American Prophets: Seven Religious Radicals and Their Struggle for Social and Political Justice

Albert J. Raboteau
(Princeton University Press)

What good does religion do in politics? Here’s an answer. This excellent introduction to the lives of seven truly prophetic voices of the last century shows how their boldness, love for humanity, and willingness to suffer stemmed from a deep personal relationship with the living God, which burned “like fire in the bones” (Jer. 20:9).

One can’t do justice to any of these figures in a chapter, but religious scholar Raboteau gets quickly to the heart of their witness, outlining the stories and spiritual insight of Abraham Joshua Heschel, Thomas Merton, Howard Thurman, Dorothy Day, A. J. Muste, Martin Luther King Jr., and Fannie Lou Hamer.

Raboteau traces the close connections between these men and women, who learned much from each other. They raised their voices together at a kairos moment; the time was ripe for the prophetic vision of a few to move millions to self-sacrificial action out of love to others.

Surely we’re due for another such moment. Rather than bemoan the dearth of prophetic voices today, we can follow the same call. As Heschel insists: “This world, this society can be redeemed. God has a stake in our moral predicament. I cannot believe that God will be defeated.”