In the previous post I talked about prophetic lamentation as a way to help heal the world. This post is about another role we as prophets play: giving evil a name.
Why names have power
All evils – white supremacy, xenophobia, and misogyny, to name a few – are spiritual diseases.
When your body is in pain, you go to the doctor in hopes of getting a diagnosis, because you can’t explore treatment options without knowing what’s wrong in the first place.
Spiritual sickness is similar. There is no fixing what went wrong if we refuse to diagnose, or name, the disease in the first place.
Why it’s important to label evil, not people
It’s easy to confuse spiritual sickness, or evil, with people. That sounds silly, but we do it all the time. We say “this person is evil” instead of “this person is enslaved to an evil”.
Failing to make this distinction is harmful for two reasons. One, it causes us to fight one another instead of the real enemy. Two, by naming a person evil, we fail to name the actual evil, and thus fail to deal with it.
An example of this would be calling the CEO of the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline evil instead of naming and dealing with the real evils. Stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline is good, but it is a small battle. The real war is against greed, apathy, and white entitlement – the spiritual diseases that led to the problem in the first place.
Always, always, begin by looking at yourself
A prophet who names the evil in others and can’t see the evil in themselves is useless. Worse than useless – they are a hypocrite.
You don’t have to be building an oil pipeline to have problems with greed and entitlement; all you have to do is turn a blind eye to where your consumer products come from. You don’t have to be openly racist to enable white supremacy; if you are white, all it needs is your silence and apathy.
Being a prophet isn’t about being perfect, but it is about working towards justice in your own life as much as you work for it in your culture.
Use kindness whenever possible
Don’t soften the naming so it’s meaningless, but when you point out where others harbor spiritual sickness, try to be as kind as you can.
They will take it personally. There’s no way for them not to. But, as Brene Brown points out in Daring Greatly, shame is counterproductive to change. So leave the shaming out of it, because change is always the goal.
(This includes when you’re naming evil in yourself. No good comes out of using naming for self-flagellation.)
Naming is most productive when it’s done in the context of relationship
It is certainly your job to name large evils that sweep over our entire culture, but when it comes to naming specific evils in specific people, it is better if you’ve established a relationship with that person.
They will be more likely to trust your good intentions, and you will be more likely to deliver the message in the kindest way possible since you have an idea of how they will take it.
But don’t expect it to make you popular
But, like with prophetic lament, you will make people angry. There is no getting around this, no matter how gentle you are. No one wants to be told they need to change, and no one wants to have it pointed out how they are failing to be decent to their fellow humans.
If you have been as kind as you can, then how the message is received is none of your concern. It’s out of your hands and none of your business any longer.