Fighting For A Lost Cause — When Is It Worth It?

Written by Jeff Wright Jr. on September 28, 2013

Why won’t Senator Ted Cruz stop fighting a lost cause? Obamacare is here to stay. There’s nothing anyone can do about it and Cruz is just making his side of the aisle look foolish with his antics. Even worse, he’s damaging the Republican Party’s chances in the next election because they will get blamed for a government shut-down. So goes the thinking of Ted Cruz’s critics.

General George S. Patton, Jr. famously remarked in his D-Day speech,

When you, here, everyone of you, were kids, you all admired the champion marble player, the fastest runner, the toughest boxer, the big league ball players, and the All-American football players. Americans love a winner. Americans will not tolerate a loser. Americans despise cowards. Americans play to win all of the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. That’s why Americans have never lost nor will ever lose a war; for the very idea of losing is hateful to an American.

Americans will not tolerate a loser. Some Americans despise the thought of losing so much that they will not even enter a contest if it is likely they will lose. Many of Sen. Cruz’s colleagues fall into this category. Look, they say, we agree that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is bad policy, it will drive up premiums, and damage the entire healthcare industry. The majority of Americans are either confused about Obamacare or are outright opposed to it. But … we can’t win. Let’s move on to something that will make us look better in the eyes of the people so we can improve our chances in the next election.

But Patton also said, “Americans despise cowards.” Are Cruz’s critics just playing good politics or are they being cowards? It is true that not every battle is worth fighting. There is a reason for maxims such as “Live to fight another day” and “Don’t rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic.” There is wisdom to be found in choosing one’s battles carefully.

Well-intentioned and reasonable people can differ on the best approach to confronting the dangers of Obamacare but Ted Cruz’s 21-hour “filibuster” against funding the ACA provides an occasion to explore the significance of lost causes.

When faced with the prospect of fighting a lost cause, we must remember that the conventional wisdom of the present is not always the verdict of history. In their wonderful book, Lost Causes, George and Karen Grant, relate the account of Anna Bowden and her struggle against the 19th-century Hindu practices of the ritual sacrifice of widows on the funeral biers of their husbands, female infanticide, and cultic abortifacient procedures.

Anna was called to foreign mission work and, more specifically, “she felt an irresistible call to take the message of the Gospel and the succor of Christ” to India. Anna established a ministry among the town’s children and outcast untouchables. It wasn’t long before she was confronted with the culture’s ritualistic killing of women and children.

The conventional wisdom of her day said, “don’t interfere.” British colonial policy dictated a practice of “non-interference” which prominent missionaries of the day complied with. Anna could not comply. She established a rescue network which worked to help widows escape being put to death. Anna was ordered by the British administrator to cease all activities not directly related to her missionary outpost but she refused to quit, stating that rescuing humans was, indeed, directly related to her mission work. Local opposition finally organized a mob which attacked the compound, burned the buildings, and raped the women. Anna was tortured and killed.

Conventional wisdom told Anna she was fighting a lost cause. Get in line and practice non-intervention like the rest of the missionaries. It’s the price that must be paid in order to continue the ministry. Anna Bowden’s journal was published after her death and her example ignited a revival among missionaries in India. Her story had such a great impact back in England that the policy of non-interference was significantly altered which paved the way for the eradication of barbaric practices such as the ones Anna struggled against.

Today we would not tolerate even the thought of allowing a woman to be put to death simply because her husband died, but hindsight is always 20-20. In Anna’s day, looking the other way was simply the price to pay in order to “do ministry.” Anna lost according to the world’s standards, but she won in eternity, and her cause ultimately succeeded in no small part due to her efforts. Defeat seemed inevitable but the cause continued and prevailed in the end.

There are several reasons we have little stomach for lost causes today. First, we live for the short-term. Delaying gratification until future years is nearly incomprehensible. Even more foreign is the idea of dedicating oneself to something that may not even bear fruit in this lifetime. Second, we are preoccupied with the acceptance and approval of others. A life lived in contrast to the spirit of the age is too odd. We don’t want to be seen as one of “those people.”
Plus, it doesn’t get a lot of Likes on Facebook. Third, we care more about self-preservation than pouring out our lives for a purpose. Has anything captivated our lives so fully that we would be willing to risk our lives in its pursuit?

Some causes are worth fighting for, even when there seems to be little hope of victory. May God give us the wisdom to discern what they are and the courage to give them our full commitment. Finally, brothers and sisters, stand fast (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

Jeff Wright, Jr. is a grateful husband, blessed daddy, and long-suffering Redskins fan. He is a Prison Chaplain in the "city of lost souls" and is the co-creator of Evangelicals for Liberty. Jeff holds a ThM from Dallas Seminary, and is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society. Jeff is a civil liberties activist on behalf of the "sacred order of freemen" and minister of the "fellowship of twice-born sinners."