Titanic Lessons on the 100th Anniversary
A Report from Adam McManus on Titanic 100: An International Centennial Event
Last week, nearly 600 Christians from across America and Canada gathered in Branson, Missouri to commemorate the 100th anniversary of an incredible sacrifice made by men placing women and children onto the scarce lifeboats as Titanic sank.
At a special 3-day commemoration held near one of the most compelling Titanic museums in the world, the Christian Boys’ and Men’s Titanic Society and Vision Forum Ministries co-sponsored Titanic 100: An International Centennial Event as “we remember[ed] a providential date with destiny, a bookmark of history, a rock of remembrance in the iceberg seas of the Atlantic,” said their founder Doug Phillips.
A Modern-Day Parable
Speaking in the Lawrence Welk Resort Theater, the hub for Titanic 100’s festivities, Phillips explained that the Titanic’s sinking is more than a simple historical fact. It’s “a modern-day parable, a story for all time. Our God rules over the ocean waves and brings down even ‘unsinkable’ ships.”
Phillips described the desire of J. Bruce Ismay and Lord Pirrie of the White Star Line in their to build the biggest, fastest, most luxurious ship in the world as comparable to the builders of the Tower of Babel whose arrogance became their downfall. Genesis 11:4 records their words: “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves.”
The goal of Ismay and Pirrie was that Titanic, and its sister ships Olympic and Britannic, would become the last word in excellence and service in the world of ocean-going steamships, resulting in their fame spreading throughout the land. Phillips observed, “This vessel, this floating hotel rivals the opulence of John Jacob Astor’s New York hotel. The Titanic was the technological icon of that generation. There is no parallel today.”
Christianity vs. Modernity
In the cultural transition from Christianity to modernity, the Titanic’s sinking is the demarcation point. Doug Phillips said,
The old world was Christendom, where men are the leaders of the home, women are to be protected, and children are the treasure-trove of the next generation. In Adam Smith’s book Wealth of Nations, the societies that seek to prosper seek to have many children. Back then the average family had seven children. Plus, in the old world, things were understood in terms of Providence.
In the old world, God was viewed as ruling over all things.
Bill Potter, resident historian for Vision Forum Ministries, expanded on the political scene at the time of Titanic’s sinking.
“1912 was in the middle of the progressive era of social activism and political reform. They wanted to change economics, medicine, education, theology and the family. Progressives wanted change that people could believe in,” said Potter, alluding to President Obama’s 2008 campaign theme. Social Darwinism taught that “man was on an upward trajectory, becoming better and better. And the vehicle of progress is government.”
Potter noted that the rise of Marxism and feminism were two other toxic paradigm shifts around 1912 that reveal a rejection of God and His word. Politically speaking, the nations of Western Europe were coalescing into two major alliances. “In two years, the world will go to war” during which there would be “astounding and vicious slaughter of men which gives lie to the idea that man is good and getting better and better,” stated Potter. “Margaret Sanger moved to New York City, lived her hedonistic society and published a newsletter called The Woman Rebel, whose slogan was ‘No gods, no masters.’ It was a signs of the times. This was more than just progressives. This was a societal rejection of biblical truth, creating a humanistic, utopian world” which embraced eugenics and genocide.
Transcendent Values vs. Worldly Values
Doug Phillips made it more personal for the Titanic 100 attendees in Branson.
“If you want to understand why you are in conflict with the culture around you, it’s not because you want to live in some Edwardian fantasy” remarked Phillips. “Your values reflect a transcendent set of core principles which rise above every nation, every culture, and go to the heart of the biblical way we look at everything from science to the roles of men and women. Today, in 2012, we live in the first year where this formerly Christian nation will put women on the front lines of combat.”
“As we remember the Titanic,” said Phillips, “we are here to lay up our own Ebenezers [or monuments to remember God] (1 Samuel 7:12), to learn from their errors, to chronicle providences, and to give worthy stories to the Christian soldiers of tomorrow. We are at a crucial turning point in the history of civilization.” That’s why it’s critical to know what we believe and be unmoved despite the world’s pressures and temptations.
“God has given us a window,” said Phillips. “Titanic is a defining parable for the modern era. It’s a reminder to sons and daughters of the preciousness of masculinity and femininity, and of the legacy of honor which defined Christian civilization.”
