“Prophets in the Modern Age” with Rev. Christine Kell
Joan Chittister tells us that: “The direction we take at this new cross road in time will not simply affect the future of the United States. It will determine the history of the world.” How does prophecy affect our direction? Do you believe we have divinely inspired prophets among us today? Tune in Sunday to learn more.
A revised transcript of this week’s talk is provided below for the deaf and hard of hearing, including prayers, readings, and songs.
Community Circles Discussion Guide – View and Download
Gracious God, thank you for your gift of today.
Refresh us, invite us, to discover your presence in each person we meet and every event encountered.
In moments of challenge and decision, attune our hearts to the whisperings of your wisdom.
As we undertake ordinary and unnoticed tasks, gift us with simple joy.
When our day goes well, may we rejoice; when it grows difficult, surprise us with new possibilities.
When life is overwhelming, call us to Sabbath moments to restore your peace and harmony.
May our living today reveal your goodness.Anonymous
Loving God, you fill all things with a fullness and hope that we can never comprehend. Thank you for leading us into a time where more of reality is being unveiled for us all to see. We pray that you will take away our natural temptation for cynicism, denial, fear and despair. Help us have the courage to awaken to greater truth, greater humility, and greater care for one another. May we place our hope in what matters and what lasts, trusting in your eternal presence and love. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our suffering world. Knowing, good God, that you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God. Amen.A Prayer for our Community, from Father Richard Rohr
“Prophecy in the Modern Age” by Rev. Christine Kell
The title of my talk this morning is Prophecy in the Modern Age: Divine or Political? The subject of prophecy and prophets who are active in today’s world has been floating around in my brain for quite a few years, ever since I graduated from One Spirit Seminary. At that time the idea occurred to me that perhaps I was connected to prophecy in some way, but I didn’t really know what that might mean, and so I didn’t pay any attention to it. But the idea never went away; it just sat around in my head and showed up on occasion for a look-see. And gradually, I started hearing the word “prophet” mentioned by more and more people, and I would hear phrases like “modern prophets” and “prophecy in our time.” So then, when I started doing these talks here at One World, I knew right away that one day I wanted to talk about prophecy. And I think today is actually the perfect day: Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem to fulfill the prophecies about him.
Before I actually get into the talk, I want to mention that much of it comes from Sr. Joan Chittister’s book The Time Is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage – a book I highly recommend. I’d also like to be clear on the terms I am using. Many of you may already have a working knowledge of these terms, but others, like me, may appreciate some clarification.
First, although prophecy can be found in many cultures throughout history, including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism, ancient Greek religion, and lots of others, for today I am using the Christian term God to designate the sacred.
What is a Prophet?
As for the word “prophet,” according to Webster, a prophet is “one who utters divinely inspired revelations; one regarded by a group of followers as the final authoritative revealer of God’s will; one gifted with more than ordinary spiritual and moral insight; and, one who foretells future events.” A prophet serves as an intermediary between God and humanity by delivering messages from God to the people. It is important to note that, in ancient times, the foretelling of future events was an incidental part of the prophetic charge, spoken as a warning of what might happen if the people ignored God’s word, rather than a prediction of coming events.
The message that the prophet conveys is called a prophecy. Prophecy is a gift from God, also called a charism, meaning “the ability to speak in an inspiring way on God’s behalf.”
I also will be discussing Pentecostalism and the modern Christian Charismatic movement. Pentecostal Christians emphasize the Bible, baptism in the Holy Spirit, and “gifts of the spirit” such as prophecy, speaking in tongues, and healing. Pentecostalism is experiential, meaning believers know the presence of God through direct experience.
The term Charismatic describes people, primarily but not necessarily Christians, in mainline or independent churches that also emphasize the “gifts of the spirit.” Independent Charismatic Christians tend to be more unorthodox in their practices, as they are less tied to formal organizations. Prophecy is a major aspect for many charismatics.
