Thursday, February 12, 2015

Speaking Truth to Power

I remember vividly conversations held time and again while I was in college, seminary, and then amongst colleagues.  Well, perhaps I shouldn't sound like my memory is infallible for I do not remember vividly the details of said conversations, but I do remember a theme which has been prevalent--especially with those who believe Christians should work to influence the political process and seek laws which are in accord with biblical theology:

We must speak truth to power!

In my particular denomination, this phrase connotes a strong prophetic theme.  Just as the prophets confronted the rulers of Israel and Judah for their injustices, we too must be prophetic.  We too must convince our rulers to seek justice: to care for the widow, the orphan, and the needy.

My schooling was heavily influenced by liberation theologians of one flavor or another, and this theme ran prevalent in all of them as well.  Those in power must be confronted.  We must speak truth to power!

The Church indeed must wrestle with a very important question: how are we to live together?  Many argue that this is the nature of politics.  How do we live and move and work with one another.  This is a question that the Church must enter into regularly as we engage Christians, non-Christians, religious and secular.  We are not isolated from our surrounding communities, and ethics always plays a role in the midst of our daily lives.

Yet, how do we engage the powers of our day?  How do we engage the leaders in our respective cities, states, and nations?  (Obvious American bias right there.)

One of the most interesting things, at least to me, regarding Christianity is how it has managed to thrive under just about every type of government imposed by humanity.  It has survived monarchies, democracy, communism, socialism, and everything in between.  No government has been able to squash it fully--although some have managed to repress it severely.

Sometimes, Christians have the privilege of engaging governmental powers without fear of reprisal.  Sometimes engaging governmental powers is a life or death matter.  It depends upon which type of government you engage.

Which leads us to the point where we must ask: how should we engage our government?  How should we seek to influence the political process?  How should we "speak truth to power?"

For I think the phrase is well worth using, but perhaps in a not so conventional way.

Len Sweet at the Theological Conference I attended a few weeks ago nailed the group with a question.  It was a question yours truly has wrestled with previously and made an argument for.  "When you hear the word Truth, what picture do you get in your head?"  Sweet asked.

In my head, I saw Jesus.  "I am the way and the truth and the life," He said.

Sweet followed up, "For we believe truth is not a concept but a person."

A definite point of agreement here.

Truth indeed, for the Christian, is not a concept but a person.  I think we tend to forget this when we seek to influence the writing of legislation.  We tend to focus on getting certain laws passed thinking that in so doing we are proclaiming the truth.  We are not.  Laws do not proclaim Jesus.

Interestingly enough, Scripture provides a fascinating look into the early Church and its engagement with the powers that be.  I encourage readers to take a look at Acts 24 and following. 

Notice how Paul handles himself as he comes before the powers that be of his day.  See what he is trying to accomplish.  Pay particular attention to Agrippa's statement in Acts 26:

Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian?’ 

Paul replied, ‘Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that not only you but also all who are listening to me today might become such as I am—except for these chains.’

Speaking the Truth to power.

Speaking Jesus to power.

That all may become as we are.

I have to wonder about my denomination's "advocacy" office in Washington, D.C.  Are they operating like St. Paul or like the prophets?  Are they speaking the truth to power or speaking The Truth to power? 

One of these things is not like the other.


Unknown said...

I must confess that what I find troubling in this section, is "Whether short or long, I would to God that not only You but all who hear me this day might become such as I am except for these Chains.... I hear the passion, but for some reason am put in mind of a soft drink jingle from the days of yore. "I'm a Pepper he's a Pepper, she's a Pepper, would you like to be a Pepper too?"

"Say the word and you'll be free, Say the word and be like me,
Say the word I'm thinking of,
Have you heard, the word is "LOVE" ___Firesign Theater

Having some notion of the refiners fire that tends to be a part of the process of coming to faith, (in my own experience, it is not an intellectual pursuit,) was Paul just being hyper zealous or what?

For to wish all to believe like him, seems to either wish Significant Emotional Events for all OR he make it sound as though logic and reason could convince them...

He was speaking to them in a manner seemingly confrontational and RUDE, from my perspective...
It puts me in mind of people who speak different languages trying to communicate, did you ever notice how people in those situations tend to Start talking louder when the issue is not the volume, but the language...

perhaps my style/approach to evangelism is to try to be there with and for people when their life is in crisis, rather than proselytizing on the street corner and preaching Hellfire and brimstone.... Those who "feel Well" perceive no need for a physician...

It does occur to me that when you reach them there, it takes a lot less persuasion, and often they will perceive your witness for themselves.

