To be prophetic means more than protest. The following five dimensions of the prophetic ministry are adapted from a paper by Peter Henriot, SJ and the Rev George Chauncey for Interfaith Action for Economic Justice, where the application was made to the hunger issue. Here our focus is peace as well as poverty.
The victims of war and injustice are largely invisible. We do not see the poor, even in our own country. Out of sight, out of mind. The prophetic task is to make the invisible visible, to give voice to voiceless victims. We must not let anyone forget. Faithfulness demands that we remind ourselves, our constituencies and our government of the plight of the poor, and the evil of the arms race. Like the Hebrew prophets, who continually reminded Israel of God’s special concern for the poor, we provide reminders by:
- the symbols we wear; buttons, ribbons, bumper stickers on our cars; posters and banners in houses of worship.
pamphlets and materials in our churches and synagogues.
- providing space and publicity for justice groups.
- telling the stories of the victims in our preaching.
It is not enough simply to remind ourselves and others of the plight of the poor; we must interpret the causes and meaning of that plight in ways that open eyes and move hearts and redirect the political will. We can help others to see the arms race for what it is:
- a form of idolatry, placing our trust in weapons and alliances (Hosea 5:13, 7:8-12, 9:1; Isaiah 30:1-31:2)
- a theft (“Every rocket fired, every warship launched, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” President Eisenhower, April, 1953)
- murder (“…even when they are not used, by their cost alone, armaments kill the poor by causing them to starve.” The Vatican on Disarmament, 1976)
Eyes are opened and hearts are moved by experiencing the lives and stories of war victims, refugees and the poor, and those of today’s prophets.
We are also called, on occasion, to say no – no to policies, structures, institutions and ways of seeing things and doing things that dehumanize. The Hebrew prophets protested repeatedly Israel’s injustice to the poor, its trust in military fortifications and alliances rather than in God, its luxuriousness in the face of poverty. We can too, by:
- using our power as consumers (through boycotts and letters) and as shareholders (with letters and shareholder resolutions) to challenge those economic institutions contributing to poverty and the arms race;
- joining with others in public demonstrations, vigils and marches for peace and justice. In this we experience both solidarity and hope: that God is raising up prophetic people everywhere;
- modeling a simpler and more faithful style of living.
Prophetic protest must be matched by vigorous advocacy. While churches meet the immediate needs of the poor through direct service (food banks, emergency shelters), we must also address more effectively the public policies contributing to poverty and the arms race and press persuasively the moral claims of the policies we recommend. The Hebrew prophets took God’s word directly to Israel’s political leaders; we can do the same by:
- letters and calls to legislative leaders; and offering of letters as part of a worship service,
- encouraging shut-ins and retired persons in their ability to affect public policy by writing and calling,
- setting up urgent action phone trees on public policy or linking with existing networks.
We all need vision, a sense of hope, and ever deepening awareness of Shalom as God’s will for the world. Further, we all need to see our small – seemingly insignificant – efforts as part of God’s working in the world. Jesus is Lord of history: He combines our efforts with those of millions of others. Our work will not be in vain if joined with his. Jesus has risen. Injustice and death are not the last word. The Hebrew prophets brought hope, even in the midst of disaster. We can too, by:
- internalizing and acting on God’s vision of Shalom (Isaiah 65:17-25; Amos 9, Ezekiel 34, and others).
- helping people identify present manifestations of God’s Shalom.
- reminding others that it is our faithfulness, not our success, that God demands.
- promoting small communities of Bible study and prayer that incorporate our struggles in social action.
- affirming each individual as they move more deeply into living out the vision of Shalom.