God Ordained ‘Titanic’s’ Sinking
In one talk entitled “‘Titanic’ in 20 Minutes,” Phillips explored an uncanny number of providential details which revealed God’s hand over the tragedy. If only one of these details had been different, Titanic might not have sunk at all.
- J. Bruce Ismay, the builder of Titanic, pushed Captain E.J. Smith to go 22 knots, only 2 knots slower than her maximum speed, in order to set a trans-Atlantic record.
- The lookouts in the crow’s nest 95 feet above Titanic’s deck did not have binoculars. While Second Officer David Blair, who sailed on Titanic from Belfast to Southampton, knew where the binoculars were, he was not required to be on board during the maiden voyage to New York and failed to inform the lookouts of their location.
- April 14, 1912 was a moonless night.
- The ocean water was pristine, calm like a bath, which prevented the icebergs from creating breakers which might have notified the crew about the impending danger.
- The iceberg Titanic hit was a blue berg, making it very difficult to see in the water.
- Prior to Titanic’s sinking, the ship’s telegraph operator, Jack Phillips, was so preoccupied with transmitting personal messages for passengers to family and friends that he either minimized or ignored warnings from other ships in the area about the presence of icebergs.
- First Officer William Murdoch, who was the man at the bridge the moment the blue berg was finally sited, ordered both the reversal of engines and a push of the rudder all the way to the starboard or right. Instead of hitting the berg straight on, which Titanic could have survived, Murdoch’s actions resulted in a 300 foot-long cut on the right side of the ship below the water level, puncturing 6 of its 16 water-tight compartments and ensuring its demise within hours.
- The Sampson, thought to be only 6 miles away, was illegally killing and harvesting seals and therefore ignored Titanic’s emergency flares of distress for fear their criminal operation would be exposed.
- The Californian, also thought to be nearby, was captained by the allegedly-intoxicated Stanley Lord. Captain Lord wrongly concluded that Titanic’s distress flares were shot not to indicate a need for help, but in fun.
- Titanic had too few lifeboats. While there were 2,200 people on board the ship, Titanic’s lifeboats, if filled to capacity, could only accommodate 1,100 people. The ship’s designers did not want the lifeboats obstructing passenger views, wanted additional room for first-class amenities, and since they thought Titanic was unsinkable, they believed that having lifeboat space for every passenger was unnecessary.
“Crisis reveals character,” said Phillips. “There was enough of a Christian consensus in 1912 that people said, ‘We have to do what is right.’ The captain said it, the crew said it, and the people said it.”
‘Titanic’ Heroes Commended
Phillips extolled the virtue and sacrifice of Titanic’s men, including the first-class male passengers, who put first-class through third-class women and children on the lifeboats first. That truth runs contrary to the class warfare template presented by James Cameron’s blockbuster fraud of a movie, Titanic.
With emotion in his voice, Phillips asked,
How do you describe what it’s like to say goodbye forever to your wife and children, to your sweetheart? Maybe you have 90 seconds, maybe 5 minutes.
Imagine the moans of more than 1,000 people freezing in the water. [The women in the lifeboats] are in a state of shock as they listen to their husbands dying. Nine men will die for every woman. While the children will never have a father, they’ll know “My Daddy died for me.”
In addition, Phillips commended:
- The boiler room boys who kept putting coal into the boilers to ensure that the lights would remain on until the very last moment possible, despite the fast-rising water which was about to overtake them.
- Wallace Hartley, Titanic’s musical director, who led the 8-member orchestra to play “Nearer My God to Thee” in an attempt to comfort the men and women who were being ripped apart from each other, as well as those already suffering from hypothermia in the sea. When Wallace Hartley’s body was recovered, the funeral procession was miles long to honor a man who played the violin. When life for Titanic’s passengers was hardest, he gave them hope and comfort and let some of the final words they heard be about Christ.
- Harold Bride and Jack Phillips, who continued to stay in Titanic’s telegraph office until the very last minute sending out the distress signal CQD — “All stations, Distress.”
- Pastor John Harper, who gave his life preserver to Steve Crain as he witnessed to him, whose story is chronicled in the book Titanic’s Last Hero.
- Captain Arthur Rostron of Carpathia, who came as fast as he could to pick up Titanic’s survivors in the lifeboats and the cold waters alike after receiving Titanic’s telegraph alert, for which he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Three Post-‘Titanic’ Sermon Themes
After it was reported that 1,500 Titanic passengers had died, and only 700 had survived, the world witnessed “one of the largest outpourings of people going to church” at any one time in recent record. From Belfast to Boston, from London to Lexington, you can read the sermons with three simple themes.
