Tag Archives: prophets

‘Asad Shah death: Man admits killing shopkeeper because he “disrespected” Islam’ — Metro

This was new to me: Claiming to be a prophet could be an offense to Islam.

Although this alleged offense did not occur in the U.S., the claim to be a prophet is a very American thing.

Prophets were typical in the churches of my youth. Prophets would visit, and we would sit, hoping they would (or would not!) call upon us and give us a word from the Lord. More recently, at least one person was given the title of Prophet, in lieu of Reverend, in the credits for the film The Apostle, recently watched during a Tuesday dinner-and-book group I attend. These days, prophets still roam conference circuits.

In America, prophets are everywhere. The Mormons, members of a uniquely American religion, are led by a prophet.

The following article is about a man in England who killed someone who claimed to be a prophet, therefore presumably disrespecting Islam. Is such a murder typical? No. But I wonder if this will have a chilling effect on those who self-identify as prophets in the U.K. and the U.S.

From the article

In a statement, Ahmed, 32, denied the incident had anything to do with Christianity, instead saying that Mr Shah had claimed to be a prophet and therefore ‘disrespected’ Islam.

In a statement made through his lawyer, John Rafferty, Ahmed said: ‘Asad Shah disrespected the messenger of Islam the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him. Mr Shah claimed to be a Prophet….’

Read the full story

via Asad Shah death: Man admits killing shopkeeper because he ‘disrespected’ Islam — Metro

While I Was In The Courtyard With The Witches of ‘Macbeth’

From Act I, Scene III:

First Witch: All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, thane of Glamis!

Second Witch: All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, thane of Cawdor!

Third Witch: All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter!

Yesterday, students were practicing that scene in the outdoor courtyard of the humanities building. I was grading papers and taking in the October air.

The scene’s prophecies tantalize Macbeth with the promise of future power. Of course, most of us know how the rest of the play unfolds. Macbeth accepts the prophecies as true, and then he can hardly avoid the temptation to make them quickly become reality. Macbeth ultimately dooms himself with his belief in the prophecies and with his actions to bring about the witches’ forecasts.

While I graded a paper, the undergrads acted out the scene and read the lines.

And I recalled my own reaction to a prophecy I heard when I was 15 years old.

Not from three witches, but from one frog-faced man, an itinerant prophet who received from God new prophecies in King James English. He told me in front of the entire church service, in the YWCA meeting room, I would some day be a leader of young people, like the Old Testament Joshua.

The grown-ups in this room took the frog-faced prophet seriously, even if we didn’t tend to read the King James Version of the Bible. The prophet was given a microphone, and he roved around the front of the meeting room, casually preaching, really just commenting on spiritual living, while he looked at the congregants. He would feel drawn to certain faces, and he would ask them to stand up, and he would tell them what God was saying to them, as God spoke to him in King James English. Then he would continue the casual preaching until he felt drawn to another face.

People in my church believed in the supernatural presence of the Holy Spirit. We were defined by that belief. If we worshiped God in the right way, if we believed enough, God would do miraculous things for us. We often sang a song from the Book of Isaiah: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.” We knew human action would lead people astray, but proper faith and fullness of worship would bring God to our sides. God would heal us and bring us wealth and protect us from evil.

After the prophecy, after I had received a prophetic word, I had reassurance. No matter how poorly my life was going, God someday would make me a leader like Joshua. Even if I knew I was misbehaving, well, someday it would be part of the story of how God brought me to my heights.

God had a plan for my life. I had a future. I had a destiny. I saw new opportunities as starting points for rising to my calling as a great leader, but I rarely sought opportunities. I trusted the prophet’s words to be from God.

And so I doomed my future to waiting for God to act.

In the courtyard, I kept grading papers, and the students kept rehearsing, but I knew I had realized something about my life.

Pentecostalism and the evaluation of personal experience

In the current edition of Books & Culture, Arlene M. Sanchez Walsh reflects on an afternoon tour she took of Angelus Temple, where the late Pentecostal hero Aimee Semple McPherson ministered. Sanchez, herself a licensed minister in the Pentecostal denomination called International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, writes that “the Pentecostal cult of personality tells us more about who Pentecostals are than it does about the leaders they hold in such high esteem.”

The personality cults abound in Pentecostal and charismatic versions of Christianity. Right now, in Lakeland, Fla., some of my friends and family members are visiting an “outpouring” that is being presided-over by one of the latest personalities to gather a cult following: Todd Bentley, who can be seen on numerous YouTube videos leading crowds into near-hysterical frenzies.

The problem, these days, in our mass culture, is that charismatic personalities (using charismatic in the broadest sense of the term) and intense experiences are considered indications of reality or truth or God’s presence. No one seems to think that senses and perceptions could be manipulated — wittingly or unwittingly — by a leader or by a crowd, in politics as well as religion.

“When a leader has the quality of charisma, he is able to arouse an extraordinary level of trust and devotion from his followers,” wrote Wendy Duncan in her book I Can’t Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas Cult. “The charismatic leader attracts people to his ideas and causes them to desire to be in his presence.”

What follows that initial devotion, though, is a movement from one personality to the next, from one “move of God” to the next, from one “outpouring” to the next, from one “revival” to the next. Len Oakes, in his book Prophetic Charisma: The Psychology of Revolutionary Religious Personalities (Syracuse University Press, 1997), wrote, “The followers surrender not to the person of the leader but to the power manifest in him, and they will desert him if his power fails. The followers attain freedom from routine and the commonplace by surrendering to the leader and — through him — to their own emotional depths.”

Following Oakes, it seems to me, based on my own 20 growing-up years in neo-Pentecostal/charismatic churches, that the promise of a new personality, as well as the alleged new move of God that comes with him, is never delivered and eventually fades away, so one is always eagerly looking for that next fix, whether it is a fix that will finally bring healing or guidance, or a fix that will bring a new experience of “emotional depths.”

Consider again Oakes’ phrase “freedom from routine and the commonplace.” It is interesting that a common accusation against institutional churches is that their rituals and their orderliness smack of spiritual deadness. To be sure, as Jaroslav Pelikan said, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” But what are the accusers of institutional churches seeking from the charismatic leader and the latest outpouring, the latest revival? Not truth. Instead, they seek experiences. The accusers of institutional churches never seem to consider that rituals and orderliness might be structured in such a way so that truth could be handed down to generation after generation.

But if a guy has been brought up with television and rock ‘n’ roll, how is he going to see the value in quietness and orderliness and the repetition of old texts unless he has the help of a little teaching or training? He wants sensation. Sensations dictate to him whether or not truth is being communicated. If the sensations come with Jesus’ name attached, then they must be from God, never mind all affronts to historical doctrine and theology, never mind the atmosphere created by music and the mantra-like repetition of phrases.

Perhaps he should consider that church and worship are not about his personal experiences.

The fact that he does not consider such thoughts is evidence enough that Sanchez was right: “the Pentecostal cult of personality tells us more about who Pentecostals are than it does about the leaders they hold in such high esteem.” All they want, as Oakes said, is “freedom from routine and the commonplace” and the resulting experience of “emotional depths.”

-Colin Foote Burch, member, National Book Critics Circle; affiliate member, Religion Newswriters Association

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