This approach isn't necessarily a synod approved church growth strategy, it won't necessarily put Bucks in the plate and butts in the pews, but it does win followers for Jesus.

Kevin Haug said...


I agree that action is important to the spread of the Gospel; however, I challenge you to do this: share what God did for us through Jesus without using words.

For, the Gospel is "good news." You cannot act out news. You can only tell it.

While you read my blog post, did you read the text itself from Acts? Did you read Paul's conversation with Agrippa?

Unknown said...

Funny thing, Mimes don't need words, but communicate well.

Unknown said...

Do you need to tell people that what you are doing for them is Because God loves You and called you to take action to help them? Do you hand them offering envelopes on the same visit? Are you afraid that your actions need to be explained in words?
Did Jesus just stay in the synagogue and argue with the Pharisees? He is famous for One I recall, but spent a lot of time healing people, performing miracles and answering peoples question.

Kevin Haug said...


Jesus' sermons and actions would have little meaning in the world today would it not have been for one very important event: the resurrection. In the cross and resurrection, God reconciled the world unto God. Go mime that to someone and see if they get it. You don't act out good news. You tell it.

Unknown said...

What is your experience in "preaching the resurrection" to people who are hungry for a meal, homeless, or have been the victim of domestic violence?

I take your point about what sets us apart, but not so sure about the packaging of the message...

I'm not so sure how receptive they would be to your "see this is how the God I worship is far superior to the God of the Jews, the Muslims, or the Hindi's. And besides when you sign up with us, I get an extra star in my crown for telling you about it. "Team Jesus" the biggest MLM company under Heaven... "Line up and sign up, today..."


Unknown said...

BTW feel free to incorporate my idea in your next Outreach committee program... :-)


Kevin Haug said...

There is always a time and a place for everything. Do not confuse ethics with proclamation. Such things tend to be obfuscation and a refusal to deal with matters of Truth. For why do people go hungry? Why are people abused? Why are people homeless?

Nothing less than the hardness of hearts, self-centeredness, and self-righteousness of humanity. Tell me, Carl, which nations on earth experience the most freedom for women? Which countries have the most programs for the poor? Which countries work toward religious pluralism and tolerance (though I hate that word)?

If you are honest, you will see that it is the countries which had at some point the Protestant Christian ideals driving its politics. What do Islamic nations do to women and homosexuals? Has Hinduism eradicated the caste system? How about human rights in China?

Where the Gospel has been a force it has transformed society. When it has been lost or has never had the chance, society has been more unjust and less accepting. Those are just the facts.

Unknown said...

Oh but of course you are right Kevin... What the heck was I thinkin? Do you recall your recent rant about what other people think of Christians???
Maybe its time to listen to a bit of Michael Jackson, did they ever play his music that far South? He wrote a song ablot the man in the mirror. Perhaps such an inquiry might benefit you in this regard.

Maybe I am confused, about countries like UGANDA ..., tell me my friend how it is that the LGBT community is being treated by those good Jesus lovin' missionary people? As I recall The recent crack down on the LGBT community there was at the behest of "JESUS LOVIN" good ol' Bible Belt Buckling Boys, Homophobic and Hate filled; but "JESUS LOVIN" American evangelists.

And While I tend choose to attribute the Women's movement and LGBT rights movement to the spread of technology and "Western" ideas see the "ARAB SPRING" I didn't read a lot about Christian missionaries as leaders of that movement, or was that just the LEFTIST (you know) "MAINSTREAM MEDIA" and the "Hollywood Elite"?

Well friend, I have bigger fish to fry, and must sign off on this particular topic.

Amen, L'chaim, and QED!


Kevin Haug said...

I do remember that rant quite well, and as I think I showed, it wasn't a rant against Christians as much as it was a rant against algorithms which bring out negativity in culture.

Also, your comparison to Uganda is lacking. Was it ever a predominantly Protestant Christian nation?

"Western" ideas have their philosophical roots embedded in the Reformation notions of freedom of the individual and the autonomous self. These things were unheard of before brother Martin--hence the tradition of such freedoms leading to the rights of individuals.

And as to "Arab Spring," you are correct. Some in the Islamic world are waking up to the notion of basic human rights as they are affected by contact with us in the West. It will remain to be seen how many countries will indeed have some sort of human rights extended to all people. The results will be quite mixed as we have already seen.

And Carl, if you are referring to my particular neck of the woods and race relations and the like, may I give you a gentle reminder that the majority of race riots took place north of the Mason-Dixon line.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.