While our friends were on trial this week, we held banners and handed out leaflets, declaring them prophets. ‘What a hideously grandiose, exaggerated claim!’ was my initial reaction to the idea, to the suggestion that any person might be able to adequately fulfil all all the necessary requirements to be able to claim that their words and actions are prophetic, not least people I knew! I felt uncomfortable with the idea that we might claim to carry a truth that others didn’t know – ‘surely we’re all as broken and lost as each other?’ I found myself asking – ‘who are we to judge?’
However, as we prepared for the days of solidarity outside the court, and especially sitting in the public gallery watching some of those same people take the stand to explain to the magistrate why they had taken the action they had, I began to feel more and more comfortable with the word. This was because my original understanding of prophecy had been of lone, angry voices sat on the outside of society, bellowing down it’s criticism from lofty heights, but not involving itself in the world. However, what activists – prophets – actually do, is to act in a way that’s integral to society, and is deeply rooted in our communities, and in the earth. When my friends took their action, they identified deeply with those directly affected by war and violence in the world, and sat alongside them in love. They demanded that we imagine a world where it is neither possible nor necessary for a tiny minority of people to profit so greatly from death and destruction.
I had been thinking of prophecy as something hierarchical, of something some are preordained to do, while others blindly follow. Actually, it feels like something anyone can do, if they can think of a world rooted in peace and justice. At Greenbelt a few years ago, Barbara Glasson spoke of ‘prophetic communities’ – those who are living lives of peace, equality and justice (she identified the LGBT and environmental communities as two examples) that we might hope all would aspire to. Prophecy is active, and identifies with the oppressed and marginalised, and with that inner, hidden voice which says “this is not the way the world needs to be!” Acting prophetically in this manner invariably creates conflict, because we are challenging society and ourselves to imagine something different to what it currently is, and it is conflict that drives and inspires change. Thinking of conflict – in it’s nonviolent forms – as positive is deeply liberating. This was a form of prophecy I could get behind!
Activists – from the great and famous to the nameless and forgotten – should be considered prophets, because they carry an understanding of what it might mean to create a world of peace, love and justice. Many of them choose nonviolent means in order to articulate this, and they power change in our societies by creating conflict, by demonstrating the injustice of the system, and they do this not by sitting outside of society and simply bellowing their critique, but by rooting themselves centrally in society, living, working and breathing with and amongst their community.