Prophets Aren’t Perfect. They’re Prophets. A response to Critics of an American Prophet and a Defense of a Brother Blogger
Help me and another brother out here. I am getting concerned again. One of the best Catholic Bloggers, and a great promoter of Catholic presence on the Web, Brandon Vogt, is being lectured to by his “disappointed” his readers since he spoke of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a “hero and prophet.”(His post is here: Martin Luther King – Hero and Prophet)
Wowza, his combox really lit up with lecturers and various levels of excoriators who hastened to remind him of King’s foibles, and of his political leanings that were not comfortable enough to them.
Truth be told, no true prophet really fits in, whether it be Dr. King or Brandon. Yes, we are dealing with stuff that is actually pretty much the norm for prophets. I am particularly mindful of Jeremiah, who was cast into prison for being “unpatriotic” (cf Jer 37-38), for he had prophesied that the Babylonians would conquer, if Israel did not repent.
Prophets just don’t fit in. They break through political distinctions, and tend to offend just about everyone, even as they also affirm across political boundaries.
Jesus was crucified “outside the gate” to symbolize that he fit nowhere in Israel’s little systems and categories. He was hated by all the political parties of his day: The Herodians, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, and the Zealots. They agreed on nothing, except this one thing: “Jesus has to go.” The Book of Hebrews admonishes, Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore (Heb 13:13). Here is a true disciple, a true Catholic, a true follower of Jesus, one who does not fit into the little parties of his day but thinks and acts beyond such restrictions.
I am not sure if Dr. King were alive today if he would be Republican or Democrat. I am not even sure if he would be pro-life. I think he would, and perhaps he could have saved the Democratic Party from signing on to its, pro-death platform. His niece Alfreda seems to think he would have been prolife. I don’t personally know. But you know, it is a sad truth that we did not afford him the possibility to speak for himself.
Yes, we like our ancestors, tend to kill prophets, especially those who do not fit in to our little categories. Jesus had little patience for our categories, parties, factions and other little nicities:
Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all. (Luke 11:48-52).
Yes, we abort our babies and kill the prophets, and while we like to make nice little distinctions, in the end, dead still means dead. And Dr. King is no less dead in his imperfection than our babies are in their innocence.
We kill many who God sends to us. And instead of chirping about whether they belonged to the right party or were 100% virtuous, we ought to repent for what we have done as a nation. God’s martyrs don’t fall so nicely into our little worldly categories.
And as for those who will bring forth the “womanizer/adulterer charges against Dr. King, let us further reflect that prophets are not perfect. Moses was a murderer, so was David, and an adulterer besides. Isaiah went about preaching naked, Jonah was reluctant and an ultra-nationalist, St Paul had a bad temper, Jacob was a shyster, Peter was inconsistent and a denier, the Samaritan woman was adulteress, Mary Madelene had demons, seven of them, St Augustine was a fornicator, Jerome had an anger management issue. etc.
St. Paul, (did I mention that he had conspired to murder Christians, and had a bad temper?) spoke of us as carrying our treasure “in earthen vessels” (2 Cor 4:7).
If you have read this blog for any length of time, you know that I do not make light of sin. But if we are going to start insisting that priests and prophets be sinless and without struggles, then every blog must go dark, every pulpit go silent, every ministry and apostolate go inactive.
I do not know Dr. King’s sins. I have heard the rumors. But that is what they are, rumors. You will tell me you read it on the Internet and that the FBI “has a file.” Great, show me proof in writing, and make sure it is not fabricated. Until then, beware that gossip and the ruination of reputations is a very serious matter, and we need to be certain before to spread rumors.
And to the degree that Dr. King may have sinned and sinned seriously, what of the others listed above. But they repented you say. Yes I pray they did. But are you sure Dr. King did not? Are you certain that as he lay dying he did not call on God’s mercy?
We need to be very careful. For the measure that we measure to others will be measured back to us (Mat 7:2). Only the merciful will obtain mercy (Mat 5:7), and if we have not forgiven others neither will we be forgiven by the Father (James 2:13, Matt 6).
In the end no one can deny that Dr. Martin Luther King helped bring forth greater justice in this land. And he did so in a way that was profoundly in keeping with Jesus’ way, the way of love and non-violence. If God used an imperfect man to do this, that is God’s business not mine.
And as for Brandon Vogt, he is a fine Catholic and superb blogger who deserved better than to be treated as he was by many in his combox. I have noted many times before, (and paid dearly for it) that far too many Catholics are political before they are Catholic or biblical . Catholicism and Biblical Christianity do not fit into anyone nice little worldly category or political philosophy. Good prophets love God’s people and are just as likely to afflict the comfortable as comfort the afflicted. (We are all in both categories). True Catholicism does not fit perfectly into any political party. Catholic needs to trump party at every turn. Sadly it does not always do so.
If Dr. King doesn’t fit into our Catholic world perfectly, that should not wholly exclude him, We cannot, and should not canonize him, to do so would be patronizing. But in the end he did something important for this country and paid dearly for it. The Lord Jesus himself gives us a critical norm to follow in assessing others:
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. (Mat 7:17-20)
Maybe that is the best we can do with Dr. King, honor what God was able to accomplish through him, whatever his personal struggles, or hidden faults. The fruits of what he did were necessary even if “our party” or “our Church” was not the main way God chose to work it. It is horrifying and embarrassing to think that we tolerated as a country “Whites Only” signs, and “Colored” areas.
I pray one day we will be just as horrified that we ever tolerated and called a “right” the killing of the unborn. But killing prophets and narrow-casting Catholicism is no way to get there. Until we can demonstrate that we stand above narrow little political distinctions, our credibility and prophetic bona fides are easily assailed by a cynical world. We are not the Democratic Party at prayer, neither are we the Republican Party at prayer. We are Catholics and the Body of Christ at prayer.
Help me out here. I must once again lament the “death by a thousand cuts that we Catholic so easily visit on one another. Are there not enough secular opponents and critics that we must do this to one another? Come on Church, are you prayin’ with me?
Also here is a recent prayer of a Protestant minister and old friend of mine, Rev. Rob Schenck (His Brother Paul is a Catholic priest). Both are pro-life warriors and speak prophetically, praising what can be praised, and laying out what must be repented of.