Prophetic words are needed, but not always welcome, especially when the prophets are among us, or when their words hit too close to home. It was Jesus who said “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown” (Luke 4:24, compare Mark 6:4 and Mat. 13:57).
As North Carolina and other states forge backward in time through bills designed to discriminate against the LGBT community — but veiled in the see-through guises of religious liberty or protecting children — prophetic voices are many, but few are heeded.
Articulating injustice, while being careful to separate true justice issues from a desire for preferential treatment, can be a difficult and thankless task. We all grow up as children of our time and creatures of our culture, but human progress demands that we resist the easy road of following our ingrained prejudices. The harder trek of testing our values can lead to broader horizons, healthier relationships, and human progress. Sometimes, though, we need prophetic voices to prod us from the broad way to the narrower path.
I was reminded of this on April 4, when Campbell University hosted Wayne Flynt for a guest lecture honoring the installation of new president Brad Creed. Flynt, a native of Alabama and emeritus professor at Auburn whose scholarship has focused on southern religion, spoke of the significance of Harper Lee’s seminal work To Kill a Mockingbird, and how the same struggle for racial justice is reflected in her long-lost but recently-released book, Go Set a Watchman.
During the course of his address, Flynt cited the work of Harry Golden, a Jewish-American immigrant and stockbroker-turned-journalist who moved to Charlotte in 1941. From 1944-1968, he published a journal called The Carolina Israelite, promoting conversations about equality during the hottest days of the Civil Rights era.
Flynt related how Golden once commented on the prospects of what happens when challenging voices are silenced, writing “No state can long progress that exiles its prophets and exalts its fools.”
People of good will may debate who are the prophets and who are the fools, but Golden’s words are worthy of long and careful contemplation.