The Thirty Minute Blogger

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Prophetic Preaching, What Is It? What It Isn’t!


Recently a Republican Super Pac was intent on dredging up Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s preaching as a cudgel to use against Barack Obama. Much to his credit, Mitt Romney spoke out against this foolish and ill-conceived strategy. The crux of the argument is that Reverend Wright preached inflammatory, anti-patriotic rhetoric from the pulpit and the President spent years listening to this angry, wrong-headed preacher and therefore must be angry, unpatriotic, and wrong-headed himself. Such nonsense. I contend that those who make this argument are … basically … ignorant, or worse.

Reverend Wright was preaching in a style known as prophetic preaching. This preaching technique harkens back to the Old Testament prophets who railed against Israel when the nation turned its collective back on God and God’s plan for Israel. The prophets of old would do the following when delivering a warning from God (prophets spoke for God): 1. They would state the collective, corporate wrongs the people of Israel were committing in the eyes of God; 2. They would warn the people of the dire consequences of invoking God’s wrath against them if they continued down this path (such as exile when conquered by the much feared Babylonians); 3. Finally, the prophets would end with a word of hope, stating that even now, at this late date, if the people turn back they will be able to deflect God’s wrath and live the better lives planned for them by their Lord. Jesus himself was a master of prophetic preaching as well, speaking with the authority of God against the ills of the nation and the people and calling them to redemption. Preachers who use the prophetic style today follow a similar pattern. Prophetic preaching challenges the status quo and gives hope to oppressed hearers of the message. African-American preachers use this method most often and to great effect. So, when Reverend Wright said what he said (no need to repeat it as you all heard it time and again with nauseating regularity during the last presidential election) he was stating what the United States could expect if not turning around and heading down a better path.

Preachers at the time Reverend Wright gave his sermon had plenty to warn against: prison populations larger than almost any in the world; torture of prisoners; indefinite incarceration; erosion of civil liberties in the name of homeland security; blind disregard of the needs of the poor (the widows and orphans, the aliens and the outcasts; the prisoners and the hungry, etc.); poor stewardship of creation; and much more. Unfortunately, these situations remain unresolved and the need for prophetic preaching is as strong now as it was in the days of the prophets of the Old Testament.

Prophetic preaching offers up theological and biblical insights into current situations and provides pathways to exit sin and despair and return to a world of God given hope with determined struggle. This method deals broadly with issues cultural, social, and religious. Stances taken by such preachers frequently go against the common knowledge or belief of the culture at large and such preachers risk the irritation or outright anger of their hearers, as did the prophets of old and Jesus Christ. Prophetic preachers are challenged and charged to speak with the authority of God. It is a heavy challenge, and a risky one. It makes enemies of people in power. However, it is not unpatriotic, anti-American speech.

I would contend that those who criticize this preaching approach and take portions of prophetic sermons out of context do not understand the preaching style or its intended effect. The accusations that Reverend Wright was unpatriotic and inflammatory are made, I believe, out of either ignorance or a willful misunderstanding of prophetic preaching as a whole. I would politely request that those who are inclined to do so should sit down and be still. Don’t play the fool for the national audience by displaying your ignorance. You do a disservice to a time honored tradition upheld by some of the best preachers who ever walked the earth. Be still.

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