I’ve Got Your Back
by Barbara Buzzard
What a wonderful phrase this is! I hope it hasn't and doesn't become trite and overused, for it is a phrase spilling over with love and meaning. It is one of the most wonderful things that could be said to a person because it involves self-sacrifice, i.e. you would have to harm me before you could ever get to my friend. It dictates that careful watching and attention are being paid to the well-being of one's friend. Inherent in this phrase is the idea that you step up when you are needed, no questions asked.
Along with the trend of 60 being the new 40, etc. I understand that we seem to be applauding new and different virtues in society today. Has the courage to stand up for our friends or to stand up with them and be counted gone by the wayside? Our new virtues are tolerance and acceptance and “not judging.” Courage has perhaps been replaced. But at what price? I have just finished a review of Religious Literacy and the results are frightful, but it leaves me wondering about courage and those other virtues that are not measurable. I am not speaking of the courage which soldiers exhibit as they surely do, but of the sort of stuff which it takes to stand and be counted. “You can bet your life on …” is recognized in the military as the highest form of praise.
I am speaking of the sort of love and loyalty that are so beautifully portrayed by David and Jonathan when it is said of Jonathan: “He loved David as he loved his own life” (I Sam. 20:17). In our world of religious name-calling, cult labeling, and disparaging of non orthodox beliefs, it would indeed take courage to stand with someone or a group who are being slandered. As Dr. Martin Luther King stated so brilliantly: "In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends." Scripturally we understand that our enemies may come from our inner circle: "And brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents, and cause them to be put to death" (Mat. 10:21) but where do our silent "friends" fit in? The “silence of friends” as Dr. King alluded to can be seen in a variety of ways: one who keeps his views and beliefs to himself when he knows that they would be unacceptable, a “mum's the word” tactic to save one from embarrassment or recognition.
Yet another stunning gem from Dr. King: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Silence about things that matter; I wish that this would be much more of a talking point than it is. Spare me the “new normal.” Silence is not affirmation; it is not loyalty; it is not strength; it is not enough. It is dangerous and it is dishonest, especially in the light of Psalm 139:3 which tells us that all our ways are scrutinized by the LORD. We are exhorted never to let loyalty escape from us but rather to engrave it into the depths of our being (Prov. 3:3). When we are silent about those things that matter, we are afraid – and fear is wrong.
Psalm 35:27 gives great commendation to the opposite camp: "But in great joy to those who have stood with me in my defense." Also Esther's remarkable example of great courage is highly acclaimed: "For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14). Her "if I perish, I perish" statement is surely "I've got your back." I will save you at the risk of my own life. Tragically too often excuses are given for not speaking up: a reputation could be tarnished or a salary check canceled or a family member offended. Has Esther’s form of courage vanished? How dare we sing Shine, Jesus, Shine and hide out where we will not be detected for not toeing the party line? Are we not supposed to be the light, the lampstands, a reflection of his glory?
There is a very interesting dynamic at work with reference to loyalty. And that is that it is easier for me to stand and be counted if I know that you, my friend, my sister or brother in the faith, are also standing. We take strength from one another and we give it as well, a sort of mathematical formula of multiplication of courage and steadfastness and determination. We ought not to discount this fundamental principle of strength in numbers, but it doesn’t even take great numbers. Sometimes it only takes one. Could that one be you? What is our responsibility to one another?
Cain asked that of God in an impertinent way (the gall!): “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9). OF COURSE he should have been his brother’s keeper. Not only is the question arrogant, but dumb as well. “Biblical law expects a man’s brother to be the first to assist him in time of trouble (Lev. 25:48)…His outright denial of responsibility shows he is much more hardened than the first human pair.” Cain’s “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is perhaps revealing of a poverty of spirit that helped to lead him into his dastardly action.
I believe that not understanding one’s identity is a major cause for our laxity or blindness as to our responsibilities to our fellow believers. We sing of standing on the shoulders of giants, but are we asking the question about what we owe to those giants and what responsibility we have for their sacrifices? Michael Servetus is credited for the freedom of speech which we enjoy and for an enormous impact on our Constitution but his name is virtually unknown in the States. He is one of those giants of the faith to whom great tribute should be given. His murder has been greatly detailed in a recent work which sheds new evidence on this hate crime.
Much is said in Scripture by Jesus about a reconfiguring of the family along spiritual lines rather than physical, e.g. Luke 8:21: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the message of God and obey it.” That of course makes the family, as defined by Scripture, much broader and our responsibilities even greater. Here is the situation we have: Mr. X in conversation with a pastor in his community was told in no uncertain terms that he was not a Christian, was not welcome in his church. The pastor further said that Mr. X was a heretic and that he wished evil to befall him. Mr. X said that this was one of the most painful soul crushing experiences in his life. Mr. X’s friend and fellow believer Mr. Y has not had this conversation with his pastor although he believes as Mr. X does. He happily attends a church of the same denomination where Mr. X was banned and denounced and anathematized. So, too, his friends, Mr. Q, R, S who all choose “not to make a fuss.” What do we have here? At best, a house divided. At worst “friends” whose silence screams loudly, and a fractionated church where truth and unity in that truth are played down if not ignored. “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Some say that it is perfectly possible to attend a congregation without that church knowing what one believes. Really?Page 2>