In the film “High Noon” (1952), Frank Miller returns home from prison with some outlaw friends. At noon they intend to take revenge against retiring Marshal Will Kane (Gary Cooper), who lawfully sent Miller there after a fair trial. Fowler’s bride Amy (Grace Kelly), a Quaker, wants him to retire as planned. However, after the fearful town refuses to help the marshal do his job, Fowler is forced to kill the outlaws alone. It’s high noon.
This proverbial phrase means being left alone to complete a necessary job that no one else wants. It fits Fowler’s situation perfectly. “High noon” fits that of John Parrish too. Played by Glenn Ford in “The Violent Men” (1955), he fights Anchor ranch owner Lew Wilkinson and his unethical brother Cole (Brian Keith). Wanting an entire valley as grazing land for his cattle, Lew’s men have tortured farm and ranch owners, killed workers, and burned homes so that the owners will agree to sell their land at bottom dollar prices. They then murder the sheriff so that the bribed deputy sheriff who replaces him won’t seek justice for their crimes. Only after Parrish, deserted by his fiancee, receives a low price for his ranch and witnesses the murder of a hired hand does he choose to fight, with help from his workers. No one else will fight. The townspeople even look the other way when the first sheriff is murdered.
“High noon” is the perfect description of To Kill a Mockingbird (1960).* Judge Taylor chooses Atticus Finch to defend Tom Robinson, a Negro accused of raping a white woman named Mayella Ewell. Unlike Fowler and Parrish, Atticus loses his case. Convicted and sentenced to death by an all-white jury, Robinson tries to flee prison and is killed. Only a few people in 1930s Maycomb, Alabama, believe rightly that he is innocent. These people support Atticus, but they do little in their social circles to help him. Maudie Atkinson tells Jem, Atticus’s son, “that there are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father’s one of them. … We’re so rarely called on to be Christians, but when we are, we’ve got men like Atticus to go for us” (Lee 245-46). He, Judge Taylor, Sheriff Tate, and a few others do their part but Jem still asks a good question: “Who in this town did one thing to help Tom Robinson?” (246)
Not everyone can uphold or defend the law. However, if Maudie Atkinson, Aunt Alexandra, and others voiced their thoughts in their religious and social circles, not just to Atticus’s children, then public opinion in Maycomb would gradually change. Atticus Finch wouldn’t be squeezed into a “high noon” position. He rightly calls the racist, uneducated, and un-churched Ewell family “trash.” Maycomb’s educated and churched citizens, however, have little excuse.
It’s approaching “high noon” all over the world. Sinners, in seats of power, are persecuting and killing Christians at an alarming rate. Homosexuality, abortion, atheism, evolution, euthanasia, genocide, pornography and other moral evils are spreading in preparation for the anti-Christ. Yet the Western church, just like these fictional towns, chooses to look the other way. I don’t know if she’s riddled with cowardice or doesn’t care. It’s almost noon, but the church wants to play.
What we call “church” today is really a social club. Many non-service activities look like play rather than prayer, evangelism and discipleship training, or Bible study. Each week, children are taught to play rather than learn the Bible and catechism. Teenagers are taught to play when they’re not attending youth group and choir practice. Dinner theatres and other excursions fill the hours of some Christian adults – at the church’s direction and expense.
Germany’s state church looked the other way when Adolf Hitler committed atrocities against Jews and other ethnic groups. When the German people were confronted with these atrocities after the war, they knew that they had no excuse. What will future Christians say of the Western church today? What will they say of this generation in heaven? Now is the time to stop playing, to set aside our fears and selfishness. We must heed the call to fight. Jesus is coming.
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.
– Martin Niemoller (1892-1984)
* Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: HarperCollins, 1961, 2006.