Courage appears to be a fleeting concept in modern society. Though I do not doubt that true courage still exists and is exemplified by many men and women fighting noble causes across this world, it has become harder and harder to find in everyday people. In fact, courage often seems to have all but disappeared, along with its ancient counterparts of chivalry and nobility. But like all fashionable trends, courage (or at least the term ‘courage’) is making a comeback.
There has been a lot of talk lately about Michael Sam, a football player from Missouri recently drafted to the St. Louis Rams. Last week, Sam received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY’s. This award is given to outstanding men and women who possess “strength in the face of adversity, courage in the face of peril and the willingness to stand up for their beliefs no matter what the cost.” Sam was awarded this honor because of his willingness to come out as a gay man in a sport traditionally antagonistic toward homosexuality.
Since coming out, Sam has received enormous amounts of support and acclaim for his willingness to be the first openly gay football player. A quick Google search returned over 200,000 news articles written about him (almost 1400 different article hits on ESPN alone). He has been interviewed, quoted, lauded, and now awarded. So many people backed Sam in his decision that it begs the question: In a society where Christians are vilified, being told to shut their mouths and keep their personal lives to themselves, while outspoken homosexuals are applauded for airing their own personal affairs, exactly how courageous was Sam’s decision?
And now, despite the fact that I have made no comment for or against Sam and his sexual preference, this is the point when someone is going to rise up and call me a bigot or hateful or compare me to a slave owner or a segregationist. And that just furthers my point:
When you stand alongside the militant majority riding the tidal wave of popular opinion, how much courage do you need?
Matt Walsh, a popular blogger, expressed this conundrum fairly succinctly:
“I don’t know Michael Sam. I know more about Michael Sam than I need to, but I don’t know him as a man. He might be brave, for all I know. Maybe he’s rescued kittens from burning buildings, maybe he’s jumped in front of bullets. I’m not saying that he’s not a hero, but I am saying that telling the world about his sex life sure doesn’t make him one. Ellen Page, Jason Collins, Michael Sam — all of these people were greeted by applause and adulation from all across the country. They were hoisted up and canonized by pop culture, most of mainstream society, most major corporations, most of the media, most of academia, most of our politicians, and the President of the United States of America. Their ‘announcements’ instantly ensured them a protected status and, particularly in the case of Collins and Sam, a fame and cultural relevance they would not have otherwise achieved. The criticisms will come from the fringes, and those critics will be drowned out and beaten back by a shouting, venomous mob of dogmatic progressive zealots.”
It would be like applauding the courage of the Philistines for standing behind Goliath. How much courage does it take to stand confidently behind a 9-foot-tall mammoth of a man prepared to wage all your battles for you? I don’t know anything about the character of the guys that stood behind that giant, but I can tell you that simply standing behind Goliath and jeering at the opposing army didn’t make them courageous. By this reasoning, we might as well give Malfoy an award for his courageous stance beside Crabbe and Goyle, or hand Johnny Lawrence a ribbon for his bravery when surrounded by Cobra Kai.
No, I’m not equating Sam to either of these big screen bullies. By all accounts, Sam seems to be a pretty nice guy. But if you award someone for his courage to stand behind the giants of mass media and public opinion, then you are starting down a dangerous road toward redefining what true courage means.
If you want further proof of how these giants are going to bat for Sam, just look at the public outcry over Tony Dungy’s recent statements about how drafting Sam would have been a poor business decision because it would bring with it an overly difficult situation that he wouldn’t want to deal with. Without speaking against homosexuality or even Sam’s abilities as a football player, Dungy was instantly ostracized as a bigoted blackguard unfit to as much as comment on the game of football. Some even called for Dungy’s job and mocked his son’s tragic suicide. And all the while, the only thing Sam had to do was sit back and let the equality guard dogs do their thing. That doesn’t seem like courage to me.
And now, because of this kind of constant and violent backlash from the giants Sam stands behind, people are unwilling to take their own courageous stances against anything even remotely related to this hot-topic issue. After situations like Miami Dolphins safety Don Jones being fined and sent to ‘educational training’ for expressing disagreement with ESPN airing Sam’s celebratory kiss during the draft, people are too scared to say anything other than unadulterated approval of Sam and his choices. It doesn’t take too much courage to stand behind such adamant approval. Walsh stated appropriately in his blog:
“You can’t measure a man’s bravery by his ability to endure high-fives and congratulations from millions of fawning fans.”
So that brings us to the obvious question: What is true courage?
I would argue that courage is standing against Goliath.
Courage is believing so strongly that something is worth fighting for that you are willing to confront the giants of the media and widespread public opinion even when you know that you are going to be instantly ostracized and and even crucified.
If you are a Christian who holds to the biblical view that homosexuality is a sin, you can be courageous by not backing down from that biblical view despite the opposition that you will certainly face because of it. You are allowed to disagree with someone’s choices. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
But there is a further lesson to learn from David’s bold stance before Goliath. You see in the story that he approached Goliath with the proper tools for the job. Instead of accepting the king’s gracious offer to use the royal armor and weaponry, David turned him down in lieu of something much more appropriate. No, I’m not talking about the five smooth stones. I’m talking about his faith in God. David approached the giant in the wisdom that could only come by faithfully following God. When we take a courageous stance against homosexuality despite the colossal opposition we are bound to face, we need to do it in the wisdom God provides. We need to use the tools He has selected for us.
Unfortunately, Christians usually approach this topic carrying one of two tools. Some approach it with boldness and stand strong against the tidal wave of cultural backlash with no care whatsoever about how they come across in their boldness. They use their astronomic influence on Facebook and Twitter (yes, that was sarcasm) to fearlessly and audaciously present themselves as emotionless talking donkeys (you can substitute a synonym for ‘donkey’ here if you like) with less compassion than Balaam’s pack mule. And they accomplish little to nothing.
Others approach this hot-topic with the tool of loving acceptance. Their goal is to make sure that homosexuals know that they are loved. This usually translates into a person who, out of fear for losing his status as a ‘loving person,’ says and does pretty much nothing. Again, they accomplish little to nothing.
Could I throw a third option out there? I believe God, in His wisdom, gave us the ability to take a stance against sin of any kind while still loving sinners. In fact, I think it is the most loving thing you could do. If you truly believe that homosexuality is a sin that separates us from communion with God (as all sin does), then the most loving thing you could possibly do is to broach the subject with a friend.
To say nothing would be the least loving thing you could do. To attack an issue with no thought toward the well-being of the person pulls a close second on the chart of unloving ways to approach the subject.
But to lovingly take a stance in the face of Goliath because you truly care about the person standing behind him, that’s the way God would have you to respond! That’s true courage. So go be courageous today. Take a stand in the boldness God provides. Just don’t forget your sling filled with love.