I participated in a pastors’ conference last week in Banff. The scenery practically invited praise for the handiwork of God the Creator. The human story was less inspiring. Many of us were stunned at the election of Donald Trump. We wonder what it means for America and the world.
Anna Robbins, a theologian from Acadia Divinity College, spoke into our uncertainty. She argued that the popular theme of the church in exile failed to recognize that Christians in North America enjoy the benefits of affluence and the freedoms of our democratic states. We are not in exile. We are in the empire. Anna spoke of the unsettling earthquakes of culture change taking place around us. She stated that we have the capacity to choose and shape our response as Christian leaders and church members. She characterized our options as (1) fearful withdrawal, (2) willing complacency, and (3) critical engagement.
I think these are perilous times. It seems likely that Republicans will respect Trump’s strange victory by (1) denying climate change and refusing to support action to protect creation, (2) condoning racial violence of the white majority population, (3) withdrawing from international collaboration on global issues, (4) increasing the growing disparity in the world, and (5) encouraging harsh rhetoric rather than meaningful dialogue.
Anna’s presentations in Banff drove me to reflect on prophetic preaching, conversations, and action. I am reading these days from the book of the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah. I am asking the Spirit to reveal what it means to live prophetically in a troubled time. The first chapter serves as an introduction to the prophet and his social situation. There are some profound themes for Christian leaders and church members.
- The prophet served God during a period in which his nation was in moral and social decline. He would witness the defeat of Jerusalem and the forced exile of thousands of leading people.
- God gives him a message for the nations. His words had meaning for the complex context of his country and the regional empires surrounding Judah.
- There would be resistance from high places. He would need courage and faith. There is a sober warning in his calling. “Tell them everything I command you. Hold nothing back. If you break before them, I will break you.”
- The prophetic task involves destroying ideologies and narratives of national security. However, Jeremiah must also build with a new vision. He is more than a social critic. The prophet must point the way forward to a better future.
I will leave it up to my readers to prayerfully consider these themes for our time and circumstances. There is no doubt that we need prophetic voices in our countries and churches. Pastors must make the choice between being chaplains or prophets. The challenge is that there will be a cost if we are called to be prophets of God to our people.