The Prophetic Fork in the Road

crossing lineI almost wrote this post three weeks ago. I am cautious about stepping into the political fray given the diversity of our presbytery, but that day I felt like a line had been crossed. At a Michigan rally President Trump had insinuated that the late Representative John Dingell might be looking up from hell rather than down from heaven as the impeachment hearings unfolded.

I am a pastor who has officiated at hundreds of funerals and memorial services. His comment violated just about everything I know about showing respect for the dead and for those still grieving difficult losses. The comment was not illegal, but the cruelty of it left me stunned and shocked…again.

But I did not write the post. It was the post that would have been published on Christmas Eve and I wanted to honor the sacredness of that night and, for at least 24 hours, put aside the reality show that is masquerading as national politics.

Now, however, it is time to write this post. The assassination of an Iranian military leader and government official on foreign soil and the follow up threats by our president call for a response from those of us who have a religious voice. Many say that the church should stay out of politics, but we do have a responsibility to call our elected officials to ethical and moral leadership, whether or not we agree or disagree with their policies.fork in the road

In that regard, I believe that we have reached a prophetic fork in the road. There is no room left for neutrality or trying stay in the middle. There are no risk-free choices any longer. Anything we do will have risks. Anything we choose not to do will have risks. Anything we say will have consequences and anything we choose not to say will also have consequences.

I write this because in recent years I have heard a number of church leaders tell me something to the effect, “We can’t afford to be prophetic in our church. If we lose even one or two more key members we will likely never recover.” I understand the position. Many of our churches are in a fragile position concerned about their ability to maintain a building and support personnel. “Preach what you want, just don’t offend anyone,” can, unfortunately, become the unspoken assumption.

But I believe that we have reached a point where our silence is more likely to be the death of us than speaking up and taking a stand. We do need to remember that we follow a Jesus who spoke truth to power, who became a threat to the political and religious establishment, and who risked his personal safety for the cause of life, redemption and justice.

pulpitWe need to remember that at the very center of our worship is the proclamation of the gospel. If we can’t call our own leaders to a higher standard of ethical conduct we diminish the power of the pulpit. And if we diminish the power of the pulpit the Church might as well write her own obituary.

This past weekend, President Trump threatened Iran with the destruction of 52 sites including key cultural sites. He has since backed off that—quite honestly because people like us reacted in horror at the prospect. But his natural inclination was a Taliban-like reaction that not only flexes one’s political muscles but attempts to destroy the spirit of a people. Such acts are not attempts to wrest military power, but to destroy cultures. We did it to our Native American brothers and sisters and now our president doesn’t have the moral restraint to keep from threatening the same.

Why are we at a prophetic fork in the road? Because we have reached the point where our silence about immoral, dehumanizing decisions is as destructive as direct support for those decisions. At one point we might have been able to rationalize that silence was neutrality. No longer. Silence is now complicity.

sunriseI believe we are at dangerous point. As citizens we have the power to vote. We have the power to write our senators and representatives.

But in the church we have the power of the pulpit.

We have a gospel of life.

We have a Jesus whose life shines like a light in the darkness.

John reminds us:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Let us be the light. Don’t let the darkness win.

By Rev. Brian Heron, Presbyter for Vision and Mission, Presbytery of the Cascades

12 thoughts on “The Prophetic Fork in the Road

  1. Brian, I agree with everything you have said, with one exception. I believe the line was crossed long before his remarks on Congressman Dingle. And the time for a prophetic word is long past. Not that you’ve been silent. You certainly haven’t been. Perhaps, what I really hear you saying is, it’s time to be louder? Time to be unequivocal? Time to speak the truth of the gospel with courage and conviction, knowing that there may be consequences…?


    1. Hi Bob,
      When I speak of “a line being crossed” I am speaking personally from my position of having to discern what my role is in leading the presbytery. The question that has informed me all along the way has been, “How much do I give space for each congregation to find their voice in this volatile time and how much do I try to have an influence on their voice.” The past three weeks the line was crossed for me. It is time for me to take a stand in shaping our voice. I appreciate your feedback, engagement, prayer and faith. Brian


      1. Agreed. Each of us has a different role. A different context. Different lines. And those lines may be different personally and professionally. I certainly wasn’t finding any fault. Was merely saying, that for me, the line was crossed a long time ago. Mocking a disabled reporter. Mocking a Gold Star family. Mocking Greta Thunberg…
        His comments post Charleston. Children in cages. Climate change. And on and on and on…


  2. Thank you Brian, for your appropriate response, considering that we are Called to service in our world, exampling the sure marks of Christianity, justice.
    The line has been crossed for sure, many times. Let us therefore, give up the luxury
    of hiding out in fear, while the world is crumbled by our treacherous action in Iran.
    It begs repeating, that if we remain silent, then we are condoning this military action, of treading on another’s soil, to do damage. It can not be mistaken, that in this military action, we are all soiled, Iran and the US.
    Taking action through our voting is but one response, but can we wait that long to be responsive to the Prince of Peace in this matter? What options of action are available to us, particularly through our greater number of Churches in Cascades Presbytery?
    Judith Ann Richards,, HR


  3. Well said. I commend to all another John-based and much longer piece on being prophetic: Brian Blount’s address to the Presbyterian Outlook (Outlook December 23, p23). The issues Blount describes are different, but the call to us is the same: Hide the light and we risk loss of that light.


  4. An excellent reflection. The real issue is: HOW to move forward after your thought-provoking reflection? Personally, corporately, and in congregations made up of a mix of perspectives. Options? Thoughts?
    Option 1: Don’t preach this next Sunday, but facilitate a congregation-wide conversation preceded by a reading of your reflection?
    Option 2: Finally come out and blatantly say my political stance from the pulpit and let come what may?
    Option 3: Same old same old: avoid political hot topics and just preach the Bible texts for the day, including multiple commentator perspectives and a passing veiled application to modern day contexts or current events?


  5. Well said Brian. I don’t see this as a conflict between Church and state but a conflict between a human being and someone who is something less. Thank you for your insight and/or words. Don’t stop.


  6. I agree with you Brian, but I won’t share this post with my congregation. I don’t think this area would allow themselves to hear and understand your words; they would reject it immediately.


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