we must engage a narrative of justice loving. Salvation can no longer be solely the work of inward calmness or an invisible cure in the afterworld, it must engage a more just and humane here and now. We must become godlike by entering the depths of pain and oppression and working to liberate humanity from all human evils (Hopkins 1999). Prophetic work must focus on salvation, which is both to be saved from oppressive systems of domination and to be saved to self-love and the ethic of neighbor love. Our world is looking for prophets who will speak of an eschatological moment where the Kindom of God comes for all the wretched of the earth. The world longs for prophetic voices that recognize the DNA of our thinking, those powerful and pervasive prejudgments based on race, gender, sexuality, and religious constructs that comprise an active epistemic framework affecting what we see and how we engage the world are all bending toward new realities (Kornegay 2013). May our houses of worship become the epicenter of prophetic declarations of goodwill and peace on earth.
Peace Is Possible,
Bishop Edward Donalson, III | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Cone, James. 2011. The Cross and The Lynching Tree. Maryknoll: Orbis.
Farley, Wendy. 1990. Tragic Vision and Divine Compassion: A Contemporary Theodicy. Louisville: John Knox Publishing.
Hopkins, Dwight N. 1999. Introducing Black theology of Liberaton . Maryknoll: Orbis Books.
Jr., El Kornegay. 2013. A Queering of Black Theology: James Baldwin’s Blues Project and Gospel Prose. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Pearce, Joseph Clinton. 2002. The Biology of Transcendence: A Blueprint of the Human Spirit. Rochester: Park Street press.
Soelle, Dorothee. 2001. The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Volf, Miroslav. 2011. A Pulic Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good . Grand Rapids: Brazos Press.