Recently our president made the latest in a long line of comments demeaning immigrants and minorities. The furor brings to mind two biblical prophets, both for their differences and for what they hold in common.
Nathan was an advisor to the royal court and a messenger of God. He pronounced God’s covenant with David, supported the ascension of Solomon, and wrote histories of the legendary kings. The Bible rarely speaks positively of court prophets, who often serve as apologists for rulers who flout the will of God. Yet Nathan was a court prophet, and a good one. Most memorably, he approached King David and convicted him of his sin against Bathsheba and Uriah. Nathan might have lost his head. Instead he won a repentant king.
John the Baptist is the very image of a wilderness prophet. His ministry raises a clarion cry in the desert, far from the center of political power. He wore a camel-hair shirt, ate locusts and honey, and heralded the kingdom of God. John the Baptist condemned the marriage of Herod Antipas. Unlike Nathan, he ultimately paid with his life.
One was a court prophet and the other a wilderness prophet. One was welcome in the precincts of power. The other was not. What does this have to do with us today?
Some of our readers voted for Trump, in enthusiastic support or in reluctant pragmatism. Others rejected him. Christianity Today should be a place where brothers and sisters in Christ reason with one another passionately and charitably. Let’s seek to understand as much as we seek to be understood.
As for me, I wonder if we have too many court prophets in an era when wilderness prophets are needed. I also wonder if our court prophets are willing to call out sin when they see it. Whether you view Trump as a David or an Antipas, whether you serve at the court of the resplendent king or stand over against the court from the wilderness, one thing Nathan and John the Baptist held in common was that both were willing to condemn unrighteousness in their rulers—even if it cost them everything.
The racial inflection of our political drama adds deeper significance to the moment. White Christians have a long and lamentable history of silence (or worse) when people of color are under attack. On the one hand, I sense today an authentic desire among white Christians to build bridges of relationship and reconciliation with their friends and neighbors of other ethnicities.
On the other hand, I sense a profound frustration among non-white Christian friends that their white brethren keep silent as the president aims ugly and demeaning statements at people of color. These friends don’t like what the silence of the white church is saying, and neither do we.
If white Christians wish to stand on the bridge with brothers and sisters of other colors and backgrounds, they need to stand with them first in the foxhole. We should all stand so close that attacks on “them” are attacks on “us,” until there is no longer a distinction between “them” and “us” remaining. If we abandon our sister in the foxhole, we cannot expect her to attend our potluck.
So let us not be silent. We are not captive to political party. We are accountable to a higher authority. We expect better of our leaders, and we stand in the foxholes with our brothers and sisters when they are taking fire. We hope court prophets and wilderness prophets alike, and Christians of all political persuasions, will speak the truth and stand with those who suffer unjustly.
Timothy Dalrymple is president and CEO of Christianity Today.