Both Pentecostals and Charismatics base their beliefs and support their activism with a faith in the renewal and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Okay then. If you followed the recent presidential election news, you may have heard mention of a number of prophesies regarding the re-election of Donald Trump. Self-proclaimed “prophets” of the Charismatic Church declared with unwavering certainty that Trump was anointed by God to be president. Of course, that did not happen. A few of the so-called prophets apologized for their mistaken predictions, while others insisted it was God’s will for Trump to be in the White House and that a miraculous reversal would occur. They looked for conspiracy theories to explain their erroneous prophecies. With Trump’s future in doubt, prophets and their believers worked hard to discern God’s will in the results of the election.
So, who exactly are these prophets? Some are church leaders with followers among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians, while some others are independent evangelists who do not lead churches or other institutions. They operate primarily online and through appearances at conferences, or as guest speakers in churches. It’s my belief that some of the charismatic prophets actually do experience authentic revelations, while for many others it is a case of wishful thinking. And too often, the loudest among them are simply trying to make a name for themselves by becoming voices in the rising appeal of conspiracy theories disguised in Christian prophetic language. Q-Anon is popular among many evangelicals, as is a resistance to government and mainstream sources of information. There are no official requirements for prophet status, and their gift of predicting the future is based on dreams, visions, and other supernatural phenomena in which God speaks directly to them.
The Popularity of Today’s Prophets
According to some religion reporters, Pentecostalism is the fastest growing form of Christian faith in the world with an estimated half a billion believers around the globe. Some estimates hold that as many as 65 million Americans could be counted as Pentecostals or Charismatics. Many movement leaders are part of what’s been called a New Apostolic Reformation, and its most famous leader here in America, the Rev. Paula White-Cain, is Trump’s personal pastor.
Many charismatic believers deliberately distance themselves from Pentecostalism for cultural and theological reasons. However, for the most part, independent Charismatic Christians and Pentecostals espouse a vague moral code of Christian nationalism that can easily trigger the demonization of others and is inclined toward authoritarian figures. One basic tenet is that God has restored a team of apostles and prophets who are to take positions of power and leadership in order to lead worldwide Christianity into the near future. In the past decade, both the prophets and their rhetoric have entered mainstream conservative politics, and Donald Trump, seen by some as chosen by God in spite of his faults, gave the movement a political focal point.
The popularity of self-appointed prophets shows no signs of waning. In his 2020 book God’s Man in the White House, researcher James Beverley tracked more than 500 prophecies about Trump made by more than 100 prophets over a 15-year period, and found a low average of accuracy. Beverley reported that his research: “shows that the prophecies are usually vague, sometimes totally wrong, and, with rare exception, have failed to be properly critical of Trump.”
However, since the events of Jan. 6th, there has been a strong push by Pentecostal and Charismatic leaders to rethink what prophecy should and should not be in the 21st century, and to set up guidelines and requirements for prophecy accountability. But, given the extent to which the evangelical church has become entwined with Trump’s type of politics as well as the far-right Q-Anon conspiratorial thinking, Beverly believes these measures are unlikely go very far.
But really, is this the sort of prophecy spiritual leaders reference when they speak of prophecy in the modern age? Personally, I don’t believe so.
True Prophecy Is Revelational or Inspirational, or Both
True prophecy, as evidenced by the Biblical prophets of old – prophets like Isiah, Moses, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, just to name a few – is revelational or inspirational, or both. They were the activists of their day, extolling their people to give up their sinful practices and warring ways, or else suffer the wrath of God. The messages of those prophets were often dire and gloomy, but they usually encouraged their listeners as well, begging them to turn away from the path they were on and turn to the righteousness of God. The old prophets had hope that, if the people reformed, God would relent concerning His judgments. The disasters that the prophets saw coming didn’t necessarily need to happen if they were wise enough to listen and learn. While the prophets did see God putting an end to violent and disobedient people, they also looked forward to a time when the nations of the world would be at peace with one another. Many of the prophets ended their teachings on this note, with all the nations of the world enjoying the blessings of God.
