Thursday, March 10, 2005

Is the Bible antithetical to "prophecy"?

The Rev. Mr. Schade has a probing discussion going on over on Prophet Motive, his blog, exploring the differences between quietist, politically idolatrous, and truly "prophetic" churches.

Well, actually it's more like a monologue, because his "post a comment" feature seems to be disabled. But other bloggers are responding to his ideas on their own pages, so it's becoming a lively discussion anyway.

And I thought I'd respond here to one of his points. He notes that “Amy Sullivan, … an editor of Washington Monthly, … has been on a tear lately about the need for the Religious Left to get its act together,” and cites a recent incident where liberal clergy protested some of Bush’s tax initiatives by invoking the story of the rich man and Lazarus. He then advances the notion that religious liberals who want to forge a new “Religious Left” prophetic movement, and who would use Biblical language in this manner to lend emphasis to their liberal political witness, are falling into a trap.

I think he’s wrong about that.

The very idea of “prophecy” is Biblical. It has no real meaning except in a Biblical context, as a continuation of the Biblical call for justice. Without the Biblical context, you may still have advocacy, or agitation, or instigation, or protest, but you do not legitimately have “prophecy”; you cannot be prophetic without using the Bible as your basic frame of reference. To invoke Biblical language and cite Bible verses properly is not to indulge in false book-idolatry; it is to draw validly on one of the greatest moral witnesses of our cultural heritage.

More concretely, if a newly invigorated “Religious Left” is going to coalesce into a new prophetic movement, and if UUs want to participate in it, it is going to have to draw from a far broader religious base than just our tiny denomination. Most of the participants, in fact, will not be UUs but Christians and Jews, for whom Holy Scripture forms the foundation of their religious understanding and expression. Most of the members of any effective liberal prophetic coalition may not require the prophetic voice to be justified with prooftexts, but if it can’t be shown to be broadly consistent with the great moral voice of Scripture, its religious validity will be suspect, and its prophetic effectiveness will be hobbled.

The same holds for most of the audience such a movement would hope to reach and sway. To whom do we imagine we will prophesy, and what moral authority will they expect us to invoke?

(By the way, I have it on eyewitness authority that Charles Peters, founder of Washington Monthly, tried a few months ago at one of those inside-the-Beltway cocktail parties to recruit Bill Moyers, who is not only a journalist but also an ordained Southern Baptist minister, to lead a new "Religious Left" movement. It would appear that Amy Sullivan has picked up the torch.)


At March 17, 2005 at 7:26:00 PM EST, Blogger Rick Heller said...

I linked to this post an commented over here:

By the way, the first time I tried to comment, blogger crashed.


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