In both the radical right wing of Islam and the radical left wing of Mainline Protestants, I see a resurgence of classical religious paradigms: the prophet and the martyr. As I hear of “martyrs” on suicide missions trying to wipe out as much of the West as possible or left-leaning American “prophets” critical of the West’s economic or foreign policies, I can’t help but think that not only are these two groups strange bedfellows, they also have come to rely on faulty understandings of both vocations. More problematic than that, however, is the arrogance it must take to give yourself the title of prophet or martyr, an arrogance which negates either title from being applicable.
Part of the problem with these words being so carelessly thrown around is that they will negate the power of the prophet or martyr’s role. Because history generally respects true prophets and martyrs, modern day self-idolizers have taken to use the term as they think it applies to them, hoping to borrow the power of the title to claim a monopoly on all things just, right, and ordained of God. I had similar thoughts when I wrote this. When someone starts talking about “social justice,” all of a sudden, we assume they are the all-caring, all-knowing, all-feeling god/goddess of compassion, when actually, they are at times selfishly claiming a monopoly on truth. But just because someone claims it doesn’t make it so. The same is true here. I am hoping the time is coming were self-assigned prophets and martyrs are ignored, so the real prophets among us may be listened to, and the real martyrs remembered.
I am by no means an Old Testament scholar, but the knowledge I do have tells me that prophets were two things that modern day prophets often are not: chosen by God, and generally unpopular. To be a prophet means to say things that invariably go against the tide, but often speaking to your own group. Amos spoke to his own group about their hypocrisies. Didn’t Elijah, Elisha, and Jonah also do the same? The prophets of old spoke to the Israelites, to remind them of their covenants with God, to keep them on the right path, am I wrong? And for this, they were often hated, appreciated like most great artists well after their deaths. To be a prophet should not involve media celebrity, but more likely a lonely life, one that involves isolation, betrayal, and possibility of death. (The martyrs I mention below could use some good prophets.) John the Baptist is the greatest New Testament example of the costs of prophecy (besides Jesus Christ himself who holds the job title “prophet” in a singular manner given his divine status). John spoke against the sexual antics of his own Jewish (or part Jewish) king, Herod. Ultimately, it cost him his head on a platter.
So when I hear left-leaning Christians confuse policy matters in DC with prophecy, when I hear them say that they are the new prophets who are called to fight for change, I must confess that my usually iron stomach is weakened. Besides bad economics, I find most self-acclaimed “prophets” in liberal mainline churches to be people that are angry at the world for their “exclusionary practices”, and instead of choosing humility before God and Church, they designate themselves “prophets” and demand to be included, no matter the reason they aren’t. But being prophetic does not merely mean railing at those who don’t like you; it means calling God’s people back to God. If you are doing prophetic work, it will speak for itself. The title will come in good time.
As far as martyrs go, doesn’t it seem rather arrogant to name yourself a martyr? Like that of the prophet, shouldn’t that designation be assigned by someone else? If being a martyr is a privilege, or an honor, how humble is it to choose how one will do it? Also, what is the distinction between being a defender of the faith until the point of death, and knowingly killing innocent people and yourself, supposedly for the faith?
I realize this strikes most sane people as obvious, but Nazi’s killing you because you’re a priest standing for your faith before the state is not the same as suicide that takes out women and children in the process. Martyrs die for what they believe, because the hostile world has left them only these two options: give up your faith or die. Until the world or even their home nation quits allowing Muslims to practice their faith, they commit a grave error in calling themselves martyrs. They are not faced with the limited options of life or faith. In most parts of the world, they have the option to have both. Unfortunately, the same is not true for Christians, who are regularly persecuted in Muslim nations, not to mention communist nations.
Does they miss the hypocrisy completely? That which they feel they are victims of they themselves commit! What audacity to proclaim themselves martyrs, when their faith is tolerated in so many of the countries that they hate. It is not up to me or any non-Muslim to straighten out their doctrine; Islamic leaders, if the faith is capable of all that the optimists say it is, must proclaim that this is not martyrdom but an evil manipulation of any religion outside of Satanism. It is so hard for me to imagine Christians ignoring Tim McVeigh if he said his execution was martyrdom, yet this goes on the Islamic world all too often.