All of the controversy over the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and his affect to the presidential campaign for Senator Barak Obama, has caused me to reflect on the prophetic voice that pastors should responsibly exercise in society. Because of the pastoral responsibility to expound truth from the Holy Scriptures and see it applied to contemporary society, the modern pastoral function is the most closely one can see the biblical office of "prophet" approximated. I say "approximated" because pastors are NOT "prophets" in the sense they are biblical defined. However, the prophetic function in biblical times was to declare either the divine view of how things will either someday be, or how they are right now. In the Old Testament, it was a prophetic function to tell Israel, "Here is the expanse between what the Law of the LORD requires and what you're doing now." It was not merely to foretell what God will accomplish in the future; it also was to forth-tell what God requires now.
In biblical times, no inaccuracy in prophets could be tolerated; such was the certainty that the prophet spoke for God. Any inaccuracy was appropriately viewed as revealing the so-called prophet's phoniness. To fraudulently impersonate a prophet of God was a capital offense.
Now, however, certainty is not placed in "prophetic" men, but instead in the writings of the apostolic men who completed the Holy Scriptures for us in the 1st century. As a result, we do not now have "prophets" in the sense meant in biblical times. Be rightly wary of anyone claiming to be one. Typically they're claiming this so as to eventually have as many wives as their base instincts desire.
Nevertheless, though no "prophets" occur today on par with those in biblical times, the pastoral responsibility of preaching has some similarities to the prophetic functions of old. Holy Scripture still foretells what God will accomplish in the future, as well as forth-tells what God requires now. To the extent that pastors preach what the Scriptures teach, they fulfill a kind of prophetic function for society, though admittedly not functioning fully as a "prophet."
I bring this up because I have a concern that the societal/political experience with Jeremiah Wright may have adverse effects of people's receptivity to that pastoral/prophetic voice. Will societal critiques that surface through the exposition of the Scriptures be discounted because people's rejection of such critiques was developed in the process of rejecting Wright? Will pastors shy away from preaching biblical critiques of our own society for fear of sounding like Wright? If a pastor mentions a political issue during preaching (that the biblical text demands he raise), will he get his lunch eaten in the public square? Should we pastors prepare for such treatment now?
Those who know me realize how much my political views differ with Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Likely my close friends could easily identify my theological differences with him as well. However, if he truly believes the "conspiracy theories" he espouses, and is not merely a political grandstander, is he wrong for denouncing America as he has? If he truly believes that America has committed, and is committing, the sins he suggests, is he not exercising that "prophetic polemic" in his preaching that pastors should?
If I am preaching through a biblical text that calls for a critique of our society and government, and I go there, will my people dismiss it as sounding Wright-ish? Will people's hearts be hardened to appropriate biblical critiques of America because of the Wright episode in this campaign year? If that occurs, the great tragedy of Barak Obama's presidential campaign will have been the trivialization and silencing of the pastoral/prophetic voice to our society.