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.

#Wheaton’s Move Should Not Surprise

This past week, Wheaton College, one of the most prominent evangelical Christian Colleges in the world, suspended tenured professor Dr. Larycia Hawkins.  Dr. Hawkins had decided to wear a head scarf until Christmas in solidarity with Muslims in America.  Dr. Hawkins is also female and black.

However, these aren’t the stated reasons she was suspended.  Rather Wheaton declared that she had violated the school’s statement of faith because, as part of her explanation for donning the scarf, she declared  that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

The firestorm of criticism directed at Wheaton has been swift and brutal.  People have declared that Dr. Hawkins is being singled out for particular humiliation because she is a woman and black.  While many have used words such as ‘shameful’ and ‘disgraceful’ to decry such a negative response to an action of compassion and solidarity in our turbulent times.  Even the Chicago Sun Times, not usually a theological journal, has waded in with an editorial against the school’s action.

While I have no doubt that Wheaton’s actions have something to do with Dr. Hawkins race and gender, and that a white male professor might not have been publicly humiliated in this manner, I think that the current rash of criticisms are missing a more profound, more important point: namely that we as a species are at a crossroads as to how we understand the relationships of all religions.

No one should have been surprised by Wheaton’s actions.  A bedrock theological doctrine of evangelical Christianity is that Jesus is the only way to salvation.  Some evangelicals present a ‘kindler, gentler’ version of this doctrine, while some are much more militant about it, but it is there none the less.  The particularism of Christianity is sacrosanct in this branch of the faith (and some of the commentators who have suggested that Wheaton’s statement of faith doesn’t make this clear and thus have no grounds for Dr. Hawkins suspension are splitting hairs because anyone who’s been anywhere near an evangelical institution knows full well the emphasis on particularity).

Among other things, it is this doctrine that has caused the now centuries old clash between some forms of Christianity and science, a clash now manifest in the unfortunate fact that a significant portion of America is anti-science.  Particularity of faith clashes with the scientific demonstration of the universe as a singular whole (multiple universe theory not withstanding).  If the universe is One, then any God in relation to the universe must also be One.  The universe isn’t something to be parceled out in separate pieces of pie and neither is God.  We cannot, if science is true, have some populations of humans worship the ‘true God’ and some populations worshiping either no God or a ‘different’ God.  The problem that these scientifically discovered facts pose for traditional faith are significant as I’ve discussed in greater detail in my latest book.  But one of the practical issues arising from this clash of science and faith is the question of how to understand, and relate to, other religions.

And at the center of this question for evangelicals looms a great fear of the “Same God” assertion.  This concern is so great that even someone writing in support of Dr. Hawkins and the Same God idea makes the comment that, ” I’m not yet convinced of the Same God theory, but…”  For if indeed Christians and Muslims, and any other religion for that matter, worship the same God, then what is the point of conversion for example, or hanging on to our particularity, or caring if politicians take oaths on Bibles or Korans?  And certainly what is the point of killing each other over faith?

In the 1990s I commented in numerous settings that inter-religious relationship was going to be the key theological issue of the 21st Century.  The world is getting too small and too interconnected for us not to be forced to confront these problems.  Every day convinces me that I was right.

We can argue over whether suspending Dr. Hawkins was proper, or a good sociopolitical move, or racially based, and these are important issues, but I wish that we were more focused on the problem of particularity and the evangelical insistence that our God, or our version of God, is mandatory to related to the God of Creation.

Until we declared that the human species is One, that the Universe is One, and that God/Not God is One, we will find it hard to stop killing each other, and begin to live with one another with compassion, caring, and grace.  All of which are actions that, and we miss the irony every day, all religions hold in the highest regard, because God indeed is One.