Not the kind that predict the future; the kind that critique the present.
Not the kind that tell of fortune; the kind that tell of lament.
Not the kind that appease those in power; the kind who enter boldly into a corrupt society to bring a fiery, divinely inspired message that upsets the comfort of the complacent.
These are the prophets of the Scriptures. In the canonical Hebrew Scriptures, there are 15 of these divinely sanctioned truth tellers. These prophets of old did not mince words. In a nation that was perfectly content saying, “this is fine,” these prophets stood up and spoke out against the injustices that others chose to ignore.
This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. (Jeremiah 22:3)
Jesus was a prophet too. Christians have come to see him as much more but, fundamentally, that’s exactly what he was. He brought a message of repentance in preparation for a new kingdom he claimed was coming. He wowed people with his words and confirmed the validity of them with his deeds. And ultimately, like so many prophets before him, he was executed for bringing a subversive message that the powerful did not want people to hear.
In the famous “Road to Emmaus” story recorded in Luke 24, Jesus appears to two of his disciples post-resurrection, disguised as a stranger. He asks them what they’re talking about, and they proceed to tell him about himself:
“He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place.”
If you read between the lines, you can sense a great deal of disillusionment in these disciples. They had believed deeply in Jesus, not just in the man but also in the message. They believed that a new kingdom was coming, that a better world was being ushered in. They had staked their lives on this belief, and then they watched as it crumbled before their eyes.
Their hero was killed, executed by the very empire from which he was to liberate them. But even though they knew of his crucifixion, they simply could not believe it was over. It just couldn’t be. Even death could not contain that prophetic message of Jesus, could it?
Three days later, though, they were starting to worry. Was their prophet really gone forever? Was the mission a complete failure after all? Was the new kingdom nothing but an empty dream?
Little did they know, as they despaired over these doubts and feared for their future, their prophet was standing there in their midst–just waiting for them to recognize him.
Where Have All the Prophets Gone?
I’m one of the many people in America who have become disillusioned with the state of humanity in the 21st Century. As an able-bodied, heterosexual, white male, I’ve become increasingly aware of my privilege and the ways in which our political, social, religious, and economic systems work against people in these marginalized, oppressed groups.
The rise of Donald Trump is just a symptom. The disease has been with us a long time, and it really feels like the cure is beyond our grasp.
For me, the awakening to these systems of oppression started with Pulse. Following the unspeakable tragedy, I started listening to the heartbreaking stories of shame and abuse from within the LGBT+ community.
Then, shortly after, I followed the back-to-back shootings of Anton Sterling and Philando Castile. I began listening to the outcry from people in communities of color fighting for their right to exist.
Then, somewhere along the lines, I stumbled into stories of women who have been caught up in systems of patriarchy manifesting itself in rape culture and discrimination of all kinds.
I heard so many stories, and they completely broke me.
My heart began crying out with that ancient plea of desperation, “How long, oh Lord, how long?”
Are there any prophets for our time? Is there anyone bringing a message of liberation for the oppressed? Is there still hope for a better world?
As soon as began asking these questions, I quickly discovered the answer was an emphatic, “Yes!”
There were prophets all around me, but I didn’t recognize them because they had appeared to me as strangers on the road. It wasn’t until I had sat down and broken bread with them that my eyes were opened and I realized that there were prophets in my midst…
Cindy Brandt is a prophet. She operates a powerful blog teaching parents how to raise children in the faith without incorporating the toxic elements of fundamentalism that often end up traumatizing their kids. Follow her prophecies @cindy_w_brandt.
Dorothy Charles is a prophet. She actively promotes black voices on Twitter, speaks out against white supremacy, and works within the medical community to advocate for black lives in her work. Follow her prophecies @dn_charles.
Crystal Cheatham is a prophet. She is spearheading the development of Our Bible App, an open-source Bible commentary and devotional serving queer people and others whose voices have been historically excluded from readings of scripture. Follow her prophecies @crystalcheatham.
Tori Douglass is a prophet. She is outspoken proponent of the Black Lives Matter Movement and critic of white privilege. Her sermon for the white church is something every white Christian in America needs to read. Follow her prophecies @toriglass.
Samantha Field is a prophet. She has been outspoken against sexual abuse and misogyny in the church, coming out of an extremely fundamentalist environment to work on developing more liberating theologies. Follow her prophecies @samanthapfield.
