Friday, April 27, 2007


Here’s the gist of Marvin McMickle’s Where Have All The Prophets Gone? Reclaiming Prophetic Preaching in America, 2006. It’s black writing-as-preaching at its most passionate, biblically enlightened, and intelligent (he has a couple of earned Drs).

When (American) preaching isn’t prophetic you won’t hear anything about the two million persons packed into overcrowded prisons, most of them for drug-related offences that could be treated more effectively and at a fraction of the cost; or the 46 million persons without medical insurance; or the still-prevailing racism and sexism. Instead there’s an emphasis on just two ‘justice’ issues: abortion and same-sex marriage; the emergence of an oxymoron called patriot pastors; a focus on ‘praise and worship’ that doesn’t result in compassionate discipleship; and finally the vile messages of prosperity theology which have dominated the preaching of televangelists and many pulpits.

Where have all the prophets gone?
Gone in search of megachurches, every one.

Where have all the prophets gone?
Gone in search of faith-based funding, every one.

Where have all the prophets gone?
Gone in search of personal comfort, every one.

Where have all the prophets gone?
Gone in search of political correctness, every one.

Where have all the prophets gone?
Gone into a ministry that places praise over speaking truth to the powers, every one.

When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?

Walter Brueggemann (The Prophetic Imagination) says the prophet offers us an alternative consciousness to the prevailing ‘royal consciousness’ of the entrenched political, economic, social or religious powers.

An example: Tony Campolo (Speaking My Mind) writes about the hypocrisy of those who staunchly oppose same-sex marriage, but whose heterosexual divorce rate is 50%: ‘Gays often ask why evangelicals seem willing to accept couples who are divorced and remarried, a sexual relationship Jesus specifically condemned as adultery, and then come down so hard on a sexual relationship Jesus never mentioned.’ If we follow the Levitical laws proscribing same-sex behavior, why do we not also forbid the eating of pork, or promote the idea of Jubilee – releasing people from prisons and from debt? Reason: homophobia, ‘the last acceptable prejudice in America’.

But it’s not only conservative evangelicals who have a problem here: whenever the convocations of mainline churches gather, what’s the #1 item on their agendas? Same-sex marriage, and ordaining active homosexual pastors. What about the staggering number of people confined to America’s prisons, or the 46 million without health insurance (there’s that refrain again) or the scourge of HIV/AIDS, or the explosion of divorce and teen pregnancy in America?

And the black churches? ‘Too many black clergy, especially those heading megachurches, are either apolitical or apologists for the status quo. What about [the refrain plus] staggering rates of black unemployment, black-on-black crime, the rapid spread of Islam as the religion of choice among many inner-city young men?’

America is the most professedly ‘Christian’ of the developed nations (over 85% identify as Christians), and the least Christian in its behavior. It leads them all in the murder rate, the use of capital punishment, the number of persons incarcerated, the percentage of marriages ending in divorce, the rate of teen pregnancy, and the number of children living in poverty.

Meanwhile, Christians are locked into the two issues of abortion and same-sex marriage. Where have all the prophets gone?

President Bush has said ‘Owning stuff is good.’ But that’s hard for many when 85% of the nation’s wealth is controlled by 18% of the people. While conservative evangelicals focus on their two-pronged agenda, Enron and WorldCom and other companies have been looted by their chief executive officers, leaving their workers and retirees in financial ruin. But Focus on the Family won’t get too upset about these ‘family values’ concerns. Nor will they mention anything about African Americans comprising 13% of the population yet constituting over 70% of the prison population. In 9 states when offenders are released their right to vote is revoked for life. And it’s well known that if you have a black skin you’re much more likely to serve a longer sentence than whites for the same crime. (And if you’re white and rich like Martha Stewart you’ll get less than six months for securities fraud and lying to a grand jury, and then receive more television deals).

And re Iraq: many Christians do their best impersonation of ‘hear no evil – see no evil – speak no evil’. The world is full of brutal dictators, but the Bush Administration chose to eliminate one who sat on the world’s second largest reserves of oil. The war in Vietnam failed to end communism in that country; and democratization in Iraq looks to be in dire peril of suffering the same fate. The president wages these wars abroad at the expense of the war on poverty in America.

The justice agenda of Jesus (Matthew 25): poverty, sickness, prisons, and other forms of human need.

Abortion and human sexuality are not unimportant: but they are simply not the limit of what should occupy a justice agenda in the 21st century.


