A couple of weeks ago, Russell Moore made some waves with some comments about the collapse of the Bible Belt. Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told the Wall Street Journal that “we are no longer the moral majority. We are the prophetic minority.” In a later interview with NPR, he stated, “It’s very good for a church to live up to what the Bible has called us to be all along, which is a counter-cultural reality that points to the kingdom of God, not just the values around us.”
First, let me tip my hat to Moore for not playing the increasingly common persecution card and also for acknowledging that the message of Jesus is counter-cultural. It is refreshing to hear someone talk about the cultural sea change and not sound like an angry third grader freaking out because the other neighborhood kids don’t want to play the same game.
But I fear that his counter-culture is grounded in the wrong place. The dichotomy in his first statement highlights my concern. Moral majority/prophetic minority. The counter-cultural Kingdom of God is not about morality, conformity to the correct human conduct. It is an invitation into a kingdom of grace. That is the kingdom to which we point.
Now there is a prophetic aspect to this proclamation. It is that Jesus is Lord and Ceasar, plus everything else, is not. It also calls on each person to love their fellow human beings as him or herself. This is a call to morality, but it is a far more robust than how we typically define morality. It is a call to justice for the poor, powerless, and oppressed. A full and life-changing morality involves prophetic stands on war, immigration, poverty, education, equality, and so on.
Yet morality, as it is typically discussed by the church in these national conversations, is too narrow a scope. It usually boils down to one or two issues. Later comments in Moore’s interview indicate that marriage is one that is prominently on his mind. Now those conversations are certainly important and we should enter into them with humility, respect, and the realization that we may not have it entirely figured out. But a prophetic voice consumed with that issue is a frail whisper. I fear that context and the timing of the comments indicate that many think that whisper is all there is.
For example, why is now the time that the church is to become a prophetic minority? The true Christian faith has never been the moral majority. Why was the church not that much needed prophetic voice in this past decade when Wall Street was fleecing people and many found themselves in a hole because they were living beyond their means? Where were prophetic voices asking government officials to at least stop and think when this country was itching to go off to war? Why were so many churches in the South not in the prophetic minority when African Americans were striving for their civil rights?
Here’s the thing. Now has always been the time for the Church to be the prophetic minority. This is nothing new. Moore realizes that the church is to be counter-cultural and good on him for that. But the timing and the context of his statements make me wonder whether it’s just because some pet issues of his church have fallen out of favor with the general populace. I hope I am wrong, but that last paragraph of questions and many other times when “prophetic voices” were silent make me wonder.
Morality, as it boils down to a scant few hot button issues, can be part of prophecy. But if it is the whole then it is simply a clanging gong. It is calling on people to be good enough and could potentially muddle the gospel of grace. This can morph into legalism and slams the door in the face of those that do not check off the approved moral boxes. It does that even now.
Finally, prophecy is not something that the church solely cries out to the rest of the world. Prophecy, true prophecy, should cut those in the church just as deeply as their fellow citizens outside the church. If it is a prophecy that does not challenge us, that does not make us uncomfortable, then we very well might just be telling the world to be like us rather than to be like Jesus. I need prophetic words spoken in my life just as much as anyone.
The Church is to be a counter-cultural, prophetic voice, but it must be a deeper and wider one than the cry of people realizing that they are no longer in the majority. It must stir us to truly love God and love our neighbor and accept grace for those many places we fall short.
The other night, I was reading from the prophet Isaiah when I came across this passage. I pray this is the type of prophetic voice that we find springing from our mouths:
Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and He will say, Here I am.
Isaiah 58:6-9 (NRSV)