This article was originally published by The Mennonite

When pastors are prophets

Grace and Truth column

I have always believed that Karl Barth was right: Christians ought to hold their Bibles in one hand and the newspaper in the other. The media frenzy surrounding the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, though, gave me pause. Here are some random thoughts on the public controversy:

1) If anyone doubts the persistence of racism in our country, compare the outrage greeting Wright’s language with the amused condescension greeting the equally extreme language of John Hagee. Where Hagee is treated as, at worst, a harmless crank, Wright is treated as evil incarnate. This makes me wonder: Is Wright’s “crime” really his condemning of our culture’s sins? Or is it that he is an African-American who ought to know better than to be publicly critical of this country?

2) When did patriotism become necessary to faithful preaching? When did the prophets only speak kindly of their own nation? When did Jesus become the servant of the state? And when did the true test of a preacher’s gift become her adherence to a political party line? I believe we Anabaptists ought to be the first to say that no preacher is obliged to wave the flag. In fact, we ought to be the first to challenge such preaching as idolatrous. As compromised as we have become, surely we still understand ourselves as distinct from the state?

3) It astonishes me that in our self-proclaimed Christian nation, so few members of the corporate media have any clue about what pastors and congregations are about. If there weren’t so much at stake, it would be laughable. To be fair, I suppose this says as much about the quality of our witness as it does the media’s ignorance.

4) I am amazed that some folks think we can get a true picture of a pastor and her ministry by pulling quotes from sermons. The picture ought to include at least a few other things—like premarital counseling, hospital visits, countless meetings, baptizing teenagers and serving Communion to someone too frail to walk forward to receive it. It seems the media accepts the stereotype of the pastor who only works 30 minutes a week. I think there’s more to being a pastor than preaching on a Sunday morning.

5) Imagine Jesus being selectively quoted. “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off.” “If your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out.” “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” If this is all we heard of the teaching and ministry of Jesus, all we knew of his life on earth, would we call him Lord? My guess is we’d all be busily looking elsewhere for salvation.

It is tempting to put the newspaper down, turn off the TV and the radio, and pretend that it’s just Jesus and me.

But, thanks be to God, I’ve got a community of sisters and brothers who won’t allow that. They insist that I must live as if what Jesus said is true. That means loving my enemies, working for justice, serving my neighbors and offering love and welcome and assistance to the most vulnerable among us.

When prompted by the Spirit, it also occasionally means speaking words of judgment and even condemnation of a culture that stands opposed to those things we claim to be good news. Words which may sound to some like those of the prophets, like those of Jesus. And, yes, like those from the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright.

Ron Adams is pastor at East Chestnut Street Mennonite Church in Lancaster, Pa.

Sign up to our newsletter for important updates and news!