‘Patriot pastor’ is an oxymoron: a pastor’s allegiance should be to God and not to a political party. Amos, Micah, Samuel, Nathan, John the Baptist and Jesus regularly stood against the political establishment of their day in the name of the God of heaven and in defense of a more just and compassionate world. Where is patriot pastors’ concern was for the homeless, the hopeless, the hungry and the heartbroken in our society?

The evangelical East Waynesville Baptist Church, North Carolina forced nine members out of their church because they didn’t vote for George W Bush in the 2004 presidential election! The pastor said these people were holding back the work of the Kingdom of God.

But not all evangelicals are narrow: Rick Warren has been advocating help for the poor in Africa and elsewhere: ‘It is a moral issue… Jesus commanded us to help the poor so it is an obedience issue as well.’ Others are pressuring the government to do more about religious persecution, Darfur, enact legislation about prison rape in the USA and push for more funds to fight AIDS in Africa [PS and recently, climate change issues]. ‘God bless America is a patriotic tune and not a theological mandate. ‘In God We Trust’ may be engraved upon our nation’s currency but there is no evidence that those words have been etched upon the hearts of our nation’s leaders.


On Christian television programs there’s an incessant theme of praise – but it, too, is severed from the prophetic message. Which is exactly what Amos condemned: ‘Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream’ (Amos 5:23-24). When upstretched hands in praise do not also become outstretched hands to lift up a fallen brother or sister, that is an abomination to God.

Now praise is good: read Psalm 150. The prophets are not calling for an end to acts of praise worship, but the striking of a balance so that deeds of justice are not overlooked or ignored while Christians are busy ‘having a high time in the house of God’. Lifting up holy hands is good: provided they extend to helping hands to those Jesus describes in Matthew 25 as ‘the least of these’.


‘Her leaders judge for a bribe; her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money’ (Micah 3:11).

A favourite text for many ‘prosperity gospel/ health and wealth/ name it and claim it’ preachers is John 10:10, where Jesus promised his followers abundant life. But the good life and the abundant life are not synonymous. Indeed prosperity preachers who base their message on John 10:10 are in fact more reflective of the thieves and robbers who come to steal and destroy. ‘What will it profit,’ asked Jesus, ‘if you gain he whole world and forfeit your life? (Matthew 16:26)? The life of abundance offered by these preachers is more defined by television commercials and magazine advertisements than by anything found in Scripture. Jesus told us not to store up treasures on earth, but rather to store up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). Paul says he’s content with whatever he has: ‘I know what it is to have little, and I know what I is to have plenty’ (Philippians 4:11-13).

And Jesus promised his followers that they would suffer trouble. Many preachers, writes Barbara Brown Taylor, are promising a smooth road which goes around the wilderness rather than one that leads people through the wilderness with its rough places, and crooked paths and low moments.

Item - Paula and Randy White have been blessed with an 8,000 square-foot home – and urge people who are broke to borrow money from others to give to their ‘ministry’!

Very little if anything is said by these preachers about the grinding poverty which affects hundreds of millions around the world. ‘Nothing is said about the thousands of US military who have been killed and injured in an ill-conceived and poorly conducted war in Iraq, a nation that did not attack us on September 11, 2001, and a nation that did not have weapons of mass destruction’.

In his book God Has a Dream Desmond Tutu says ‘To oppose injustice and oppression is not something that is merely political. No it is profoundly religious.’

The most prophetic voices among us today may well be the voices of women who continue to push both church and society beyond the single issue of race. If the role of women in society must remain unchanged from the days of the early church, then any opposition to slavery should also have been resisted, since Paul seemed to have accepted the reality of that evil institution in Romans 13:1-7. You would have thought Galatians 3:28 – ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus’ – would have settled this question long ago.

There are now about as many US fatalities in the Iraq war than there were fatalities on September 11, 2001. What will have been accomplished by this reckless venture?

We should be informed by a line from the hymn ‘God of Grace and God of Glory’ written by Harry Emerson Fosdick that warns ‘Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore’.


The book ends with a magnificent sermon on the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag where he takes to task those who oppose the inclusion of the phrase ‘under God’. One nation? What about he great divide between rich and poor? Liberty and justice for all? When over two million people are in prison? Republic? The inference is that no one is more important than anyone else and where everybody’s vote is supposed to count. But ‘what kind of republic allows what happened in Florida in the 2000 election? Indivisible? ‘We are divided by race, by region (ask the people in New Orleans whether we are indivisible).

And McMickle’s own moving story: His father abandoned the family when he was ten years old. Later, his mother tried to enroll in the music department at Moody Bible Institute, but was denied admission because she was a divorcee!’

Buy this powerful and moving book, read it, and suggest your pastor preach from it (if he/she is game!).

Rowland Croucher

April 2007


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