Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater! I remember my mother telling me that during the Great Vegetable War of ‘79. We had drawn clear battle lines over fresh tomatoes on pizza, and I wouldn’t budge. If one so much as rested gently atop a slice of my pie, I would rather throw the pizza out than eat it. If that sounds petulant, that’s because it was. I was acting foolishly, unreasonably, and my mother wanted me to make better decisions. Although my overall vegetable stance has softened somewhat, to this day I am not a fan of fresh tomatoes. Call the war a draw, but although she lost the tomato battle, my mother won the larger conflict for common sense.
Flash forward to today. We, as a nation, are wrestling with the very real issue of how to interpret and respond to our past. In recent years, we have torn down statues, removed monuments and lowered flags in our efforts to rewrite history to be more accurate and palatable, erasing flawed heroes from the public square. The question is, were we right to do so, or were we throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak? I believe, the answer is a little of both.
There are three things in this world that last forever: God, his Word, and human souls. Everything else comes and goes, including heroes. Honoring our leaders is a longstanding tradition in America, as it is in most cultures throughout history. The problem is that those leaders, and their achievements, are subject to scrutiny forever. What they accomplished in one generation might be repugnant in another. What they allowed might have been acceptable in one era, but intolerable the next.
So, what are we to do with days like today (it’s President’s Day, in case you didn’t know)? Should we celebrate the holiday? Erase it? Condemn it? Ignore it?
Here are four principles that help guide us to the answer.
There is nothing wrong with honoring those who inspire us.
The Bible routinely guides us toward examples to follow, and church tradition does the same. Whether it’s an apple for your favorite teacher, a monument to a military hero, or a day set aside to honor someone’s civic leadership, there is nothing wrong with recognizing what we perceive as good and acknowledging accomplishments that had a positive effect in some way. The danger lies in elevating those people to the status of idols, stealing glory from God for what He has done.
Recognize human frailty.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23.
All means all. Outside of Jesus, no one has ever been perfect. Dig deep enough, and you will find dirt on every man, woman and child ever born, except Jesus. So, if we are going to honor someone, let us do so with the understanding that there is a limit to their greatness. George Washington won the Revolutionary War, a credit worthy of note. He was also a slave owner who, despite feeling a conviction that slavery was wrong, refused to free his slaves until after his death (1). A mature view of the man and his accomplishments needs to incorporate all sides. There’s nothing wrong with honoring his accomplishments, so long as we keep aren’t ignoring his flaws.
Consider the eternal value of their contributions.
In Luke 20:25, Jesus reminds us to,
…render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.
Nations and cultures honor people for all kinds of reasons, some biblical, others not so much. Although it might be appropriate for a city to commission a statue to celebrate a beloved sports figure, for instance, there is no biblical reason for Christians to jump on board in support. The heroes of Scripture, the men and women to whom we really do need to pay attention, aren’t famous for their accomplishments but their faithful obedience. If we’re going to engage and defend our cultural heroes, let them be heroes whose accomplishments are eternal in value."If we're going to engage and defend our cultural heroes, let them be heroes whose accomplishments are eternal in value." -Jon Smith #collegiatedisciplemaker To Honor or Not to Honor? Four Principles to Guide Us Click To Tweet
Remember your priorities.
And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”
Mark 16:15 is about as succinct a mission statement as you can find in the Bible. In broad terms, it tells the followers of Jesus what their real job is. Honoring heroes can certainly help that cause, but let’s be honest, monuments and statues are hardly essential to its accomplishment. If we’re going to fight over them, we need to keep that in mind. Losing opportunities to share because we’re too obstinate in defense and promotion of flawed heroes is not particularly defensible.
Honoring heroes can be a tricky proposition. As cultural values shift over time, people we once held in high esteem can fall out of favor, inciting strong emotional reactions from all sides. In the chaos, opportunity abounds. Emotional people want to talk, to share, and so should we. When it comes to the issue of honoring flawed heroes, what are we to do? Simple: engage. With the principles of Scripture to guide you, lean in to the conversation, and let the Gospel be made known.