The Social Shape of Prophetic Imagination

Religion and theology that presumes static social order eventually erodes into justifying social oppression:

Our sociology is predictably derived from, legitimated by, and reflective of our theology [our vision of the ideal, or divine order]. And if we gather around a static god of order who only guards the interests of the “haves,” oppression cannot be far behind. Conversely, if a God is disclosed who is free to come and go, free from and even against the regime, free to hear and even answer slave cries, free from all proper godness as defined by the empire, then it will bear decisively upon sociology because the freedom of God will surface in the brickyards and manifest itself as justice and compassion.

…The point that prophetic imagination must ponder is that there is no freedom of God without the politics of justice and compassion, and there is no politics of justice and compassion without a religion of the freedom of God. The program of Moses is not the freeing of a little band of slaves as an escape from the empire, though that is important enough, especially if you happen to be in that little band. Rather, his work is nothing less than an assault on the consciousness of the empire, aimed at nothing less than the dismantling of the empire both in its social practices and in its mythic pretensions. Note the significance of Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership in integrating a lunch counter or a local bus line!1

Consider your social beliefs and social behavior. Justice asks that we engage society with a the faith that society can transform, that our habits not only need changing, but canchange. This will require the courage to be vulnerable. To act with prophetic imagination is not simply to design escapes from empire through more public assistance, but must extend into the messy work of dismantling whatever props up a public that separates us as helpless- and – helpful.

Notice a local place where the line between “helpful and helpless” is made most apparent (such as the lunch counter and bus line in MLK’s days). Is there a way to stand in one of those places and notice an act of justice and compassion, to call it out? Might you find a way this week for your purchasing power, your transportation choices, or the impact of your family’s time and presence to be aimed toward an alternative way? Perhaps you could consider supporting a co-op, a CSA, community center, a credit union, a farmers market, a neighborhood barber shop, a library or purchasing from a local store? Perhaps it is to find a local organizing group with whom to march or writing letters to an elected official. Perhaps it is patronizing a local artist who brings beauty into your community.

All of our neighbors have a gift of some sort. To live prophetically requires faith, trust in a possibility that our actions of compassion, vulnerability, and shared responsibility can, in fact, participate in creating an alternative, a good that is common.



1Brueggemann, Walter. Prophetic Imagination: Revised Edition (pp. 8-9). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.

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