The Prophetic Role of the Church in an Election Season
Last week I looked at the political nature of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus life and teaching was not a private “spiritual” message, but one that had enormous implications for the practices and policies that govern a community. He was not unique in this. He was a faithful heir to the biblical prophets.
The Prophets were constantly addressing the consequences of the politics of their own day. For example, the prophets announced that if Israel, in particular its rulers, was obedient to the neighborly practices commanded at Mt. Sinai, all would be well; the body politic would flourish. Speaking to Jehoiakim, Jeremiah commends King Josiah, Jehoiakim’s father: “Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? Says the Lord” (22:15b-16). But King Jehoiakim did not follow his father’s just ways, and Jeremiah announced that the Kings policies would eventually destroy the community: “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbors work for nothing and does not give them their wages” (Jer. 22:13). The “woe” means that trouble—big trouble—is on the way.
The prophets didn’t so much offer particular policy prescriptions for Israel, but instead tried to open the community’s eyes to the fundamental building blocks that bring well-being for all, especially those most at risk (strangers, widows, and orphans). If Israel orders its common life with this kind of justice and righteousness, all will be well. If, however, the rich ripped off the poor (not paying their wages), the end result would be the breakdown of a sustainable, compassionate society. In fact, Jeremiah imagines that the end result of not living according to God’s neighborly ways is not only the breakdown of society, but the reversal of the whole process of creation (Jer.4:23-26). What God created in the beginning will be undone!
In an election season, or any other for that matter, the prophetic role of the church is not primarily to advocate for particular policies (although it is that too), it is primarily to announce the larger issues at hand. Are we advocating for policies that enhance a just society? Are we supporting leaders who will work for the common good, giving special attention to those most at risk? And do we realize the dire consequences that come when we enact unjust policies?
Israel didn’t heed the prophets’ warnings and eventually things unraveled. Unfortunately, this has usually been the case throughout human history. We don’t act before it’s too late. After the Jews returned from exile and began to rebuild their society, a prophet arose who offered the people the prerequisites for community renewal (Is 58:6-11). He announced that if the community acted in just and neighborly ways “Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt” (58:12a). Let us heed the prophets’ warnings and work for a more just society. If we do, we too shall see the “ruins” of our own society renewed.