Speaking Truth to Power

It’s safe to speak truth to power, but only when that power lies at more than arm’s length from our lives. Many Americans have spoken out against Robert Mugabe’s reign of terror in Zimbabwe, and more than a few Episcopal leaders have rightly condemned the former Bishop of Harare’s public support of Mugabe’s atrocities. Some of us have expressed indignation at leaders in the Solomon Islands, which allowed six Anglican religious brothers to be murdered by a mob.

We rail against terrorists and we rant against dictators, and it costs us absolutely nothing. But at least we’re faithful to the scriptures: “You shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ Whether they hear or refuse to hear. . . they shall know that there has been a prophet among them” (Ezek. 2:3b-4). And so we’ve done our part.

For prophets who speak truth to power a little closer to home, it can be quite a different story. Regardless of what the law might say, workers engaged in trying to organize labor unions are usually fired. Clergy who speak out at conventions against dysfunctional diocesan policies can find their future job prospects limited. And parishioners who challenge the priorities of a parish are easily stigmatized as “troublemakers,” and even invited to “move on.” Our Lord’s observation in today’s gospel most certainly rings true: “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house” (Mark 6:4).

Sometimes, individuals who speak truth to power have a far greater price to pay for their faithfulness to God. Gandhi devoted his life to challenging the British Raj in his own backyard, and it cost him his life. Nelson Mandela took on the brokers of apartheid, getting 25 years in prison for his efforts. After all, speaking prophetic truth to the powers at hand took Jesus himself to the cross. The occasional call on us to risk jobs or advancement or church membership truly pales by comparison.

But look at the long-term results of that level of faithfulness. India is now long independent. South Africa today is among the freest African countries. And Jesus ‘ own hometown, where people once “took offense at him” (Mark 6:3), was a few months back the site of a triumphal papal Mass. Who would have thought?

Look it Up

The recent pastoral letter from the House of Bishops deals in part with speaking truth to power. What are the issues it raises?

Think About It

In what ways do we engage personally in prophetic ministry?


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