Reflections on Re-hiring a Police Chief: The Dynamic Triangle of King, Prophet, Priest

Tomorrow Minneapolis is set to decide if it will rehire it’s police chief, as well as several other important figures related to civil rights and the legal system.  Last week, as part of that process, I went to give testimony before the City Council Committee charged with making that decision. It was a fascinating experience.

In a government room filled with the symbols of history and power, the City Council members, and the mayor, sit behind a huge wooden array of desks, more of a barricade than a piece of furniture.  All of the political figures past and present come to give their support, to pay homage, payment for their spot at the table.  Then there are those there in protest, those who speak out for the wrongs done to the people who have no voice.  And of course, there are the cameras, and reporters.  It’s designed to be intimidating, and it works.

Sitting there listening and watching, I could not help but think about the view of society presented in the Hebrew Bible, what Christians call the Old Testament.  In story, song, and wisdom parable, those pages present a vision of a social order held together by the interaction between King, Priest, and Prophet.  Each has their own role in the formation and stability of the social order, and the people, who hover somewhere outside this dynamic triangle, rise or fall depending on whether these relationships move towards Good and Wisdom or Foolishness and Ego. Ultimately all three of these roles are responsible to God for their decisions, and they forget this at their peril, although it is always the lowest of society who suffers most when they ignore their divine mandate.

Kings and Priests are tasked with stability of the social order.  They are the ones focused on rules, and regulations, and the smooth working of the common sphere.  In the testimony in favor of the Chief, people talked a lot about safety and order, and processes and procedures.  Prophets, on the other hand, are the disrupters.  They are the ones called to point out when order has become oppression, when regulations do not serve common good, but rather serve to enrich the court and the temple.  The cry against our prison industrial complex is such a prophetic witness.

Each role also has its inherent strengths and weaknesses.  The insulation of the high courts can lead to blindness towards injustice, even as the people who are attracted to such roles are often those who can ‘get things done’ and create the systems of function that a society needs to run well.  On the other hand, the emotionality and passion of the prophet is attractive and has a heart for justice.  Yet prophets are notoriously bad at doing much of anything concrete, and they often fail miserably or loose interest when given a seat at the table of power.  It is hard to imagine John the Baptist running a City Council Committee.

Somewhere, out of sight in the metaphysical dust of the universe, God hovers around these trifold relationships.  In the Scriptures we are told that God has all the answers.  If King, Priest, and Prophet would truly listen to God, then a good social order would arise.  But we wonder if such a Divine reality is true.  The speed of our interactions, and the ego needs of greed and self preservation dull our senses and prevent those in the roles from seeing clearly.

As I listened, it occurred to me that it would help to see and understand these roles better, to appreciate each one, to see the value, and necessity, and danger inherent in each.  When someone rises to speak, we often ask about their skin color, or background, or class.  What if we also asked:  Are they a King, a Prophet, a Priest?  This might help us better understand where they are coming from.

And of course today, who are these roles?  They are Queens – Hilary’s cry of “I can get things done,” they are the entertainers and purveyors of myth and story.  They are the queer, the trans, the oligarch, the radio host.

On balance, the Scriptural witness tells us that society is always failing those on the margins.  The King and the Priest are always falling short in their job, for the human being sides with themselves at least as much as they live in service to others.  The Prophet, although a bad bureaucrat, is the one who draws society in the direction of the Just Kingdom.  They pull the triangle in the direction of God and it is the job of the Kings and the Priests to recreate the new systems that become progressively more inclusive.

Whatever gets decides tomorrow, I hope that greater Wisdom prevails sooner rather than later.