At this year’s International Christian Retailers Show which is wrapping up this week in Orlando, former Orlando Magic executive Pat Williams was honored among others with the “Champions of the Faith Award”. According to the press release, “Award recipients live their lives dedicated to the principles taught by Jesus Christ in work and also beyond their professions.”
Apart from the fact that I’ve pastored two churches in which most of the people would qualify for such an ‘award’ judged by that criteria, I’m troubled by the very concept of granting such awards. I have in my mind as I type heroes and champions of the faith who have been my mentors and models over the years. And I think that there is not a one who would have consented to receiving such an award. They were certainly never motivated by such a thing.
I’m in no danger of ever being offered an award, but the very idea of it troubles me. It seems to grate against Jesus’ teaching that the greatest in the kingdom is the simple believer who trusts in him. The truly heroic may be the godly mother struggling against all odds and apart from all renown to raise a child in the face of a father’s hostility. She doesn’t want an award – she simply wants to see her child come to love Jesus. Humility and award giving seem to be at such odds with one another.
And if we are to honor those who have been truly honorable, should we not wait until after their work is done? One cannot make the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame until several years after retirement. Even the US Postal Service will not release a stamp in one’s honor until ten years after the honoree is dead. (An exception is made for former presidents for whom stamps are released immediately upon death. But they still have to be dead.) If we had the sense to do this, it could serve to ameliorate the embarrassment of honoring a man or woman only to discover after the fact that he or she was not in all ways honorable. (I’m tempted to call this the “Herman Cain Effect” after many Christians hopped on the ‘Cain for President’ bandwagon only to have to hop off when his indiscretions became public. But candidates for naming rights abound.)
Years ago I attended a conference in which the speakers were something of a Who’s Who in evangelicalism. When each was introduced and after each finished speaking, the crowd wildly cheered. It seemed to be the thing to do. But I remember watching Ravi Zacharias after his message quickly take his seat and hold his head in his hands. Of course, he may have had a terrible headache. I never asked him. I like to think, though, that he was embarrassed by what he considered inappropriate accolades.
My protest is one raised in the desert. Akin to my opposition to red letter Bibles, my thinking on this matter seems to be at such odds with the bulk of evangelical Christianity, and I’m not sure why that is.
Perhaps someone can help me understand.