Engaging in Prophetic Witness

by Rev. Lisa Rodriguez-Watson
Pastor of Discipleship & Equipping

It’s been a devastating few weeks. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, 100,000 COVID deaths, violence in our streets, extreme action by some, inaction by others, silence and complicity, curfews, virtue signaling, political posturing and meaningless photo ops. What are we to do amidst the chaos? Who are we to be as the Church? How do we engage in prophetic witness in a time like this?  

One response is to join with protests, and public displays of prophetic witness. Protest comes from the Latin meaning “to testify in front of” or to publicly bear witness. In many Christian traditions, including our own Protestant tradition, protest was an act of Christian obedience and faithfulness to the gospel. As you consider where, when and how you might engage in protests, below are a few suggestions to keep you grounded in Christ and led by the Spirit.

  1. Remember your purpose. First and foremost, as Christians, we are participating with what God is doing in our midst.  Our actions do not all have to look the same or be the same.  Our faithfulness is measured by our own obedience to the Spirit’s invitation.  Whatever your acts of prophetic witness, let them come from a place of commitment to the work of the Kingdom, expression of God’s heart for justice, and primary concern for the poor and marginalized.  Prophetic actions are done as demonstrations of the gospel – the good news of Jesus.  Remember your purpose and engage from that space.
  2. Pray. Ephesians reminds us that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of evil.  The work of prophetic witness must be centered in prayer.  Before you head to a protest, pray.  Before you have a challenging conversation with a friend or family member, pray.  When you’re on the lines protesting, pray.  When you’re in conversation with other protestors or neighbors, friends or family, be listening to the Spirit.  The outward actions of prophetic witness are to be an outcome of prayer and an ongoing awareness of the work of the Spirit.  Similarly, once an action is complete, thank God for it.  Ask God for deeper understanding and the ability to see any next steps to take.
  3. Act with your neighbors.  Find out if your neighbors are heading to a march or leading a community conversation.  We strengthen our prophetic witness when we engage in acts of solidarity and advocacy with our neighbors and friends who may not share our faith. It can be an opportunity for our friends to understand the work of Jesus in ways they’ve never comprehended and a way for you to clarify how your community engagement is informed by your faith in Christ.  If we protest or engage in prophetic acts mostly with friends from church, we may miss other kinds of opportunities with our neighbors to display and share God’s love.
  4. Reflect in your small group.  Activism and prophetic witness is formational.  There can be both positive and negative experiences when we protest.  Your small group may provide a safe place for you to process what you saw, what you sensed the Spirit doing, and what you’re still learning or feeling.  We are more deeply formed when we follow the action/reflection cycle.  Be sure to do the work of reflection along with prayer to deepen the formational experience of prophetic witness.