“The gifts He gave were that some would be…..prophets & some evangelists….to equip the saints for the work of ministry…..”
-Paul of Tarsus (Ephesians 4:11-12)
“Billy Graham [and Norman Peale], the high priests of Middle America, the word of God came to Martin King in the wilderness of America.
-Gardner C. Taylor, “The Strange Ways of God
What does the interplay between the evangelist & the prophet look like? Is there a rhythm, a harmonic symphony, a divinely choreographed dance they are called to perfect with each other? What happens when the evangelist steps on the toes of the prophet in this dance of redemption? Should the beautiful feet of those who carry the Good News be permitted to scar & bruise the feet of the ones who call us to “do right, seek justice, & defend the oppressed”? What does it mean to ask Jesus into your heart in a society that disciples you to not let “the other” into your home, your business, your economy, & your church, even? Can the evangelist tell us to walk down the aisle & receive salvation but be apathetic, indifferent, hesitant, or outright resistant to the prophet who marches & calls a nation to “let JUSTICE roll down like a river”? Is preaching the “pure Gospel message” a call to duck our heads in the sand & ignore socio-political corruption? Did not Jesus-the holy & pure One-in His life-acts clash with the power structures of 1st Century Palestine? Is not salvation from a hebraic perspective grounded in the anti-imperial narrative of the Exodus story?
Can the evangelist seek the safe & status quo upholding middle ground in situations of oppression & be worthy of the cross they preach? Who will settle the score when the evangelist—full of “the tranquilizing drug of gradualism”—tells the prophet that he is “too extreme” in his call that a nation’s structures must be born anew? Is the Great Reversal that Mary sung of subordinate to the so-called Great Commission? Is the prophet’s radical dream of the last becoming first, the enslaved become free, the dehumanized being dignified, & hungry being filled with good things too lofty a vision for the evangelist to concern himself with? (1) Can the evangelist’s mission of “saving souls” be honored without dishonoring the prophet’s mission of “saving the soul of a nation”? What does it mean when the evangelist who preaches “that God is Love” willingly shares the platform with those who hate, dominate, & segregate? How can the evangelist co-sign pharaoh but malign Moses? What does it mean when the evangelist invites the prophet to the crusade to pray but does not give the prophet space to prophecy? Is the evangelist quenching the disruptive Spirit of Christ? The Spirit that turns over tables & drives out empire religion? Can the evangelist have his feet fitted with the readiness of the Gospel of Peace & coach the empire towards war & violence? Did he not hear the prophet say in the Name & Spirit of Jesus “we must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means“?
Yes, the evangelist & the prophet can love one another & speak kindly of each other. But public praise & niceties do not interrupt the atrocities of idol worship & injustice. Yes, the evangelist can pay for the prophet’s bail, but does that mean he can “bail” on the call to embody peace & justice? The evangelist can nobly desegregate his crusades but is that enough? Must he not join the holy crusade against social oppression?
The evangelist can be pushed. The evangelist can repent. The evangelist can clumsily learn how to dance with the prophet. The evangelist can years later lament his historic missteps; wishing he had marched, wishing he had raised his voice, regretting that he slept through a great revolution. Grace is vast enough for that. But don’t leave it there. We must learn from the evangelist’s mistakes. We must refuse to join him in the post-mortem domestication of the prophet. We must ask ourselves the question: What would have happened if the evangelist truly listened to the prophet? How might the evangelist’s proclamation have been shaped to give voice to a more WHOLE Gospel. A gospel that confronts, challenges, & heals the sinfulness of souls & the sinfulness of systems. A gospel that frees us from both spiritual & physical poverty.
A Gospel like Martin’s, like Fannie’s, & like Corretta’s.
A Gospel like Jesus’s.
written by T. Hawkins
1.) Michael G Long, Billy Graham and the Beloved Community: America’s Evangelist and the Dream of Martin Luther King Jr. (Palgrave Macmillan; 2006 edition)