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The Voice of the Prophet

I awoke Wednesday morning to hear my radio announcing the morning news. I thought to myself, “What have my people done?” As I drove to my church, I heard the voice of the prophet. But the question is: Should I listen?

During the past 18 months, in a political climate bitterly divided, I’ve guarded my pulpit from duplicating the partisan divisions so evident in our country. I’ve had strong feelings about issues in our nation, but because my calling is to pastor a church, I’ve tended to lift the pastoral role over the prophetic role. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
I’ve been selective about the national issues that I’ve brought before my people, though some of our members think I’ve not been careful enough. I have left most of my deepest faith convictions about my country to be addressed by a largely secular political party. I have trusted my deepest faith convictions to find voice upon the lips of secular political candidates.
 
I have conversationally shared my thoughts and values in the corridors of our church with likeminded believers, while being careful not to allow the division of our country to bleed its way into my sanctuary.
 
I understand why I have done this, but I am not proud of it.
 
Many ministers are like me and hold deep and passionate beliefs. We have desired that our nation would view war as a last resort. If the standards of Christ could not be followed practically in international politics and peacemaking, we hope minimally that just war theory might be applied before military action.
 
We are dismayed when perceived-moral elected leaders of our country ignored Christian voices ranging from the National Council of Churches, to the Catholic Pope, to the trustees of Fuller Theological Seminary.
 
We are disturbed when the war morality of Jerry Falwell is embraced as the defining theology for shaping this “War on Terror.”
 
We have desired that our land be a place that first seeks peace and justice rather than dominance and victory. We hoped those who enact policies and spend our tax dollars might be peacemakers first in our name, and not first and foremost warriors.
 
We have prayed that the death of Iraqi civilians might concern us as much as the loss of our own citizens.
 
We have disdained a culture nurturing the prosperity of the wealthy, while increasing the numbers of people in poverty and the pain of the poor.
 
God’s sympathy for the poor has been expressed through the prophets, the apostles and authors of our epistles, and most clearly the Christ of the gospels. We are deeply troubled by growing poverty in our nation.
 
We have prayed for a society that seeks the physical health and well being of the sick. We are grieved by a society that has created a health safety net characterized by fewer and weaker threads and larger holes. We are sad that the youngest and the elderly fall victim to the unraveling of the health care system in our land. We see less and less of the touch of the “great physician.”
 
We have looked at the global environment that God has entrusted to us, and we are grieved by the abuse of our earth for the human conveniences of the moment. We are troubled when the ambitions of oil and mining companies are more important than the care of God’s creation.
 
We have desired a society less entangled in materialism and energized by compassion, mercy and self sacrifice. We’ve watched as a nation measures its economic health singularly upon the gauge of consumerism. Consumerism-based economics declares we are a healthy and moral economy as long as we keep buying upon our whims.
 
We’ve watched as individually and nationally we have become indebted beyond our mathematic ability. Many of us are troubled when our national policy is to believe we can spend and consume ourselves to moral health. We know that economic morality of our faith is not about what we claim or consume, but what we sacrifice.
 
Many of us have walked and valued the path of separation of church. We have dreamed as Thomas Helwys, Roger Williams, John Clarke, Issac Backus and John Leland. We know charitable choice is not about religious freedom, but is in fact a presidential religious entitlement program.
 
The views of our Baptist forefathers found expression in the First Amendment and numerous state constitutions, but of late this view of religious liberty is labeled secular and un-American.
 
We are bewildered and amazed when the interpretation of our own national Constitution is all about the rights of the majority instead of the protection and rights for minorities. We are amazed when we hear Americans speak of the spread of democracy throughout the world embraced within new governments that lack any concept of religious liberty.
 
Nonetheless, we don’t want to bring partisan politics into our churches.
 
Leading up to that defining day of Nov. 2, politicians told us we were electing leaders that would determine our future. However, prophets view elections in a different way.
 
Elections are polls with the largest public sampling. They tell us where we are, and clarify the morality we lack. They are the beginning point for crafting the journey for where prophets need to go.
 
This public poll doesn’t tell us about God’s will or the predestined direction of a nation, but instead registers the current values within the society. It is the poll that dictates the prophetic ministry for the future.
 
On Nov. 3, the voice of the prophet calls me with a sense of freedom. I don’t have to defer my moral values to a political party for the next 12 months or so. The season for partisan politics has passed. The next few months are the window in time where pastors can be teachers, and if granted the courage, even prophets.
 
I awoke Wednesday morning to hear my radio announcing the morning news. I thought to myself, “What have my people done?” As I drove to my church, I heard the voice of the prophet. But the question is: Should I listen?
 
Larry Coleman is pastor of Churchland Baptist Church in Chesapeake, Va.