Spiritual teachers like Duncan Mitchell of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, and Sr. Joan Chittister teach us that prophecy, in addition to counseling against corrupt practices, should build up, reassure, and console. True prophecy encourages compassion and mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation; liberates from addiction; provides direction and focus for different areas of people’s lives and ministry; and assists with inner and physical healing. Indeed, prophecy has the capacity to speak to all areas of human life and experience. It is about examining the present in the light of the future; seeing what is obstructing the fullness of life and staring down the opposition. Prophets sound the message as clearly and nonjudgmentally as they can – and then, refuse to go away.
John F. Kennedy warned us that, “Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” True prophets compel us to ask the question: what do we really stand for, and what have we done to prove it?
We Are a World in Flux
Right now, we are a world in flux. Leaders of every government, corporation, religious denomination, and organization are being overwhelmed with decisions about whether we should, at the risk of humanity’s downfall, preserve the values and structures that brought us to this point, or go in new, uncertain directions. We live in a world that wavers between authoritarianism and freedom, nationalism and compassion, a world of violence, crime, greed, human degradation, political suppression, economic distress, and every kind of “ism” imaginable.
And we keep waiting for someone to make it all better. Yet, in Sr. Joan’s words: “The silence is deafening as the world waits for those on the edge of the crowd to speak up, to speak out.”
Who are we waiting for? Who is called to proclaim truth in a silent generation? The answer to this question is an easy one: we all are. There is no part of living a spiritual life from which any of us are exempt. Our journey demands that we renew our faith by stepping out on the prophet’s path and develop a new, comprehensive consciousness of stewardship of the Earth and humanity. As we see and comprehend life in all its struggles, it is incumbent upon us to revision the world through the eyes of the sacred; and such a revisioning requires us to walk in the footsteps of the prophets.
Walking in the Footsteps of the Prophets
According to Sr. Joan, every period of renewal in the history of spirituality has been in response to a great, growing gap between life as it is and life as every spiritual tradition teaches us it should be. From the time of the first biblical prophet to the present, it has been prophetic visionaries who have proclaimed and demanded new attitudes and the need for change. Today is no exception. As we look around, we can find more and more activist groups and organizations willing to address the needs of the oppressed.
I believe these social activists are the prophets of today. I believe that whether they claim a spiritual motive or not, they work to bring humanity back to God’s directive to be stewards of the earth and protectors of the defenseless; they follow Jesus’s teaching and the major principle of most faith traditions and cultures, to treat others as we want to be treated.
Activists Are Modern Prophets
Activists are modern prophets confronting the civic and religious hypocrites who claim to care but who refuse to follow the spirit of the law, much less the law of God. They are people like Marie Alohalani Brown, kupuna protector at Mauna Kea camp in Hawaii; Muslim activist Linda Sarsour; Greta Thunberg; Gloria Steinem; Malala Yousafzai; Maya Angelou; Amanda Gorman; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; Marianne Williamson; Mirabai Starr. And Ruby Bridges, who at age 6 became the youngest African-American civil rights activist as an elementary school student.
And then there’s Greenpeace founder Paul Watson; entrepreneur Bill Gates; Leonardo DiCaprio; former London mayor Ken Livingstone; Al Gore; Dietrich Bonhoeffer; Desmond Tutu; Mahatma Gandhi; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Jackie Robinson; Nelson Mandela; Kobe Bryant; and John Lewis.
This list is a small sampling of activist prophets you may have heard about, but there are hundreds more around the globe. They come from all walks of life, performing acts big and small. They are modern day prophets standing up for all of us against all forms of oppression and injustice, and who, in the words of Etty Hillesum, “try to live a good and faithful life . . . [so] those who come after [me] do not have to start all over again.”
The Prophet’s Task
Sr. Joan tells us:
It is the prophet’s task to point out the presence of the oppressed and the absence of compassion for their suffering . . . Our charge as individuals is to see the forgotten and forsaken, to shine a light on them and to insist that others see them, too. To be their voice until they can themselves be heard.
Today’s prophets are not always openly religious or spiritual, but whether they proclaim it or not, they are following the spiritual path of the activist prophets of old. They face a world divided and torn by race and gender, national identity, and economic class; they confront leaders who are power hungry or simply too afraid and unwilling to stand for the common good.
