Sometime during college I went through a pretty significant transition about how I considered the gospel. I began to see it as good news for the world, not only in the age to come, but also in this time and place.
And that transition, was due in large part, to a dead preacher from Alabama, named Martin Luther King Jr.
About a month ago, I read a book called “Blood Done Signed My Name.” It’s about the child of a white, Methodist preacher who grew up during the fight for Civil Rights in the South. I think for most of the people my age, we view the civil rights battle with a bit of romanticism. Love triumphs, evil loses, hope overcomes…etc.
But this truth is a bit less rose-colored.
One time, this white country church preacher stood up and delivered a sermon against racism. Afterward one of the parishoners approached him with a fury and said, “I’m accustomed to a Pork-Sandwich after a political talk.” This preacher was forced to move churches several different times because he wouldn’t be quiet about things that mattered. He went through several uncomfortable, awkward meetings with elders. Most of his career his job was hanging by a thread.
I have a friend in ministry who describes himself like this: “I love Jesus and I work for his church. It’s amazing how much those two things conflict.”
I think he’s on to something.
Here’s what I mean by that:
In the Gospel of Matthew there is a time, toward the end of his ministry, where Jesus is finally letting the leaders of the religious establishment of his day have it. He goes through seven different woes (which is Biblical Language for, this sucks). And the last woe is one aimed specifically toward the treatment of the prophets. Look at what Jesus says.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for
the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had
lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in
shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are
the descendants of those who murdered the prophets.”
He tells them that they decorate the tombs of the prophets, but they themselves put them there.
Right after Martin Luther King Jr. made his “I Have a Dream” speech, the F.B.I. put out a memo that said Dr. King was the most dangerous Negro alive, and that he had communist tendencies. They tapped his phones and had him under surveillance. And he was a preacher.
But really Dr. King more than that. He was a prophet. He wasn’t perfect, and I’m sure he made plenty of mistakes. But he spoke the truth even eventually at the cost of his own life.
One of the questions that has haunted me the past few years has been: “If I was alive would I have joined the fight for Civil Rights? Or would I have just been silent about a system that I would have benefitted from?” I tend to be a moderate by nature. Most of the times I can see both sides of the issue. But moderate’s are the opposite of prophets. Read Dr. King’s “Letter to a Birmingham Jail” if you ever wonder what I mean by that.
But we don’t just need moderates, or conservatives, or liberals, or whatever other kind of label you feel comfortable with.
The church, our society, the world needs prophets.
So if you’re reading this, and you feel a fire in your bones. If you have noticed an area of deep brokenness in the world that needs some attention. Just know if you speak out there is a chance we might not like it. There is a chance that we might not like you.
But even though we may persecute you while you speak a truth we need to hear, one day maybe we will know better. Maybe one day we’ll get it. One day we might even decorate your tomb, or give you a federal holiday.
So take heart prophets. One day you’ll be a hero.