Editorial: Is right measured in talking or doing?

John McCain speaks during a press conference at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, California on May 28, 2008. (Photo: Krista Kennell / Shutterstock.com)

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What people are saying about John McCain

Many knew John McCain as a fighter. His war record and congressional record indicate as much. We may not have been with him in the Hanoi Hilton, but we saw its influence on him when he responded to political opposition time after time. We saw his fearlessness, and we respected him for it.

Lesser known was John McCain as a person of faith. Preferring not to make his faith public, McCain was shaped nonetheless by his Christian faith at least as much as he was shaped by the military, perhaps in ways we overlook because of his pugnaciousness.

Immediately after McCain’s passing, several news outlets—including the Baptist Standard—published stories of his quiet faith, citing his interview with Rick Warren, in which McCain defined being a Christian as being “saved and forgiven.” Others trumpeted his attendance at North Phoenix Baptist Church.

About that: I’m not sure why it’s so important to evangelicals to claim important people as their own. Why must we make sure people know John McCain said the right thing about what it means to be a Christian? Why must Baptists make sure people know McCain was one of them, a Baptist, and not just any kind of Baptist, a Southern Baptist?

What’s behind the need to tie powerful and well-known people to the words “saved and forgiven,” evangelical, Baptist? Could it be our hope that the powerful and famous will replace our loss of cultural cachet with their own prominence?

Actions speak louder than words

Of all the words I’ve come across in the days since John McCain’s passing, one story speaks louder to me than the rest. Several top lawmakers were interviewed about the historic moment McCain cast his “thumbs-down” vote against a “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act.

Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York recounted McCain walking into the Senate chamber to cast his vote, saying: “I knew what would happen. John McCain again would do what he thought was the right thing no matter what the pressure.”

We might quibble about Chuck Schumer’s definition of “right,” but we shouldn’t be distracted from a larger point his words indicate. Schumer’s words indicate McCain was more concerned with doing the right thing than with being liked.

What we should take from Schumer’s assessment of McCain is not that McCain bucked the Republicans but that McCain was known to his colleagues as a person who acted on his principles regardless of how his actions would be received.

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Given our “voting record,” how are we known by those around us?

Are we known for talking right or doing right?

Taking a page out of McCain’s book

John McCain didn’t seem to measure right by what church he attended or what words he used to define “being a Christian.” He seemed to understand these are outward displays that may have no correspondence to one’s inner character.

In the same way, we ought to be more concerned with our inner character than our outward appearance. We ought to be more concerned with being formed by Jesus than with having all the evangelically approved accessories, whether that be cross jewelry and tattoos or attending the right church. If we are not concerned with the right things, our actions will reveal our true guiding principles.

The price of doing what is right

John McCain lost his second bid for the presidency of the United States, perhaps because he refused to throw then-President Barack Obama under the bus by validating people’s fear and suspicion of Obama. Even when he could have smeared his opponent, McCain chose to appear weak by respecting and standing up for him. Appearances can be deceiving, however.

Though we may lose in this life for not keeping up appearances, may we be known for doing what is right and not just talking about it.

Eric Black is the executive director, publisher and editor of the Baptist Standard. He can be reached at eric.black@baptiststandard.com or on Twitter at @EricBlackBSP.

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