The stories of the biblical prophets have a number of insights about citizenship that are worth reflecting on as we observe our national holiday. Throughout the Older Testament, there is a tension between the rulers of the nation, and the prophets, who call the nation to account to a higher authority. The rulers are those who command soldiers and police, who make law and control enormous wealth. We often use the term prophet to refer to someone who predicts the future, but the Biblical understanding of prophets is those who are God’s spokespersons, condemning and exposing practices which are unjust, misguided and corrupt, and speaking for justice, integrity and truth. So The closest modern parallels to the ancient prophets are not carnival fortune-tellers, but to the poets, journalists, scientists, spiritual leaders and leaders of popular movements whose power to influence public opinion is rooted in their commitment to speaking the truth.
Abraham Lincoln once said that “those who mould public sentiment go deeper than those who enact statutes or pronounce decisions. They make statutes or decisions possible.” It may be true that “politics is the art of the possible,” but the power of the prophet and the church and the shaper of public opinion is to redefine what is possible, to make miracles, to call on the power of God to change what is possible. The real power does not belong to the politicians, but to the prophets who dream dreams of what could be but now seems impossible.