Today’s prophets proclaim another way of being alive, of becoming fully human. They hear the message, see the vision, and know the feeling of being part of the human race over any particular religion or nation. And because they are willing to take heed of the warnings in front of us, they demand the re-balancing of a skewed and chaotic world. Their spirituality is grounded by the vision of an unseen world where all things are in harmony.
Yet, while prophets may take the lead in confronting the complacency of an obstructionist world, to be spiritually mature we must each be about something greater than ourselves, to own the implications in the Christian life. We must think beyond our own small world to the affects other issues are having on the local area and make a response to them – with others or alone. No exception is made for anyone. None of us, however isolated from the rest of life, is forgiven the responsibility.
The Words of the Prophets Are Written On Subway Walls
As in the lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel, the words of the prophets may be written on subway walls, but they also must be shouted out loud and clear, forcing us to see our own role in oppression. Prophets “call us all to a universal bar of judgment and make us choose” (JC); they call us to find the courage to take a specific, uncompromising stand for justice, to do something to change our world as well as talk about what needs to be changed.
The prophetic tradition has been handed on to each of us to reclaim. But Sr. Joan warns us that:
The path of spiritual prophecy is not an easy path. Dissent jeopardizes the status quo. It threatens those holding advantage and privilege, those who stand to lose if the system changes. How does it happen that the likes of us . . . suddenly move from silence to public speech?
Faith Is the Single Gift That Makes Prophecy Real
Her answer is simple: faith. She reminds us that faith is the single gift that makes prophecy real. Faith empowers us to endure and venture beyond the pain of being dismissed, belittled, and ridiculed. Faith leads us from despair to trust, from fear to courage, from doubting ourselves to the conviction that we are doing holy work. Faith enables us to trust in a future we cannot see but are bound to pursue. Because we know the truth of the Divine will for all of us, our faith commits us to demand it for all of us.
Prophetic vision requires insight to recognize what must be done and the determination and strength to do something, however little, to stand up and speak out in order to bring that awareness to life. Prophetic leadership lies in the vision of goodness; it’s a voice that sounds with the ring of truth and sings to the tune of “liberty and justice for all.” It is a call to the faithful to see what the prophet sees, a call to the righteous to step up and raise up a new way of being alive.
Rooted in Sacred Truth
The leadership of the prophet is fearless because it is rooted in the sacred truth found in every scripture, the words of every true prophet who came before us, and God’s promise to each and every one of us. Yet, such leadership requires self-confidence and courage, sometimes in the face of overwhelming and powerful odds. Where do we find those qualities; and how do we bring them out in ourselves?
And here, again, the answer is faith – trust that the requisite talents, insight, vision, strength, and truth have been Divinely gifted to us, and will be Divinely upheld and supported in us. Faith that the God we believe in, who calls us to take on this responsibility for the world, will be with us as we step out on the prophetic journey.
Charles Spurgeon wrote, “We are all, at times, unconscious prophets.”
It Is Time Now for Us to Answer the Call of the Prophet
It is time now for us to answer the call of the prophet; the call to be a truth-teller; the call to consciousness and conscience. The path may be difficult, discouraging, even at times despairing. But Peace Pilgrim gave us these words to carry us through:
I am open-minded, open only to the Voice of God’s Teacher WITHIN, and closed to the voice of judgment and condemnation. When I listen only to the Holy Spirit’s Voice and no other, my forgiveness of the world is finally made complete. And when I forgive completely, the world will sparkle with newness and joy and shining glory beyond what I can presently imagine. It is given me to bring the glad tidings of complete forgiveness to the world. Blessed indeed am I, for I am the bringer of salvation.
And so it is.
The Time Is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage by Joan Chittister
American Prophets by Jack Jenkins
“I Am Opening Up in Sweet Surrender” written by Michael Stillwater
“Be Thou My Vision,” Traditional Irish Hymn, adapted by A. Lightbearer
This service originally aired on March 28, 2021.