The Common Good

Rev. Otis Moss on Prophetic Faith

Somebody came up to me in Denver and said, "At the Democratic Convention of 2008, faith is cool!" That is indeed a big change from recent years. As I have been saying at the many "faith forums" in Denver, faith must have a different and better role than it has had in politics these last few decades.

And I have been encouraged by the more "prophetic" role that faith has played here, deeper than the partisan use of faith in recent memory. At one of those faith panels, Rev. Otis Moss Jr., one of the most respected pastors in the black church and a great leader from the civil rights movement, spoke eloquently and directly to the question of prophetic integrity in politics. He said we must "keep alive the prophetic tradition in our society," and went on to say that there will always be "a healthy tension between the faith-based mission and government enterprises, but tension doesn't mean hostility." In the deep and melodic voice of wisdom and authority that Otis Moss is so known for, this distinguished man invoked the framework that his friend Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. offered for the proper relationship between faith and politics. King said that the churches (or other faith communities) must never try to be "the master of the state." Nor should we be the "servant of the state." Rather the community of faith must be "the conscience of the state."

Rev. Moss said "if the state should lose its conscience, the state will become brutal," and if those of us in the community of faith lose our capacity to be the conscience, we will "be guilty of the sin of omission." He then paraphrased John Stuart Mill, who said that should the state "dwarf" or repress its citizens, it will soon find that with "dwarfed citizens" no great things will be accomplished. He then laid out what it would mean to "engage" government in the most prophetic way. It was a lesson in faithful citizenship, which received an extended standing ovation.

Yesterday, we saw the first nomination of a black man for president of the United States in our history. Today is the 45th anniversary of King's historic "I have a dream" speech on a steamy day in Washington, D.C., in 1963. Tonight, Barack Obama accepts the nomination of his party, addresses 70,000 people at Mile High Stadium, and lays out his vision to the country. All around Denver today, the emotional feeling is one of witnessing history.

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