Yesterday was the annual start of the General Conference of Elders, and even if the Coronavirus crisis has caused a change in how this is to be undertaken, the messages themselves appeared to set a theme that desired to encourage an attitude of bravery when it comes to preaching the Gospel. While I would not consider myself to be among the most brave and courageous sort of person, I must admit that as is frequently the case with the sort of message, I am more curious as to the implementation of this message than about the desire for people as if they are being courageous. It is not an easy thing to be courageous, and though many people want to think of themselves as brave, as I can see the need for bravery in a way that would be of offense in just about every matter except to the truths of scripture. Looking at our contemporary times as aspects that require courage, let us examine what this would mean with regards to the integrity of the Gospel message.
One of the areas that requires courage is to preach the biblical doctrine of respect for authority. This respect for authority is difficult and courageous because to do it right requires a form and forthright defense of authority on multiple levels, not all of whom we might agree with personally and which do not agree with each other. There are a great many people who believe that it is acceptable to hold our president in contempt, when it is never biblically appropriate to do so. Whether or not we approve of a leader–and there are certainly some leaders who I have not approved of–we are commanded to speak of them and act towards them with respect, and even to pray for their well-being and that they would not be hostile to the preaching of the Gospel as is the case with some leaders. This is also true of various state and local authorities who may be exceeding their limited powers by using a public health crisis as a means of decreasing the freedom of ordinary citizens. Respecting authority when it is acting against our best interests is by no means an easy thing. Fortunately, in our country such authorities can (and sometimes should) be removed through proper and electoral means that do not encourage anarchy and lynch mobs.
As one might readily imagine, the Gospel message speaks out against a lot of aspects of contemporary culture that are common. Speaking out against the evils of our time requires a certain amount of courage. For example, the Bible is hostile to gossip and provides a high standard of evidence that is required to convict someone of a crime as well as high penalties for those who spread false reports, something that would speak against a high amount of our contemporary political discourse on any side. Demanding a standard of speech and communication that meets the biblical standard would lead us to attack the crudity and partisanship of a great many of our own discourse as individual believers, to say nothing that others do. Likewise, speaking out against sins like ungenerosity and sexual sins requires courage as such speaking out can be viewed by corrupt societies as a hate crime in the latter case. Given the extent that our society as a whole does not desire to report of its wrongs, whatever those wrongs happen to be, speaking the demands of godly behavior is courageous because it strikes against our desire to be thought of as good people.
That is really what the courage to preach the Gospel is all about, the courage to shine a light and to point a mirror at the darker aspect of our natures that we must repent of if we are to be transformed into a being after the image and likeness of God the Father and Jesus Christ. It need not matter the reasons why these darker parts of our personalities and thoughts and speech and behaviors exist. If the Gospel is to do what it needs to do for our own sake and for that of others, it requires that we be able to face up to the aspects of our nature that are less than praiseworthy. We are not fit to shine a light on the unpleasant aspects of the nature of others or of our age or of other times and places unless we are willing to have that same light shone at we ourselves. If we do not examine ourselves by the light of the Gospel and a minimum of excuses and attempts at justification, then others will feel free to examine us negatively once we examine them negatively to any extent at all. Hypocrisy is easy, but genuine moral courage is difficult. That is true today and it has always been true. And so long as flawed and imperfect human beings are going to be in authority and are going to be calling upon others to repent, it will be the case.