I want to talk about something that has been on my mind for a while. I have been thinking about virtues, particularly virtues that should be characteristics of Christians and leaders. My work with Bob Vernon, former Assistant Chief of Police in Los Angeles, and his ethics training has got me thinking about this more and more for my own life and also for training Christians. Since our goal is to build ambassadors for Christ at Stand to Reason that have an accurate mind and use an artful method and also have an attractive manner, then this area is of concern to me. Something happened last week that brought one aspect of character right to the forefront for me and I want you to consider it today.
Just outside of a mall that I visit regularly a woman was murdered. She was stabbed to death directly in front of a restaurant I visit with some regularity. This woman was stabbed to death in broad daylight. That’s really the key for my comment.
She was a 66 year-old woman who refused to give up her car during a car-jacking attempt. The killer was Joshua Daniel Lee, we know his name because he has been caught. He was caught by two men who were working on a sign in a restaurant adjacent to the restaurant that I’ve been to. What is stunning about the circumstances, not that these two workmen captured this bad guy, but that there were other people standing around that didn’t try to stop him. He murdered this woman with a folding knife. Do you know how hard it is to kill somebody with a folding knife? He didn’t shoot her. He stabbed her a bunch of times with this folding knife. Apparently, he had attempted to steal the car by getting into the back seat of the SUV she was driving. The car was still rolling and she tumbled out of the front seat and he out of the back right after her.
Reading here in the L.A. Times: “Witnesses said they saw her tumble out of the driver’s seat followed by the attacker, who began stabbing her repeatedly with a folding knife. As 22-year-old Joshua Daniel Lee of Hawthorne jogged away, he was tackled and held by two sign repairmen who police called heroic. One of the repairmen, Jason Campbell, 20, said he and a partner, Greg Nakorkal, 21, noticed Lee when they arrived at the Red Robin at Hawthorne and Artesia Boulevards to fix a broken light fixture. While they were working, ten minutes later, they heard a woman scream, ’Call 911. Someone call 911.’ Campbell and Nakorkal ran outside, saw her fall from her car, which was still in drive and rolling toward a valet, when the carjacker jumped out and attacked. Campbell said the suspect’s demeanor was enraged. After stabbing the victim many times, he walked away leaving the knife and the victim lying in the parking lot in front of stunned witnesses. Campbell said he and his partner saw him stabbing and stabbing and stabbing her. ’There were all these people just standing around and watching.’ When the guy was done, he looked at everyone with a puzzled expression, dropped the knife, and started to walk away. He then broke into a jog, after that these two boys ran after him, tackled him and held him down until the police got there and then they went back to work at the restaurant. One of them said, ’If only someone would have thrown a purse or a cell phone at the guy’s head, that lady would still be alive. But nowadays, people just care about themselves.’ One of the victim’s long time neighbors, also an elderly man 71 years old, said this he wondered why no one rushed to help her during the attack. He says, ’I can’t believe it happened in broad daylight and people just stood there. I would have thrown my walker at him. Anything, just to stop him.’”
We’ve heard these stories before, haven’t we? The question is, why does this happen? And there is a simple reason. It’s not because these people didn’t think there was great harm going on. It’s that the people standing by did not have a certain virtue. And the virtue is called courage.
In some ways, it’s not surprising that they wouldn’t have the virtue because to a great degree there are not many opportunities that we have to develop the virtue of courage. In a more agrarian society we are faced with more physical threats, physical hardship, difficulty that we have to rise to the occasion to deal with. But there is a sense in which I think we do have opportunities. But there is a difference nowadays from what there used to be. Now we’re kind of soft and easy and everything is done for us, and the least little pain causes us to grimace and cry out “Stop!” It’s nothing really when you stop to think about it, but it is just that we are wimps.
One of the virtues that we simply have not been attentive to develop is the virtue of courage, but it is a very important virtue, ladies and gentlemen. Because courage doesn’t just express itself in physical ways, it expresses itself in non-physical ways as well, such that there is physical courage and there is what might be called moral courage.
Let me tell you what courage is, first of all. Courage is the willingness to act in the face of fear. It is not the absence of fear, and that is what a lot of people think. It doesn’t require courage to act in a circumstance where there is no fear. You have to have fear in order to show courage. Courage is the willingness to act in the face of fear. When everything tells you not to do something in the face of threat but you still act, then you have courage.
Sometimes the threat is physical. In this circumstance there was a man who was armed, so there is a threat to those who would go to help the woman. Maybe the threat is more modest, given the circumstances, because he is not that well armed and you don't have to jump in front and be the shield for the knife yourself to stop him. And I imagine if one person had jumped in, more would help out.
Fortunately, these two boys, who apparently couldn’t respond quickly enough to save the woman’s life, did so quickly enough to catch the perpetrator. I think it was pretty brave of them to do that. There were two of them, so it made it easier to tackled the guy and get him down. Good for them. They had some courage. So physical courage is the willingness to act in the face of physical threat. But there is also another kind of threat.
There is a threat of loss you might have if you pursue a certain appropriate course of action. This is called moral courage. That’s when people are willing to suffer loss of some sort in order to do what is right. The loss may be mild. It may be loss of peer respect or approval. It may be a loss of financial gain if you avoid a business deal that could make you money, but is immoral. You make the tough decision for the right reasons. You are willing to experience sacrifice, suffer loss in some sense, because you want to do what is right. That is moral courage.
There is precious little of either in our culture today. You have opportunities to express moral courage every single day. If you want to build your virtue of courage, you are not going to build it overnight. You don’t have to wait for a war to start so you can charge the line of fire to build your courage. In fact, you will not be able to demonstrate a large amount of courage in big issues if you have not developed courage in the smaller things.
Developing courage is an important attribute, and not just physical courage but moral courage, as well, which we face every day. The way to face a serious threat is to build our capabilities of courage in the smaller things. It may sound silly, but I’ve tried to develop physical courage just by not wincing and complaining when experiencing small physical pain. These are small opportunities that I have to build my physical courage.
The same is true of moral courage. You will not survive well as a Christian in this culture unless you have developed your ability in the area of moral courage. You will dishonor your Savior unless you have moral courage because there are more opportunities than ever before to do what is wrong with full social approval.
I want to encourage you to be thinking about the small ways to develop your moral courage, that is, start with the small things and do what is right. Don’t make the small compromises. Don’t be embarrassed about sharing your faith and bringing up spiritual issues. Take that opportunity when it is appropriate. Don’t run from that. And in the practice of doing that, in the expression of small acts of courage, even if they seem insignificant, you will strengthen yourself and your virtue of courage so that it is more robust and it is there when you need it for the bigger challenges. I encourage you to think of those things you’re facing right now that are small opportunities to strengthen your courage.