Sr Specioza Kabahuma, DST
Inspired by the religious experience, prophets meditate and interpret the divine mind and will of God. Prophetic witness in Uganda and elsewhere must be at the heart of evangelisation and is a special ministry vital to the church. Africa, and Uganda in particular, need strong prophets whose messages can lead to the dismantling, changing or effecting total transformation of structures and systems that are corrupt, poorly governed and impoverished. While the church’s prophetic mission must become more effective and visible, prophesying is not only for the institutional church but for everyone, each using his or her own capacity.
Prophetic Ministry in the Bible
The prophetic tradition of the Old Testament reflects the ardent circumstances out of which the prophets emerged. God called them from among His people to act as whips to corrupt, dictatorial kings and the people of Israel. Prophets emerged to expose and condemn the evils of institutionalised oppression; systematic violence; corruption; marginalisation; and economic and social deprivation in the name of God. They called national leaders to return to their human consciences, and they pronounced judgment for failure to do so. Prophecies of the time were meant to inform, educate, guide, console, correct, forecast, warn, confront, rebuke or condemn. A good example is Isaiah who, speaking in the name of Yahweh, says: “Cease to do evil. Learn to do good, search for justice, help the oppressed, be just to the orphan, plead for the widow.”1 For Isaiah, following the above message is a political requirement for a regime or leadership to merit salvation.
Prophets Amos and Micah are known for their outright condemnation of destructive political and social structures that lack human dignity, which in essence disfigure the image of God. For Hosea, love and the knowledge of God are what God wants, not empty prayers and sacrifice:
Sons of Israel, listen to the word of Yahweh, for Yahweh indicts the inhabitants of the country: there is no fidelity, no tenderness, no knowledge of God in the country, only perjury and lies, slaughter, theft, adultery and violence, murder after murder. This is why the country is mourning, and all who live in it pine away, even the wild animals and the birds of heaven; the fish of the sea themselves are perishing [on account of human greed].2
Without positive virtues, catastrophes befall not only human beings but the environment and ecological order.
Jesus, as a role model of the church, unveiled his holistic prophetic mission and set a standard for all his followers, beginning with the apostles. Jesus demonstrated that liberation from sin and life in the Holy Spirit is the basis of prophetic mission. While Old Testament prophecy did not always take into consideration the moral character of the prophet, the New Testament, as exemplified by Jesus himself, considers personal integrity vital, emphasising right actions and an exemplary life as prophecy that is louder than words.
Jesus’ prophetic role defined his God-given mission, which he pronounced in the synagogue, quoting from Isaiah:
The spirit of the Lord is upon me, for He has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and the blind new sight, to set the down trodden free, and proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.3
Jesus taught, rebuked and called to repentance the ‘lost sheep’ of his flock. He pronounced judgment only on those who totally and knowingly rejected God and abused the Holy Spirit. He was at the same time a revolutionary leader through his prophetic mission. His exemplary life and uprightness was a challenging prophecy in itself.
The Prophetic Church in Uganda
Like most African countries, Uganda is a country in transition. The legacies of the colonial past are a source of conflict, hatred and hostility among the 56 ethnic groups in the country. Land reform based on unjust and dictatorial colonial agreements of the past continues to deepen conflict and animosity among the people, citizens and non-citizens alike. Corruption and bad governance have led to abuse of public offices and mismanagement of resources, disempowering all those who struggle to address issues of human welfare. Poverty, disease and illiteracy have denied millions of people fullness and longevity of life. Finally, conflict and insecurity caused by a ‘winner takes all’ style of democracy continue to sideline the minority political players who are declared failures. These then take to the bush as a way of expressing their political grievances.
Fortunately, hope exists amidst these challenging and diverse situations. The church’s role in its prophetic mission has been an ethical one. For many years it preached the Gospel of liberation through sermons, pastoral letters, messages, press releases, newsletters and other writings. In these messages, church leaders call governments and people to repentance and responsible service, reminding them of their moral obligations.
The institutional church has become even more engaged in recent years. Church leaders and pastoral agents are now encouraged to study as many secular and human development fields as possible. Consequently, highly capable people now contribute to the fields of human rights, governance, economics, social and human development, medicine, international law and criminal justice. These prophets lobby locally, nationally and internationally to end conflicts and wars and embark on meaningful development built on democratic principles and the common good. The current peace negotiations in Juba are a result of such tireless efforts. Still, these prophets are too few to make a tangible impact.
Prophetic mission is a collective responsibility. To strengthen the prophetic voice on issues concerning the common good of all Ugandans, the Catholic Church has joined with the Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC) and Inter-religious Council of Uganda (IRCU). Together, they work to guide policy makers on issues related to pornography, gay marriages, prostitution, corruption, bad governance, the environment, human sacrifice, conflict and war.
The Future Awaits
Evangelisation must change drastically in order to address the issues plaguing Africa. Many times, the institutional church finds itself handcuffed because the evils it should condemn are a part of its own structures. These include affluence; money syndrome; power struggles; oppressive leadership; mismanagement and misallocation of resources; and corruption, to mention but a few. We fear the real possibility of losing favour with those in power or being called hypocrites who benefit from the very systems they claim to fight. The obstacles that silence the prophetic mission of the church demand self-examination and immediate correction. Once we accept that persecution is one of the crosses of prophesying, places of worship will become grooming schools for prophets and prophetesses who stand firmly and speak in the name of God against prevailing evils without fear or favour. How and when this will be realised remains a challenge to the institutional church and the Christian community at large.
Theology and church dogma need urgently to be released from foreign traditions and historical practices that no longer make sense and instead promote and strengthen negative elements in African traditions and practices, such as belittling attitudes towards women and children. Hierarchical relationships between bishop and priest; priest and Christian; parish priest and curate; house superior and those under her; catechist and Christian; and husband and wife can be sources of inequality and injustice within the community. Embarking on careful inculturation with attention to positive symbols, values and practices that allow individual participation along with respect for and recognition of African traditions and practices could be one of the many ways the above could be overcome. The purpose of inculturation is to bring church worship down-to-earth. Practices to inculturate the Gospel require thorough examination to assure they are free of oppressive and discriminatory elements that may deter members of the Christian community. Inculturation should be supported by the entire institutional church and not just a few.
Much has been talked, written and preached about the family as the first school of values for children, our leaders of tomorrow, but very little has been done. The apathetic attitude towards a practical approach to evangelisation and formation of the family has bred a weak church, weak state, weak society and a fragile future. Therefore, the church has the responsibility to develop focused education and animation for ongoing programmes to prepare and form couples entering into the vocation of marriage, just as those entering the religious and priestly life receive training for their vocations.
At times the church runs projects and programmes that do little to change the systems and structures that promote oppression, anarchy, dictatorship and poverty. The church must be led by Gospel values and the social teaching in order to foster integral development that targets the total transformation of the human person. Without such holistic programmes, people will fail to differentiate church work from NGO work.
Prophesying has its risks and costs. Those who undertake it must be willing to carry the crosses involved and even risk death. Prophetic mission is for every baptised person, every believer in God, in addition to the institutional church which is expected to be exceptionally vocal in this special mission. The church must play a prophetic role without fear or favour, speaking truth to anti-life and anti-God policies, structures and systems that are the root cause of all dehumanising evils undermining the dignity of the human person. The church must be seen engaging governments on issues of justice, peace, corruption, good governance, health, education, security, economics and the social welfare of the people. Regarding these issues, the church must also critically examine itself. It is impossible to lastingly give what you do not permanently have yourself.
1 Isaiah 1:17.
2 Hosea 4:1-3.
3 Luke 4:18-19.