Heroes have been in the news recently. My attention was drawn to the story of Henry Langford, someone I hadn’t heard of until the 93-year-old’s death on Oct. 7 was reported in the religious newspapers.
Langford supported the cause of racial equality in the 1950s and was subsequently hounded out of his church.
The Religious Herald reported that “his life changed after he used a weekly column he wrote for the local newspaper to voice support for the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling that declared the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine used to support school segregation unconstitutional.”
In 2007, a resolution was passed honoring his commitment to justice but by then life as a pastor was no longer possible. In any case, he had long reshaped his life to recover from his punishment.
Two weeks ago, another hero was brought to international attention.
Malala Yousafzai is the 14-year-old girl who started blogging at age 10 about her inability to go to school because the Taliban banned girls from being educated. Her blog was reposted on the BBC Urdu site and gained worldwide attention.
Eventually, girls were allowed to go to school again, but the Taliban harbor grudges like no other. On Oct. 9, she was shot in the head coming home from school. Cowardice knows no limits, or so it appears.
She arrived recently in the United Kingdom for advanced treatment, and we pray that her recovery will be complete.
But this is the thing about heroes. No one is born a hero, or finds it easy to be one. The heroes are those who know what is right and are willing to say so long before the majority comes round to the same view, by which time it’s safe to do so.
When I look around at the world today, or more narrowly the church, I have to ask myself the question, “What are the injustices that we live with today, or the things that I sense are unjust?”
The issues one day may be seen as such by the majority but – right now – are defended by the majority, at least by their silence or their acquiescence. And among that majority, there I stand, silently.
For example, when a politician voiced the view recently that the limit for legal abortion might be better brought down to 12 weeks, the argument raged about whether it should be 20 weeks or 22 or 24.
I couldn’t help thinking that the day may yet come when our children’s children may say of us, “What on earth possessed you to think that abortion was ever acceptable, at any number of weeks? You were killing babies!”
You will have your suspicions about where we need to stand up and be counted, and I have mine.
Would I be willing to do so when the reaction is not that you’re a hero – that comes long after you’re dead if it comes at all – but you’re no longer welcome? Or you’re fired? Or even fired at?
What are the areas where we need heroes to take such a stand today? And where does such courage come from?
David Kerrigan is general director of BMS World Mission. This column first appeared on his blog, Thinking Mission, and is used by permission. BMS World Mission was founded in 1792 in Britain as the Baptist Missionary Society.