Kevin Garcia is a prophet. He uses his blog, podcast, and YouTube channel not only to provide a safe space of spiritual development for gay Christians but also to help cisgender, heterosexual Christians understand how to be better allies. Follow his prophecies @thekevingarcia_.
Karen Gonzalez is a prophet. She works tirelessly with communities of immigrants and refugees, embodying the imperative to “welcome the stranger.” Follow her prophecies @_karengonzalez.
Emily Joy is a prophet. She uses her poetry and her powerful way with words to educate churches, colleges, and other organizations on the dangers of purity culture and its threat against advancement of women in broader society. Follow her prophecies @emilyjoypoetry.
Emmy Kegler is a prophet. She started Queer Grace, an online resource for Queer Christians, and continues to advocate for Queer people of faith by serving as a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Follow her prophecies @emmykegler.
Kenji Keone is a prophet. He is a student of theology and an activist who advocates for the queer community as well as for people of color. His first book, A Book of Uncommon Prayer consists of a collection of prayers to orient Christians toward action, particularly within the Black Lives Matter movement. Follow his prophecies @afreshmind.
Deborah Jian Lee is a prophet. In her amazing book Rescuing Jesus, she chronicles how people of color, women, and LGBT Christians are reclaiming Jesus in the American church despite the generations of abuse they’ve encountered. Follow her prophecies @deborahjianlee.
Matthias Roberts is a prophet. He hosts an amazing podcast called Queerology, inviting queer people of faith into fascinating and important conversations on “belief and being.” Follow his prophecies @matthiasroberts.
Caitlin Stout is a prophet. She uses her amazing blog, her Twitter feed, and her wonderful sense of humor to lobby for gay Christians, especially those stuck in hostile environments such as conservative college campuses. Follow her prophecies @caitlinjstout.
Laura Jean Truman is a prophet. She uses her powerful writing to encourage Christians of all stripes to find strength in ambiguity and to reclaim Jesus from the clutches of fundamentalism. Her words are like fire; no one can make me excited about Jesus again quite as much as she can. Follow her prophecies @laurajeantruman.
The Future of the Church
Reflecting on the ways in which these amazing people resemble the prophetic voices of the scriptures, I soon received a sobering answer. It’s because I wasn’t on their side.
I wasn’t part of the divinely sanctioned group of prophetic people sent out to call a wayward faith to repentance. I was part of the group that needed to repent.
I was the oppressor, the cultivator of systems of injustice. I was guilty, both individually and communally and through both direct involvement and passive complicity, of some of the most egregious sins imaginable: white supremacy, racism, Islamophobia, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, classicism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia, to name a few.
I’m still repenting of those sins today.
But this isn’t about my guilt. This is about a shift in the balance of power. I and those like me, who have been the norm in Christianity for so long, are no longer where the kingdom of God is found. The Kingdom of God is not being ushered by those in power; as it as always been, it’s being ushered in by the subversive, the rebellious, and the prophetic.
God is always on the side of the oppressed.
God’s prophets are, therefore, not the agents of the empire or the citizens living in the comfort of the empires spoils. God’s prophets are those speaking out against the empire and seeking to liberate the oppressed from its clutches.
The future of the church is non-white.
The future of the church is female.
The future of the church is queer.
And this is a beautiful thing, not just for marginalized communities but for the church as a whole. God is not simple, bland, or conventional. God is complex. God is diverse. God is the ultimate “other.” It only stands to reason that the people of God should follow suit.
As my favorite prophet Laura Jean Truman has written:
The gift of queerness for the Body of Christ is a constant invitation to see the world, the Other, and our God, as bigger, stranger, more beautiful, more diverse.
So where, then, does that leave people like me? Is there room for straight white guys to play a role in what God is doing?
Sure, there is.
But only if we heed the voice of the prophets.
These communities that have been shut out of the church for so long aren’t just getting a seat at the table; they’re getting seats at the head of the table, and we’re only allowed to join if they’re gracious enough to invite us.
Lucky for us, these prophets don’t want to shut us out of the kingdom. They want us to return to the ways of justice. They want us to right our wrongs. They want us to give back all that we’ve stolen. And so they have the same message for us that Jesus has had for the powerful all along:
Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.
So, let’s do it. Let’s repent.
Because a better world is coming, and we want to be a part of it too.
NOTE: Pictured in this post are, in sequence, Laura Jean Truman, Tori Douglass, and Kenji Keone.