John Sentamu and "Prophetic Enactment"

If you had visited York Minster this week — northern Europe’s biggest gothic cathedral — you would have seen the strange sight of the Archbishop of York, Ugandan-born John Sentamu, camped in a tent within the church. His hair specially shaved for the event, Sentamu has been fasting for peace in the Middle East. His fast has been part-John the Baptist, part-David Blaine; the UK press, usually skeptical of public religiosity, is largely impressed.

Sentamu feels that God revealed this course of action to him after watching a news program highlighting the suffering of a Lebanese girl and an old Israeli woman:

“I was gutted at that news report,” explains the archbishop, who does not speak received Anglican. “Gutted at the plight of the young and the elderly, at those who are helpless in this conflict. And then I realised this was what I had been trying to hear. I was hearing the voice of God in that little girl, in that old woman.”

His decision to scrap [his family] holiday, move into a tent inside the cathedral and undertake a fast came when he read from the Bible about the disciples of Jesus failing to heal a young boy. “They ask Jesus why they couldn’t do it,” he explains. “Jesus replies that it was ‘only by prayer and fasting.’ And that was my word. I thought, this is the same. It’s got to be prayer and fasting . . . “

Sentamu’s fast belongs to a spiritual tactic called “prophetic enactment.” Rather than preach lengthy sermons, some religious figures choose symbolic (often eccentric) actions to highlight the will of God. Think Simeon the Stylite who lived on a pillar for 36 years, or Isaiah’s naked stroll through Jerusalem. Although Sentamu’s “prophetic enactment” is a little less extreme, it is nonetheless quite potent. Bear in mind that the Archbishop of York is Anglicanism’s number two man; such bold symbols are a welcome departure for a church otherwise racked with schismatic rubbish over gays. Did it stop the bombs? Probably not, but some causes need impressive (but sober) symbolic statements, and I for one am impressed by this one.

I have been wondering whether Mormon prophets have a tradition of “prophetic enactment.” I cannot think of one. Am I wrong?


  1. Julie M. Smith says:

    Does crossing the plains count? :)

  2. An act of survival, led by prophets on an epic scale, symbolic of Israel’s exodus…

    Quite impressive, but a different genre, probably.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Very impressive, and very Old Testament. In that sense it feels rather Mormon, but now that you mention it I can’t think of a comparable example among LDS prophets. Certainly no naked strolls, at least, thankfully. (We of course accept the practice of fasting in general.)

    This is great for the Anglican Church, which needs more of this genuine reigiosity to avoid sinking into further irrelevance to modern life.

  4. Kevin,

    I think it’s potentially “Mormon” in a Liberty Jail kind of way, but not in a padded-seat-Conference-Center kind of way. It’s certainly not “Anglican,” which is why Sentamu is so startling.

  5. Prophetic enactment ideas for our day:

    1. Walk around with a magazine taped over the eyes to protest pornography.

    2.Give a talk in conference while standing on a bed of needles to show the horrors of tattooing and piercings.
    3. Bathe in vodka for 36 years to show that strong drink is not for the belly, but for the body.

    PS– John Sentamu is inspiring. This post is not meant to make light of his accomplishment. Sometimes I get a little carried away…

  6. That’s OK, we’re willing to wait until you get ahold of yourself again. =)

  7. greenfrog says:

    Prophetic enactments for another day:

    1. Leave home and sleep with the homeless in the parks for a year.

    2. Refuse to communicate in English. Choose any other language.

    3. Intentionally contract HIV via an injection of infected serum.

    4. Adopt a single robe as clothing.

    The only LDS prophetic enactment I can think of was Joseph F. Smith’s vegetarianism, though we tend to downplay it these days.

    We are a part of life and should study carefully our relationship to it. We should be in sympathy with it, and not allow our prejudices to create a desire for its destruction. The unnecessary destruction of life begets a spirit of destruction which grows within the soul. It lives by what it feeds upon and robs man of the love that he should have for the works of God. It hardens the heart of man… The unnecessary destruction of life is a distinct spiritual loss to the human family. Men cannot worship the Creator and look with careless indifference upon his creation. The love of all life helps man to the enjoyment of a better life. …Love of nature is akin to the love of God, the two are inseparable.

    (Juvenile Instructor, April 1918, p. 182-3)

  8. That was good, greenfrog! I’m actually the kind of person who would want to try those. (ok, maybe not #3) I once made my family attend a Spanish branch for 2 years when we lived on the border near Mexico. What an instructive activity that was for all of us!

  9. Are we going to give Oaks and Holland *any* credit for living in the Phillipines and Chile for two years?

    Other apostles have lived outside the Zion Corridor, but they were largely places like Europe and Canada.

  10. greenfrog says:

    I give them lots and lots of credit. I think that their sacrifices on behalf of the people of the Phillipines and Chile are incredibly valuable. I don’t understand those sacrifices to be symbolic actions that comprise “prophetic enactments” of the sort Ronan was blogging about, but they are significant sacrifices nonetheless. Just of a different kind — less like fasting and more like Mother Theresa’s charitable actions.

  11. Living in a hut in the Philippines subsisting off rice would have done it!

  12. How about going to prison for polygamy?

  13. I am not sure how GA’s live in the “other” countries though. I know at least in some places in Europe–ok—at least one place in Europe–they lived far away from the rest of us in very high class fancy (by the standards of the surrounding area) places with cushy furnishings.
    I think it’s a difficult thing—
    1. They are old—and it is probably harder for them to adjust.
    2. It is hard for their wives to adjust.
    3. But it looks pretty bad–all the money spent, etc
    4. Does it make it hard for them to be in touch with the people of the area?

  14. Well, i think this is no act of great holiness. What we have is a left-leaning Anglican, who is blind to the actions of Palestinian and other Arab islamic terrorists, but, who is willing to condemn the Israelis at the drop of a hat. Heck, if the ArchBishop of Cantebury had his way, any Israeli govt trying to defend itself will be condemned, no matter what the circumstances are.
    To these left-leaning moral relativists, Israel and the USA can do nothing that they wont find some reason to be critical of.

  15. Just a thought. How about President John Taylor who went into hiding for the last three years of his presidency defending to his death the right of Mormons to practice polygamy?

  16. Sid,
    Actually Sentamu is pretty conservative, and his action was inspired by both Israeli and Palestinian suffering.


  1. […] John Sentamu, Archbishop of York (he of the “prophetic enactment”, Anglicanism’s number two man) has come out swinging against media bias, chattering liberals, and Christmas commercialism. File it under: when religious leaders speak their mind. For a staid old church, this stuff is a breath of fresh air. […]