by Robert Earl Houston
One of the facets that cannot be ignored during this month of Black History is the affect of prophetic preaching in the African-American experience.
If it weren’t for those voices who preached about social justice, sometimes all by themselves, Lord only knows where we would be today. Preachers like E.V. Hill, Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrew Young, Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr., Adam Clayton Powell, Gardner Calvin Taylor, Ralph David Abernathy, William Augustus Jones, J. Alfred Smith, Sr., and others, who sounded the alarm to awaken the social conscience of not only black America, but of the entire nation. They challenged this nation during a time of war, social unrest, discrimination, and other maladies. They challenged not only those who heard them in the comfortable confines of their churches, but they led peaceful protest of governmental policies in the streets.
They preached against the marginalization of the negro.
They preached about the lack of adequate housing and employment.
They preached about strengthening of the family structure.
They preached about unjust verdicts received by the negro in court cases.
They preaching against the violent methods of protest.
Fast forward to 2013 – what has happened to prophetic preaching?
Before I delve into this matter, I will confess that I am not called to a prophetic preaching ministry. I am an expository pastor/preacher/teacher and I’m quite comfortable where God has placed me. I’m in a community where a goodly amount of people gather and it is necessary for me to address some issues, events and circumstances within a biblical context. However, at this point, I’m not called to preach prophetically, however, there are times when the prophetic utterance occurs within the context of a sermon.
I think that those men and women of that day were called to that ministry. By divine reckoning, their personalities and ambitions complemented the prophetic preaching ministry. None of these men were afraid of the consequences. Their reputations were never “on the line” and they were not concerned about opinion polls or how they would be perceived by Associations or Conventions. In fact, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was publicly fired from denominational office by National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. president, Dr. John Harrison Jackson, which was one of the major factors which led to the formation of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc.
Prophetic Ministry means that you depend not upon a pulpit nor denomination for survival. That speaking out against injustices is your passion. Dr. King showed us that speaking out does not have to be laced with profanity nor ignorance. He showed us that non-violent demonstration is how you affect change that can be lasting. Dr. King and the “fathers of the movement” showed us that eloquence defeats ignorance, that prayer defeats strongholds, that social justice trumps injustice.
What has happened to prophetic preaching?
I think what has happened is that prophetic preaching is not a priority in most of our ministries. Using the words of Tip O’Neill, “all politics is local.” And if you live in an area where the people are not suffering as a whole like in other parts of the country, God may not have called a minister to that mantle. I was asked by the Chairman of an initiative of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., who wanted to know if I wanted to sign onto a project to combat teenage pregnancy, especially among church teenagers. The shock in his face when I told him, “to my knowledge, there are no young teenage girls in my church that have been pregnant in four years.” That’s true. However, in his area (Washington, DC), it’s an epidemic.
Everyone is not called to preach prophetically. I don’t think it’s wise to beat a drum that nobody will hear. For example, to demonstrate and “speak truth to power” when there is no one of power in the room and then go and brag about “I really told that Sarah Palin off today” is missing the mark if Sarah Palin was not in the house.
I recall from the civil rights marches of the 1960s that the “powers that be” heard the voices of the prophetic. They couldn’t help but because the prophetical voices were not tethered to pulpits and ivory towers of churches. They took to the streets, they grabbed bullhorns, they marched (not in gators), and made headlines until President John F. Kennedy, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, and President Richard Nixon heard their voices.
They were brought into the White House not to preach prophetically, but because they already had.
I applaud those who are called to speak on behalf of the defenseless, the poor, the destitute, those who suffer injustices within their communities and in this nation. Somebody has to speak for the Lord and for His people in times of great injustices. However, I firmly believe that you have to be called to it. The Church of God in Christ has a “theme song” that says: “This is the Church of God in Christ | This is the Church of God in Christ | You don’t join it | You must be born in it | This is the Church of God in Christ.”
I feel that way about prophetic preaching. It has to be birthed from the preacher given the times. God bless those who speak prophetically to our cities, states, nation and world.
I welcome your comments and discussion to this blog below.