Courage, Then and Now

Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin (Ret.-USA) is Executive Vice President at Family Research Council. This article appeared in Decision Magazine on July 10, 2014.

Joshua stood on the bank of the Jordan River contemplating the enormous task ahead of him. He was about to lead millions of his fellow Israelites across the flooded river in a quest to finally conquer the land that had been promised to his people, the Jews. Canaan was part of the covenant that Yahweh had made with Joshua's ancestor, Abraham.

For 40 years Joshua had wandered with the Jewish people in a barren desert waiting for this very moment. What Joshua never anticipated was that he would be the one to lead his people in the battles that would surely follow as they wrested the "Promised Land" from the current inhabitants.

After all, Joshua had walked in the footsteps of the great leader, Moses, throughout those years in the desert, and he naturally expected that Moses would lead them across the river and into battle against the heathen forces of the Canaanites. But now he stood bewildered, having been informed by his beloved Moses that the responsibility for the final quest was being passed to him.

Joshua approached the Lord for guidance. God made His instructions for Joshua quite simple, "Be of good courage ... Be strong and very courageous" (Joshua 1:6-7, NIV). In verse 9 of the same chapter, God repeats his directive to Joshua, "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous?"

Now think about this for a moment: God's instruction to Joshua as he prepared for the greatest battle in the history of the world was to show courage. What did God mean with this exhortation? Was God talking about being brave in battle, or was His directive more complex and comprehensive than just being a war hero?

What is courage and how does it manifest in society today?

On March 19, the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Ray Odierno, spoke at an event in the Pentagon's Hall Of Heroes, where recipients of the nation's highest award for valor, the Medal Of Honor, are inducted into this special and unique brotherhood of heroic Americans. He described this year's 24 recipients as "ordinary men who, under the most chaotic and difficult conditions, displayed extraordinary courage at the risk of their own lives."

Others who spoke at the ceremony, including U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, used myriad terms to describe these incredible men and their selfless acts of valor that earned them a place in history and the respect of all Americans.

Throughout the wars and conflicts in which America has been engaged, uncommon courage has been a common virtue among the nation's warriors on battlefields at home and abroad. Stories of heroic feats have been the subject of movies and books for decades as Americans still take pride in hearing tales of valor.

Stories like Lone Survivor are popular because the nation desperately desires real heroes.

Courage in battle has always been a necessary characteristic of sound leadership and an imperative for victory in war. Courageous warriors are revered in the annals of history, but heroism, or physical courage on the battlefield, is only one type of boldness.

Moral courage is an equally important concept and one that seems to be less common in our nation, where political correctness, compromise, and intimidation of those with differing views have become prevalent.

America was birthed in large measure as a result of the moral courage of 56 men who operated on the core principle of liberty being preferable to tyranny. When they voted on July 2, 1776, to separate from the Crown of England, these men knew they were marked men who would be executed if the American Revolution failed. Undaunted by the risks and potential consequences, they moved forward, leaving a legacy and an example for future generations.

Manifestations of moral courage are reflected in the willingness of people to stand firmly on personal beliefs, values, principles and faith. For example, America should expect displays of moral courage from every member of the U.S. Congress. Incredibly, that is not the case, and when someone like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) demonstrates real moral courage-as he did when he stood boldly against ObamaCare-both sides of the political spectrum criticize him.

How about the moral courage of Phil Robertson, the Duck Dynasty patriarch, who stood firm on his biblical beliefs in spite of the attacks on him from the left? And then when the cable television network A&E decided to suspend him from the hugely popular program, his family members on the show also stood firm, showing the same moral courage. They made clear their intentions to leave the program if Phil was forced out.

Each of us should ask ourselves if we would have the moral courage to stand for our Christian faith, even if doing so meant death. Pastor Saeed Abedini and Dr. Meriam Ibrahim have refused to renounce Christ regardless of the costs as they have sat in prisons in Tehran and Khartoum, respectively. Like many Christians around the world, they are paying a high price for their moral courage as they face the reality of torture and death. They are true heroes.

America desperately needs a revival of moral courage. People committed to biblical values must start speaking about and standing firm for the principles in which they believe. Compromise must not be considered.

The nation is in great peril because so many are now failing to heed the warning of Isaiah: "Woe unto you who call good evil and evil good" (Isaiah 5:20, NIV).

In order to stand and be counted in these perilous times, people must know what they believe. It isn't enough just to know the teachings of the Bible, but it is critical to deeply contemplate why we believe the Word. Otherwise, it will likely cause us to fail when challenged by a determined adversary who wants to defeat and discredit our line of reasoning.

We prepare for battle by knowing what we believe and why, then we demonstrate moral courage by being willing to stand for what we believe, even when all those around us are compromising.