The Courage to Tell the Truth

Here’s my January column for the Holland Sentinel…

I admire people who tell the truth. But I especially admire people who tell the truth when they do so at the risk of personal loss. Losing a job, for example.

So, I admire Napp Nazworth, the former editor of The Christian Post who resigned last week from a position he has held since 2011. Announcing his departure, he said he could not in good conscience continue with a magazine that, as he put it, was “joining Team Trump.” As I understand it, he has two children about to enter high school, and now, at least for the moment, he is unemployed. I call that courage. I would like to think that I would have been able to do what he did.

Similarly, I do not admire the Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Representative from Hawaii, Tulsi Gabbard, who voted “present” on both articles of impeachment in the historic vote taken on December 18. In a statement released afterward, Rep. Gabbard described her votes as a matter of “conscience,” but to me, in what will likely be the two most important votes she casts as a member of the House of Representatives, she whiffed. We elect people to take a stand.

The current political climate seems to demand acts of conscience. Justin Amash, the U.S. Representative from Michigan’s 3rd District comes to mind. A conservative and a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, Amash left the Republican Party last July when he realized that partisan politics are in what he called “a death spiral.” For his act of conscience Amash will have to run as an independent in 2020 and as a result may well lose his seat in Congress. I don’t agree with all of Amash’s positions, but on this one I admire his courage.

I count the leadership at Christianity Today, Inc., especially its flagship magazine editor, Mark Galli, in this small but growing list of people whom I admire, people who dare to tell the truth no matter the consequences. But politicians and journalists aren’t the only ones who have found themselves in the often-difficult position of having to declare themselves. I could include educators, pastors and others on the list as well.

When I retired not long ago, I unexpectedly found myself in a kind of life review. In all of my financial preparation for retirement, I somehow forgot this other dimension of letting go and stepping back. As I reflected on my life, I was proud of some things, of course, but not, as it turns out, of everything. I regret, for example, not taking stronger stands along the way when I had the opportunity to do so. I regret not having used my voice to advocate for people and causes who needed my voice. I was no Napp Nazworth.

I remember telling my father, when I was a teenager, that I admired Muhammed Ali. Ali famously refused to be inducted into the U.S. Armed Forces on religious grounds. For his stand, he was arrested and charged with a felony. He then lost his heavyweight title and boxing license and was not allowed to fight during the prime years of his boxing career.

There is of course a lot not to admire about Ali, beginning with his personal life and relationships, but this one time he acted out of conscience, something I had been brought up by my parents and my church to admire. I was never going to convince my father, a World War II veteran, that there was anything at all to admire about Ali, but I nevertheless thought I had a point. I still do.

In Sunday School I learned about John the Baptist, who once criticized Herod Antipas for divorcing his wife and then marrying his brother’s wife. John the Baptist had a pretty good following at that point, according to the Bible, but risked it all to point out something in Herod’s personal life that was profoundly wrong. As a result, he was imprisoned and later beheaded for the truth he dared to speak.

I also learned about Daniel and his three friends who served king Nebuchadnezzar and his successors with both skill and loyalty, all the while managing to keep their religious convictions intact—not easy then, just as it is not easy now. When the Persian conqueror Cyrus came to power, however, Daniel and his friends faced a crisis of conscience. They realized that they could serve God or Cyrus, but not both. At the risk of great personal loss, not just their jobs but their lives, they decided to serve God and found themselves sentenced to unspeakable forms of execution (read the story).

In the coming weeks and months, I hope to read about more people in this country who, as I learned the song in Sunday school, “Dare to be a Daniel/ Dare to stand alone/ Dare to have a purpose firm/ Dare to make it known.”

In the time I have left, I intend to be more like Daniel.

(Photo: From a store in Essaouira, Morocco, January 2018)

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.

2 Responses to The Courage to Tell the Truth

  1. Thomas W. Blair December 30, 2019 at 12:30 pm #

    Sunday School makes a difference!

    • Doug December 30, 2019 at 1:03 pm #

      Them days are probably gone for good. But I will always be grateful for the white-haired Mrs. Peterson who taught me pretty much everything I ever needed to know about the Bible. Wow, she must have been in her mid to late 50s!