Prophetic activist alumni, Ben Ffrench, reflects on the transformative power of prophetic voice in our world today.
Imagine you’re no more than seventeen or eighteen years old, and one day God gives you a mind-blowing command. Try this for size:
'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart. I appointed you as a prophet to the nations' (Jeremiah 1:5-7).
Prophet to the nations, what can that mean? There's more:
'See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant' (Jeremiah 1:10).
He's got to leave his home in the north, all he knows and speak truth to power in the capital city. Of course, I gave it away, it's Jeremiah. The capital is Jerusalem. He would go on to live a crazy life for God, risking his neck endlessly to speak up for the weak, and go toe to toe with kings and governors.
But this isn't just an old biblical story. The importance of the prophetic voice is still powerfully relevant today.
In the Fridays for future movement speaking truth to power on climate change, activists like Vanessa Nakate and Waangari Maathai still do this today.
What is this prophetic voice? It can be well summed up in verse 10, which we've just read. The prophetic voice, I think is twofold: over nations and kingdoms we have the authority to firstly 'uproot and teardown, to destroy and overthrow'.
This means speaking out against and seeking to change all those unjust systems and principalities which need changing.
For me, these are many, whether that's the inequalities in funding for climate mitigation available to countries in the global south, or the way we treat refugees and migrants coming to our shores.
Then there's a second command: to build and to plant.
We need to be the alternative too, and create better systems: where people are rejected and marginalised because of colour or creed, we need to welcome them and bring them into the community. The church has to be a central part of this process: to be part of God's answer to the social transformation our communities need.
There’s also another key principle in this I think: using our influence to empower and give a platform to those often without one. In activist circles, this can be known as ‘passing the mic’.
I was really inspired by Amika George, whose book 'Make It Happen' details how her campaign on ending period poverty in the UK helped give a voice to those struggling to afford and access sanitary products, many of whom are among the activists she spotlights in her book.
I think there is a beautiful comparison with what Jesus does in Mark 5. When a woman, who has suffered internal bleeding for twelve years dares to touch Jesus’ cloak in the hope that she’ll be healed from her pain, Jesus doesn’t let her slip away unnoticed but spotlights her to the crowd, forcing them to acknowledge her story.
Spotlighting others can take real humility, but it’s so essential: it’s something I always try to aspire to in my climate activism in church.
After all this, you might be thinking, ‘yeah but that’s not me’. And that’s understandable!
But one thing I’ve learnt is that when the pain, suffering and injustice of the world gets too much and we cry to God for an answer, God's answer is often ‘I’m sending you’. This is described beautifully in Sami Switch’s song ‘Oh Why’.
God wants to partner with you and me to be the change we wanna see in the world- and that starts small. Could it be you?
Ben Ffrench is a Prophetic Activist Alumni who used his training and learning to speak truth to power through campaigning and activism.