A few years ago, the late Rachel Held Evans guested on The Liturgists podcast to talk about a rather erudite, heady issue:
What is the difference between being a prophet and just being an ass?
It’s not a Trinitarian controversy or one of the great mysteries surrounding Christ’s humanity and divinity. It’s not an argument over what actually happens during the Eucharist, but as 21st century Christians, it’s an important question to ponder; after all, the line between prophesy and assholery is razor thin and blurry at best.
The well-meaning soapbox can quickly transform into a Molotov cocktail, and before anyone realizes it, the entire building is on fire with us still inside.
In the “secular realm” (whatever is meant by that), the term “call-out culture” has risen to prevalence, starting with the Me Too movement and migrating into all facets of human life. In general, this is not a bad thing. People are demanding that the power structures at present (government, commerce, education, entertainment, etc.) be held accountable in our quest to make the world a safer and more gentle place for everyone to live.
In the church, we have a similar system, except we tend to label it “prophesy.” Echoing and mirroring the likes of Amos, Isaiah (all three of them), Hosea, Malachi, Micah, John the Baptist, and a hoard of others, it is part of the Christian duty to “call out” and “call up” human behavior. Jesus did it. Paul did it. We have great precedent for it. The church needs this kind of call to repentance and redemption, and it needs it often.
Where do we cross the line? When do our words cease bringing the heat and instead set the house ablaze? As Maria Dixon Hall wrote several years ago about my own denomination, when do we become prophetic arsonists and stop doing anything productive?
This recently came to mind in a post I saw on Facebook (the place where all 5 alarm cultural fires get their start) lamenting how France has raised so much money to restore Notre Dame while in the United States, no money is being raised to help rebuild Puerto Rico.
While a statement with noble intentions (I hope, anyway), what the author has done is set up a false dichotomy. One can care about a symbol of humanity, a sacred space in our Christian and human heritage, AND care about Puerto Rico, or the crisis at the border, or any number of things that are broken and in need of repair.
The post’s ultimate function, in a sense, was to start a flame war (fire might not be the best metaphor here). By the end of the comment thread, what was metaphorically left of the great Cathedral was essentially torched to completion with anger, and unlike the resurrection narrative, nothing beautiful emerged, no hope was offered; everyone left angry and resentful. While I do hope that perhaps some were awakened to the reality of human suffering in other places, it seemed like an unnecessarily brutal way to inspire hospitality. In fact, I would argue that you cannot inspire hospitality with hostility.
For many of us, beauty (as expressed in places like Notre Dame) calls us to our nobler selves; it reminds us of who we are and whose we are. As flawed as the Catholic church has shown herself to be as of late, even as a Protestant, I find Christ at the center of the mass. I can hold in both hands the beauty of the liturgy and the hope of resurrection alongside the brokenness of humanity. Just because one is a reality, it does not mean that it can discount the other.
In my own denomination, as we struggle and fight our way through this battle over human sexuality, as a pastor, I am called to hold both our glory and our brokenness, because that is what Christ does for me on a daily basis.
Christ did not come to burn the earth, he came to walk on it, to walk with us. He didn’t come to destroy us, he came to rebuild us and to love us, with all of our contradictions.