In the Old Testament there are two kinds of prophets – the ones called by God, and the ones who were Yes Men for the Kings. The prophets called by God almost always challenged the political leaders of the nation, while the Yes Men told the Kings what they wanted to hear. The prophets called by God didn’t generally have a lot of friends – they must have been downers at parties. Their reward was that they pleased God, not people, which was something Jesus and Paul were pretty concerned about too.
Not wanting to be judgmental, we clergy try to not use the term “false prophet”. I would personally be insulted of someone called me that (I have been called similar things in the past), and I hesitate to use the term. And yet, we have been experiencing false prophets in America for decades, and they need to be called out. Paula White, Franklin Graham, Kenneth Copeland, and Joel Osteen are just the tip of the iceberg. These TV preachers are mostly scam artists, using emotion and ignorance to empty people’s bank accounts. You might say that the old adage, “Let the buyer beware”, should come into play, but when it comes to religion, the seller is expected to do better. Peter Popoff sells miracle spring water from Russia, while Jimmy Swaggert tickles the ivories, convincing his followers that he isn’t an adulterer. Too many to go into in this space – too many clergy who are cheating and stealing and lying.
The false prophets that might be the worst are the ones surrounding our president with affirmation and praise. He is not the first to have this happen to him. Billy Graham was the president’s chaplain from Eisenhower through G.W. Bush, and in spite of his flaws, worked to maintain a sense of dignity and, occasionally, challenge with his advice. Now, however, we see Christian evangelicals, both lay and clergy, telling anyone who will listen that Pres. Trump is God’s choice. Much of this support is based on the president’s vast wealth, a sign to the followers of the heresy of prosperity that he has been chosen and blessed by God. This could not be farther from the truth.
I personally don’t think that a president’s religion (or lack of it, in this case) should have anything to do with how good or bad he (or she, someday, I hope) is at the job. The Constitution agrees with me on this, by the way. It is one of only two mentions of religion in the document – there will be no religious tests to hold office. And yet, especially since Eisenhower, Americans have believed that a “godly” person makes for a better president. Let’s just remember that it was Pres. Nixon who introduced regular Bible Study in the White House, and he was anything but a godly person. We are a nation of laws, not religion, and would be far better off if religious people worried about what Jesus said rather than what political leaders say.
Members of the clergy should be watching what our leaders are doing, not trying to control them for their own gain. People of faith should be supportive of political leaders when they are doing the right thing, and at the same time be vocally challenging when they are not. Our president called for a Day of Prayer on Sunday, while at the same time stating that children brought into our country illegally (by adults) should not be given legal status. The sins of the parents are truly being visited upon the children – this is not a moral or ethical act – this is wrong.
And so we, as people of faith, should continue to be vigilant, speaking truth to power to protect those who have no voice. This is not an attempt to manipulate politics, but rather a way of doing exactly what Jesus told us to do. Standing up for what is right should be our priority, not pandering to political leaders. Peace out everybody.
Pastor Steve Ohnsman