Saturday, May 22, 2021

To Reduce Partisanship in America, Maybe We Need to Reform Prophecy

Fascinating article by David French arguing that much of the political mess in America today springs from the misuse of prophecy. French says he believes in the possibility of prophecy in our time. But:

There is a difference between believing that God can provide a person with insight into the future and believing that God has spoken to any given self-proclaimed prophet. There is also a danger that people who are desperate for certainty in an uncertain world will fall under the sway of grifters and charlatans.

That brings us to the present day. You wouldn’t know it from the Christian debates on Twitter or the dueling Christian op-eds in most of the media, but many millions of Americans spent the Trump era deeply loyal to Trump not because of policy arguments or political debate, but in large part because “prophets” told them he was specifically and specially anointed by God for this moment. These Americans were resistant to the election outcome because they were told—again and again—by voices they trusted that God promised Trump would win.

Put simply, when a person believed these prophecies, arguments over the election had little to do with the details of absentee ballots or the nuances of state law. They had everything to do with the (presumed) revealed will of God. . . .

Well, 2020 and 2021 have turned out to be a disaster for American prophecy. It was also a disaster for segments of the American Pentecostal church. Many, many prophets predicted Trump would win. He lost. And while virtually no prophets predicted the coronavirus catastrophe, many of them predicted a quick end to the pandemic. They were wrong.

And then, compounding the disaster, when a few honest voices presented sincere apologies for failed prophecies, they were subjected to an avalanche of hate and threats. . . .

All of this leads French to call for a sort of regulation of prophecy. He quotes a Pentecostal leader:
Prophets who err must be willing to receive correction from peer leaders with whom they are in accountable relationship. Those refusing such accountability should not be welcomed for ministry. . . . It is our hope that this statement will both honor and encourage prophetic ministry while at the same time calling for greater accountability, since unaccountable prophecy has been a bane on the modern Pentecostal-charismatic movement for decades.

We also urge prophetic ministers posting unfiltered and untested words purportedly from the Lord to first submit those words to peer leaders for evaluation.
Which is amusing for anyone who knows the history of prophecy in the Catholic Church. The church early on claimed the power to decide which prophets were legitimate and which were not; those not approved sometimes ended up at the stake. Radical Protestants, earlier analogs of the people who founded Pentecostalism in the early 1900s, denounced this. The persecution of prophets was one of their most severe indictments against the old established churches, and one of their most widely read books was George Fox's Book of Martyrs, which listed hundreds of prophets and other free-speaking believers killed by the Catholic and Anglican Churches.

Reading French's essay, Catholic theologians might say, "We told you so." If you let just anybody prophesize, you're going to get all kinds of madness spouted in the name of the Lord, and those most widely heard will be the ones who best flatter the desires of their audience. You will get demagogues. not prophets. In a political age like ours, you will get people dragging the church into every sort of politics. I think French and the concerned Pentecostal leaders he quotes have no chance of changing this. Pentecostalism relies too much on raw spiritual energy rising up from prophets who thrive outside the bounds of bourgeois propriety, and too many Americans would reject any religion that did not connect the events immediately before them to the Bible and God's will.


G. Verloren said...

It rankles me deeply that we take this kind of thing in stride.

Millions of Americans are voting to decide the fate of their fellow citizens and their country based on "prophecy"? It sounds totally insane - like some sort of sick joke.

Reacting purely emotionally, it's enough to make me idly wonder if we don't at some point need to place some sort of requirements on suffrage - or rather, to adjust the requirements we already have. We insist that someone must be a citizen, and that they must be of a certain age, and that they not be felons, etc... but we don't feel the need to insist that they demonstrate the capacity to vote based on reason, rather than gullible belief in "divine will" as delivered unto them by false "prophets" who are knowingly manipulating their simple and unquestioning faith? If we're prepared to allow people to decide the fate the natuon on the basis of imagined "word of God", then it seems impossible not to think we're actually regressing back toward Monarchy and the Divine Right of Kings. So much for Republic!

Logically, of course, such thinking doesn't pass muster. But boy, does that feeling make me wonder what hope there is for this country, if we are collectively so willing to tolerate this kind of crazy behavior from both the faithful and their cynical shepherds. If we can't trust them to vote sanely and responsibly, but we must ensure they remain enfranchised on principle, then what is there to be done? Current efforts in education and cultural pressure clearly aren't sufficient to produce a voting public that is fit to exercise such powers. We've given a gun to madman, flatly refuse to consider taking it away from them, and are just sort of hoping they will magically listen to reason and not shoot themselves or others.

Who is more insane? The madman, or the one who lets the madman do as he pleases?

Michael said...

I will, tongue in cheek, suggest that a professed belief in a Creator from whom we receive the rights enumerated ("We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.") be one of the requirements for suffrage....

As a faithful Christian of the Catholic variety, I do not decide the fate of my country based on prophecy. I, like others, hold values that I think 1) serve the Common Good and 2) are attainable on this side of thge tombstone. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness are among them.

It has always been necessary to determine which rophets (the name means one who speaks for God, not one who foretells the future) have God's imprimatur and which don't, and this is no easy task. It does not take some special connection with the Divine to offer the prophecy "If you keep on sinning, you will end up suffering." We know this from our own very human existence. Another way to phrase it, "If you keep on running around on your spouse, your own spouse and children will be immensely hurt and leave you."

Accountability and oversight, it seems to me, are the correct means by which to curb the partisan excesses of some of the partisan pulpit pundits, but I wonder how such a system could be implemented in religious groups like most Pentecostals that do not have (and do not want, I don't think) a hierarchical system that could pull in the reins on an errant preacher.

Thye phrase that stand out for me in the Standards Statement is "...hence the ultimate goal of prophetic ministry is to exalt the lordship of Jesus Christ," I would suggest that NONE of the "prophets" who speack to the outcome of ANY partisan election can be considered a true spokesperson for God since who holds a given political office is not a metter of exalting the Lordship of Jesus.