Bruce L. Fields, an expert on the Black church, expands the prophetic “speaking truth to power” approach into four dimensions: comforting the oppressed, confronting evil, correcting God’s people, and confirming God’s work of justice to his people (Five Views on the Church and Politics, pp. 97-98). This balanced view of the Old Testament prophets’ ministry is a helpful framework for how we can be prophetic in our world today. For starters, it avoids reducing prophetic witness to simply confronting evil “out there.” Second, being prophetic also involves compassion for the oppressed. I believe bringing our Reformed worldview and theology into this framework will be fruitful.
Since Sanctity of Human Life Sunday is in January, let’s consider how this framework might help our prophetic witness to protect life. Christians are quite good at confronting the evil of abortion. From dedicated Sundays to pro-life marches to lobbying for legislation, we have unambiguously confronted this evil in various ways.
There is, however, one form of confrontation we may not have done equally as well: to unmask the idolatries and ideologies behind the evil. A Reformed biblical worldview is especially well positioned to name the idols at work behind the logic of policies and programs. What are the idols at work in our culture’s sexuality and socio-economics that create tragic (non-medical) scenarios where some women even need to consider abortion? Has individual freedom become absolutized? What about patriarchy and sexism? To me, this is the institutional church’s most urgent and important prophetic task—not the protest marches or the political lobbying. The church needs to bring the light of God’s Word to expose the hidden idols at work in our culture that create the fertile soil for evil to thrive. Only the church can do that; no other institution is equipped to do so.
Such unmasking of idols leads us to correction. Christians are not immune from the idols of our time. History has taught us that the church has been infected by idols and ideologies from slavery to sexism. The church also needs to shine God’s light onto its own members’ hearts and minds. This is easier said than done, as pastors and church leaders risk offending their parishioners. But we need to ask the hard questions. Have the idols of our culture infected our minds? Or are there different idols infecting even our prophetic work that we are not aware of? Has our righteous indignation crossed over into self-righteous judgmentalism? Are we confronting abortion with a truly biblical worldview or with an infected worldview that distorts our well-meaning work?
As we correct our own members, we need to confirm the hope we have in God’s redeeming grace and his justice. We need to be reminded that our hope lies not in politicians or programs or any human efforts but in Christ Jesus, who has already triumphed on the cross and will fully triumph when he returns. We seek to be faithful and hopeful witnesses in this “already but not yet” period.
Out of that hope in Christ, we can offer comfort to those whose lives have been affected by abortion. Most women who have undergone abortion are victims too. Women should never be put in situations where they feel they need to make that choice to begin with. Hence, we must establish and support Christian organizations that provide counseling and support to women facing unexpected pregnancies. We cannot stop at merely protesting.
Can this prophetic witness framework help us in other areas of public justice as well?