By Rhett Burns
In early June, many lauded Peter Hitchens as a portrait of courage after being photographed as the only man standing in a kneeling crowd of protesters demanding the removal of the statue of Cecil Rhodes from Oxford’s High Street. While such courage would not be uncharacteristic of Hitchens, he took to his blog at the Daily Mail to offer a less heroic version of events: He’s a journalist, and why would he join the protest he was there to observe? Still, he stood tall, and it was nice to see that vertebrates, while endangered, are not extinct.
Last week, Major League Baseball opened its season with a handful of incense offered to the gods of Wokedom, orchestrating kneeling rituals and plastering Black Lives Matter™ on patches, t-shirts, and the pitcher’s mound. ESPN commentators praised the displays of brave courage, but the entire thing smacked of corporate marketing choreography designed to appease and appeal to mobs who will never like baseball anyway. Yet one man was found with courage as thick as pine tar.
Sam Coonrod, a relief pitcher for the San Francisco Giants, remained standing behind first base as every other player and coach for both the Giants and Dodgers kneeled in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter™ movement on opening night, televised by ESPN (though they failed to show Coonrod on the broadcast). The pitcher explained:
“I’m a Christian, so I just believe that I can’t kneel before anything besides God….I don’t think I’m better than anybody. I’m just a Christian … I feel if I did kneel I’d be a hypocrite. I don’t want to be a hypocrite.”
Coonrod also objected to the BLM™ organization, saying:
“I just can’t get on board with a couple things I’ve read about Black Lives Matter, how they lean toward Marxism. And … they said some negative things about the nuclear family. I just can’t get on board with that.”
Coonrod provided us with a glorious example of quiet fortitude. He refused to bow to idols, did so quietly, minding his own business, but gave a clear and direct response when asked why. To my knowledge, he has yet to make the obligatory apology offering to win back the good graces of the perpetually offended. He has proved himself a respectable man, full of courage.
Also last week, Pastor John MacArthur informed California’s civic authorities of Grace Community Church’s intentions to disobey their prohibition of indoor corporate worship. His blog post made the case for sphere sovereignty and church autonomy, and argued that Governor Newsom had overstepped the bounds of his God-given authority in restricting the worship of Christ’s Church. Therefore, MacArthur’s church would not comply. Grace Church gathered Sunday morning and worshipped the risen Christ together, singing hymns, offering prayers, and hearing the Word of God rightly preached. In a preview of future showdowns between church and state, MacArthur and the elders of Grace Community Church were living examples of courage last week.
Flexing Too Soon?
Jonathan Leeman published an article at 9Marks questioning the wisdom of Grace Church’s decision to defy the civil authorities at this point. Many on social media scorned the article, much of which was unfair, as I take his primary point to be that Grace Community Church’s plan is not the only viable option for a faithful church. That much is true. For example, a church could meet outdoors. Questions about the governor’s (mis)use of authority remain, but I’m willing to grant Leeman’s basic point even though disagreements abide and I support Grace Community Church’s respectful disobedience.
But Leeman’s third point is off the mark. He writes:
“Third, addressing this matter of what’s wise or “beneficial” (see 1 Cor. 6:12), I personally wonder if defying government orders for the sake of a pandemic is the most judicious opportunity to exercise those muscles. The politics of LGBT tells me our churches may have more occasions to defy government requirements in years to come. Do we want to spend down our capital on pandemics?”
This represents a misunderstanding of how courage works. To borrow his metaphor, muscles do not get stronger the longer you wait to flex them. They atrophy. The same with courage. We must exercise it to build it.
Who thinks we will have courage to fight off the LGBTQ+ mafia when we don’t even have the courage to walk into Walmart with our face unveiled? Who thinks we can stare down the guns of the state when it comes to who we hire when we already surrendered control of the hymnbook to the governor’s office? If we can’t flex courage in a mild pandemic, how will we ever prove ourselves faithful when the heavy persecution comes? It seems to me we need all the practice we can get.
Courage Begets Courage
Courage comes from prior courage. Courage builds. It’s not something we can muster when we really, really need it, but leave it on the bookshelf, safe in those biographies of the reformers, when the stakes seem lower.
Do you want to be found standing tall when the stakes are high? Be faithful in the day of small things. Gather with God’s people to worship King Jesus. Sing loud. When forced to choose between obeying God or man, even in trifles, defy the tyrants with a laugh in your gut and a twinkle in your eye. The joy of the Lord is your strength.
We can only reap what we sow. We can only flex what we exercise.
If there is one thing we lack in evangelicalism, it is the backbone to stand up when the godless demand we kneel.
Praise God for John MacArthur, Sam Coonrod, and Peter Hitchens.
Rhett Burns (@rhett_burns) is an associate pastor and small business owner living in Greenville, SC with his wife and four kids.