Monday, March 24, 2008

Speaking Truth to Power - A phrase without substance

Last night I was able to catch a glimpse of CNN. I don't remember the name of the program, or the host. The subject of discussion was Barack Obama's former pastor and the influence of Black Liberation Theology in the realm of American politics. Actually, that's saying too much. I'm convinced the host at CNN is unable to even grasp the definition of theology let alone what "Black Liberation" might mean in front of it. All the host wanted to know was a yes or no answer to the question; does Black Liberation Theology pit a person against America - are proponents of this theological strain Anti-American?
One of the guests on the show was a minister from the church in Chicago that Mr. Obama has been a member of. In his description of what happens in a black church sermon he noted that one of the phases is to take a personal struggle to the public policy arena and thus "speak truth to power."
I became aware of this phrase at seminary where I was thrown into an ecclesiastical soup which had a large contingency of United Methodists. Within their lexicon speaking truth to power seemed to represent the sense of Jesus fulfilling his mission as defined in Luke 4, quoting Isaiah - as giving release to the captive.
However, the more its used, and generally by whom its used - by those with membership in the American Council of Churches - it becomes clear that the intent in speaking truth to power, is that those who speak may have a seat at the table of power, to be the power.
On our recent trip to Washington, D.C. I was shocked to walk around the capitol building toward the US Supreme Court and walk right past "The Methodist Building." The United Methodist's have a building closer to the lawmakers and the law arbiters than anyone else - they are like the dog under the kitchen table. They're there, not to "speak truth to power" - they, very visibly, want to belly up to the table, they want to be the power - and they're utilitarian on the issues - they'll use whatever non-descript issue to bark.
I'm simply amazed - when Jesus said he'd come to give sight to the blind, free the captives and set the oppressed free - he didn't go running to Pilate with a pogrom. He went to the captive and the blind and the oppressed and he worked in their midst.
Almost all of the ecclesiastical and academic whigs in America, liberal and conservative and whatever modifier they choose, have overlooked the lessons of the German church in the 1930's. By the time our professors and pastors learn our lesson one wonders if we'll have anything good to share with the blind, poor and captives?
Jesus spoke truth to the powerless - to the dead.

1 comment:

Ed Bryson's Blog said...

Hi Jason,
You would have been proud of your protégé, Andrea Tinsley. She did a superb job organizing and managing the youth retreat. Your name was referenced often and it was evident she watched and learned from you over the years. I hope you feel good about that. You are collecting marks of influence to shuffle through in the times you feel you aren't making a difference. If I can make it to MI this year, I'll try to stop by. Please send me your contact info. I'll update it in the FAS data base as well. Blessing on you guys, and thanks for investing your lives in people....Ed