Where are the prophetic voices?

January 6, 2021 Howard Kenyon No comments exist

I am well aware, as I sit in my little Covid-induced bubble of a home office, that larger forces are at work. By larger, I mean the current drama on the nation’s political stage. Georgia had its most unusual dual Senate race runoff yesterday, and surprise of all surprises, it appears that both Democratic candidates, one a Black minister and the other a Jew, have won by the narrowest of margins. If it all comes to pass, the Democrats will capture the Senate as well as the White House and the House of Trump will come crashing down.

Today Congress reviews the Electoral College. Usually mostly ceremonial, this event contains much melodrama with busloads of Republican Senators and Representatives threatening counteraction and Trump calling supporters to demonstrate in the streets outside the Capitol. In any case, the inauguration of Biden on January 20 seems as assured as the drama.

Meanwhile, the national conversation is as divided as these elections have been. Biden won Georgia by less than 12,000 votes and a handful of other states by similarly narrow margins. Trump has yet to concede – and is unlikely to do so, it not being in his nature. Those on one side are calling this the end of America as we know it (actual words) and those on the other are seeing this as the collapse of the Trumpized GOP, never mind that both House and Senate are held by the narrowest of margins. And never mind that every election in recent decades has been the election of the century and the loser assuredly assigned to the compost heap of history only to arise phoenix-like in time for the very next once-in-a-century election.

Of greater concern to me is the divide these political movements are creating inside the American church. Social media is a field strewn with landmines that even angels dare not traverse. The vast majority of white American evangelicals are or strongly lean Republican. But with the Republican party deeply divided between pro- and anti-Trump factions, evangelicals (including many evangelicals of color) find themselves separated along political fault lines.

I dare say all this is having great impact on the witness of the faithful. Evangelicalism as representing Good News-promoting Christians is being equated with a pro-Trump political movement by those outside as well as by many evangelical leaders themselves. So, if the politics don’t line up, then the religion doesn’t either.

This is not to say there are not similar challenges in other camps – divisions among Democrats, for example, or religious-political alignments in the Black community, say. But the latter has unique historical explanations which lend it a unique prophetic voice, and the former does not impact the witness of the evangelical church.

The challenge at present and moving forward is there is no middle or other ground. More and more we have two camps – pro-choice progressives and Trumpists, the latter of which includes a lot of not very Jesus-like racists.

Two issues concern me. One is that the church is being subsumed under this political powerplay. The more we entangle ourselves in partisanship, the less others hear our voices speaking truth.

In my short lifetime, I have seen my American church take some very hard hits when it comes to its reputation in larger society, most notably the televangelist scandals of the 1980s. Also, there was the time during Watergate when Billy Graham got singed by being too close to Nixon, a relational problem which pales in comparison with how close his son has gotten to Trump. The church’s current alignment with Trump overshadows any of those. It is one thing to suffer persecution for declaring truth; it is quite another to get caught in a mess of our own making and blame it on persecution.

But as with these others and the earlier Fundy and Confederacy messes, we will survive – though the damage may linger for decades as it did with those old cul-de-sacs. In those cases, it took some powerhouse home-run hitters the likes of Dwight L. Moody in the latter 19th century, and Billy Graham and Carl F. H. Henry in the mid-20th to get us out of the swamp. Likewise, we may need a new generation of heroes to get us out of the current mess.

But the church will press on – this time hopefully as much led by people of color inside and outside our national boarders as anyone. Beyond all doubt, most of the church these days is nonwhite and non-USA, something too easily forgotten in our red, white, and blue, mostly white bubble.
The second issue that concerns me is, where are the political camps for everyone else? Can the rest of us find a political home? I am not sure.

For some reason, the American political scene became binary almost from the start, despite Father Washington’s wishes, and it will likely stay that way for a long time to come, the two tracks periodically reconfiguring to embrace those outside the big tents. To a certain extent, lack of inclusion is less a concern for people of faith, for whom the preferred place for prophetic voice is without the camp.

But it will be interesting to see what unfolds in the post-Trump years, assuming Trump does not stay engaged in the way of Teddy Roosevelt and his Bull-Moose Party. There are many different political camps in the U.S. Of particular interest to me are the varied voices of faith among political pundits, columnists, and religious leaders who have maintained their independence during this season. Running the progressive-to-conservative gamut, they have not yet bowed their knees to the political Baals.

In the past, much of the evangelical world has chosen sleep over politics. It continues to prove itself all-to-often naive and inept in the political world. At the same time, there have been giants the likes of my own state’s hero, Mark Hatfield, who have chosen a prophetic path inside the halls of government. May more of their tribe arise.

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