“Stand up for what’s right.”
Occasionally somebody somewhere urges you to “do the right thing” in the form of “taking a stand” or “standing up” for whatever is good, right, or the truth.
It’s a noble sounding sentiment. There’s something in us as humans that is inspired by the man or woman who boldly stands erect in the face of some overwhelming wronged-ness, looks it in the eye, and says, “I don’t care what is wrong, I want right-ness.” How can you not cheer such a gesture when you know you’re in the right and you want something said or done?
Just picture one of several black-and-white films where a man stands alone in the crowd, or Norman Rockwell’s famous “Freedom of Speech” from The Saturday Evening Post, their jaw squarely jutting out with both pride and dignity, light spilling over them, a soft hum from a crowd of angelic witnesses in an anthem to the audacity of showing where you stand, no matter what.
All this talk of taking a stand, of standing up for something—we don’t hear enough about taking a knee.
I’m not talking about Tebowing, about standing in front of a crowd and showing them that you’re praying. I’m talking about taking the right action in the right context. Because too often “standing up for right” isn’t about what’s right at all, but about the person who thinks they’re right.
It may be that we are nitpicking about semantics, about different phrases for the same thing. But postures are more than just a show of what side you’re on or what idea you believe in. They also show attitude, motivation, and the near infinite nuances of expression. I look to the heroes of Faith for their “posturing” in the midst of societal upheaval. When it came time to respond to the climate around them—prompted by rhetorical situations—how did they “posture” themselves? What does it show about their view of what is right and how to express it?
- I think of Daniel, the man of God who, after hearing of a law banning prayer to his Lord Yahweh, went into his house and did the very thing made illegal. But he didn’t do it so people could see. He did it the way he always did, toward Jerusalem, the symbolic footstool of God. He happened to be seen. He didn’t pray in public just to “make a statement.” He didn’t post the Ten Commandments on his chariot so everyone could see it as he drove by. He went and prayed privately to God. No, he wasn’t afraid, and thus he left the window open. His faith showed not in his prayer as a gesture to the public, but as a gesture to God. Nosy federal cronies just happened to notice.
- As for Daniel’s friends, they literally stood for God, but their standing only had meaning as a faithful gesture because it was a refusal to bow before evil. They didn’t stand so much as remain standing. Like Daniel, they remained doing what was right when winds changed. They didn’t rashly come up with a rebellious gesture “just to make a point.” They didn’t go out in public to rub it in anyone’s faces; they just happened to be in public when it went the opportunity arose.
- I think of Esther, who approached Xerxes humbly and revealed that she was Jewish and that her people were in peril because of his ruling. In her case God’s people were going to be killed off, and she did not approach the king with pride or a show of charisma. Her appeal was Christ-like.
- I think of Peter, who thought he was righteously taking a stand for Jesus when the mob came for him. He pulled out his sword and clipped a guy’s ear just to show how much he was willing to serve Jesus. Only, this wasn’t what Jesus wanted. Jesus didn’t ask to be defended. It was necessary for him to submit to the “victory” of the enemy, because it had to be fulfilled in order for God to have the victory of resurrection.
Let’s take a modern example: When the American Family Association refuses to accept mail with a Harvey Milk stamp on it, for example, an organization is merely “taking a stand” in order to make a statement. It does nobody any good. Your “stand” only tells people you are stubborn about a point of view that needs explaining within the context of a religion most of the world doesn’t understand—maybe not even you.
Now let’s suppose you are a baker of some sort and someone wants you to bake them a cake with a certain message on it you disagree with. Now if that person was gay, and you didn’t believe in being gay, and you didn’t want to make them a good ol’ fashion birthday cake—that would be rude. But if they want you to bake a cake celebrating a value you do not hold, and you decline to design the cake for them, that can be posturing appropriately for what you believe. But how you decline and the message you give that person when you decline—that can make a difference. Are you kind? Do you tell them to just up and scram? Do you cite scripture for them about why they’re wrong, without even so much as asking them if they believe anything about religion that you do? Posturing. It makes a difference.
As Jonathan Martin has said, we should “not treat any persons as political issues, but would rather adopt a simple, gospel-shaped posture.”
Want to “take a stand” for something? Or even against something? Are you outraged? Zealous? Passionate? Maybe it is a time to “take a stand.” But ask yourself what for:
If it’s merely to pat yourself on the back, it’s not worth it.
If it’s merely going to be rash and reckless, it’s not worth it.
If it’s merely to let people know you are just one more of the people with your belief, it’s not worth it.
If it’s merely to competitively show your enemies you want a fight, it’s not worth it.
If it’s merely to appease a God who you believe is rewarding you with righteousness based on your public gestures alone,
it’s not worth it.
If it’s merely about protecting a privilege, it’s not worth it.
And if it’s done to make yourself look righteous, it’s definitely not worth it.
God never commanded us to posture from our ego. Take a knee. Let God do the standing.