For years evangelicals such as Ronald Sider, Jim Wallis, and David Gushee have taken upon themselves the mantle of “prophet”speaking the truth to power and all that. They have made a career of distancing themselves from the “religious right” because, the story goes, they had sold their souls and compromised their “prophetic voice” in the pursuit of political power. You know the routine.
Of course, so many of these self-styled prophets turn out to be little more than court theologians once their guy gets in power. Tony Campolo, the “spiritual adviser” and chief “spiritual” apologizer for President Bill Clinton is the most notable and embarrassing example. How long would it take Sider, Wallis, and Gushee to follow in Campolo’s footsteps? Not very long, it would seem.
Sider, Wallis, and Gushee have now raised their “prophetic” voice once again. They have spoken out on the momentous public policy issue of . . . President Obama’s nomination for Secretary of Health and Human Services.
President Obama has nominated Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ as Secretary of Health and Human Services and evangelical and Catholic pro-life leaders are not happy about the choice. Pro-lifers have been critical of Gov. Sebelius for vetoing legislative attempts to restrict late-term abortion as well as parental consent legislation. But she gets a complete pass from our evangelical “prophets” who declare in a statement : “Efforts to discredit her will no doubt arise, but we hope that such tactics will not succeed in taking focus off of her record of reducing abortions and supporting women and families in Kansas . . . .” What is quite remarkable about this statement is that they are not “raising their prophetic voice” in judgment against the “powers that be,” but against pro-lifers who tend to think that Gov. Sebelius is not a very good choice for that cabinet position.
Now, we all know that those who engage in the rough and tumble of everyday politics, including the hardball of cabinet nominations, have to make compromises and make careful judgments of prudence. There are, no doubt, worse appointments than Sebelius (although one simply could not imagine an Obama appointment these guys would actually protest).
But if you are going to get into the rough and tumble of everyday politics and if you are going to take the side of President Obama, the most powerful man in the world, against evangelicals and Catholics leaders in the pro-life movement on a cabinet appointment , could we at least be spared all the self-righteous drivel about being “prophetic,” and “speaking the truth to power.” You can be a flak for the Obama administration on things like cabinet appointments. Or, you can claim to be a “prophet” and “speak the truth to power.” But you can’t be both. It seems obvious what the Wallis, Sider and Gushee crowd have chosen.
If my fellow evangelicals want an example of how to be prophetic with regard to Gov. Sebelius’ stance on abortion, they might take a clue from Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City , Kansas. Last May, Archbishop Naumann reacting to Sebelius’ veto of state Senate Bill 389 and the subsequent House version, titled the Comprehensive Abortion Reform Act, declared that Sebelius’ stance on abortion had “grave spiritual and moral consequences.” He asked that Sebelius no longer receive Communion until she repudiated her stance and made a “worthy sacramental confession.”
To this evangelical, that sounds a tad more “prophetic,” than the hack politics of Wallis, Sider, Gushee. In any case, it will be something to keep in mind next time this crowd gets on its high horse and denounces the religious right for compromising its prophetic voice in pursuit of political power.