In eulogizing victims of the Arizona shootings, President Obama urged Americans “to use words that heal, not wound.” In the days since the shooting, political pundits have used the tragedy to forward their own political agenda.

Thus, the left has called for gun control and suggested the shooter was influenced by polarized political rhetoric (from the right, of course). The right shot back with their own accusations. Recently, Sarah Palin elevated the argument by accusing journalists and pundits of “blood libel” – a term rooted in one of medieval history’s most tragic chapters.

While I concur a memorial service is a wonderful place to ask people to look at themselves and speak kindly, much more is needed. We need prophetic voices from church pulpits condemning the excesses of the left and the right. Instead of speaking kindly, we need riled-up preachers reminding parishioners there is a “ditch” on either side of the road.

As a society, too many of us are wallowing in sinful ditches, listening only to TV and radio programs or reading only articles and books that agree with our political views and keep us from appreciating the insights of those who disagree with us on issues of national and moral significance.

In these days, the prophetic moral voice among us stands in the middle of the road, not in one of the ditches; the high ground is in the middle of the road.

Remembering U.S. history in the 1960s, many among us assume the voice of prophecy is always on the left. Not so.

As illustrated in the Old Testament prophets, the prophetic voice is most often heard on the right, pulling society back to time-tested values. When Amos called people to care about the poor, he was not forwarding a socialistic view of society, but calling people back to the values of the covenant they shared with God – values that had been abandoned in the name of progress.

Herein is the power of the prophetic voice; we attempt to speak for God. We call people to covenant, community and a higher purpose for living. We call them out of the ditch of self-absorption and petty arguments to sense and grasp hold of a higher purpose.

In 2011, the prophetic voice among us stands in the middle of the road and calls us from the filthy, small-minded ditches we seem to think of as grand mansions. Standing calf-deep in muck in the ditch, we think of ourselves as intellectually insightful and superior, when in fact we are just narrow-minded.

For heaven’s sake, someone needs to tell us we are wrong. Someone needs to tell us we are living in sin.

Of course, I need to remind my readers, “Prophets tend to get fired and crucified.” These days, arguing for civility in the national conversation is very unpopular, which confirms that the prophetic voice stands in the middle of the road. Even so, we need diplomatic but firm voices calling us from comfortable ditches to higher living.

Ron Crawford is president of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. This column first appeared on his blog.

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