- Never raise your fist at God again.
- When you find yourself in crisis, do the right thing.
- When men do the right thing, there is hope.
Doug Phillips’ Personal Chance to Put ‘Women and Children First’
The idea of “Women and children first” isn’t just some hypothetical, pie-in-the sky thought.
Recently in San Antonio, Doug Phillips witnessed the car in front of his move violently back and forth before it crashed off the edge of the highway. Vision Forum Ministries’ founder and his son pulled over to discover a 60-year-old woman who appeared to have just suffered a heart attack. As Phillips entered her vehicle through an unlocked rear door and called 911, the woman came to and complained of discomfort and felt blood dripping down her body. When he prayed for her, she said, “Thank you Jesus for sending a Christian.”
Unbelievably, like something straight out of the Good Samaritan biblical account, both a doctor and nurse stopped by, but refused to help for fear that they might be liable. “They just watched us!” exclaimed Doug incredulously.
“I’m amazed that no one will help a woman who is hurt beside the road. People are so worried about being sued. Is that what you are telling me? This is not some esoteric principle we’re fighting for. Are we the kind of people who are worthy to be called Christians?” asked Doug.
The Ugly Legacy of the French Ship
What would have happened in the Atlantic Ocean in 1912 if men had not done their duty when Titanic sank?
The horrific answer lies in the pages of history just 14 years earlier when the French ship La Bourgogne sank, claiming 549 of the 711 lives aboard. The men on board, not having been raised in a Christian culture, much less Christian homes, raced to the lifeboats and beat the women over the heads with oars. The brutality, the barbarism was stunning. “Where there is no Christ, men act like animals. Where Christ is God of a nation, it’s ‘Women and children first!’” declared Phillips.
Too many Christians have a “sentimental theology” based on feelings. “I like this, I don’t like that. Yes, I hold the door for the ladies, but my daughter should also go to fight wars overseas.” This mindset is schizophrenic: one foot in one world, and one foot in the other.
“The Bible teaches that the defense of women and children is a distinctly masculine responsibility. The people of 1912 did not need that explanation. It was part of the chivalric code, the societal code,” said Phillips.
The American Family: On Life Support
Kevin Swanson, the host of Generations Radio, laid out some indisputable facts:
42% of children are born into homes without a father. 70 percent of men are not grown up by 35.50% get divorced. 88% of children are walking away from the Christian faith. If we don’t salvage manhood, we will lose the family.
Swanson declared that the number-one reason why manhood is in peril is because,
We don’t have fathers doing Deuteronomy 6:4-7. The reason why the church is weaker than it has ever been is that many men cannot rule well in the house. So how can he rule in the house of God?
80% of missionaries are women. Therefore, missionaries are not reaching the dads. We never get to Deuteronomy 6:4-7. Unless we can retain manhood, we have spineless, heartless men. We have treacherous men. We have bureaucratic men, academic men. We have men who cannot lead a poodle on a potty watch. We don’t have men of faith.
Man’s Sinful Impulse: Exploit, Not Protect Women
Kevin Swanson summed up the problem with men today in one word: selfishness.
Swanson said it’s because of our selfishness that “we live in houses twice the size” we used to, and have half the children we used to, on average numbering “1.4 kids per family in the church.”
Swanson pointed to the sharp contrast between the selfless way the men reacted to the sinking of Titanic in 1912, and the selfish way the men reacted when Costa Concordia struck a rock on January 12, 2012 off the western coast of Italy.
According to the Daily Mail’s account of the Costa Concordia episode, “Fights broke out to get into the lifeboats, men refused to prioritize women, expectant mothers and children as they pushed themselves forward to escape. Crew ignored their passengers — leaving ‘chefs and waiters’ to help out.
In addition, Sandra Rogers, a 62-year-old grandmother, revealed, “There was no ‘women and children first’ policy. There were big men, crew members, pushing their way past us to get into the lifeboats. It was disgusting.”
Four Biblical Characters to Emulate
Swanson pointed to four biblical characters Christian men should emulate.
- Elijah showed great passion when he confronted hundreds of prophets of Baal as he prayed that God would send fire from heaven to consume Elijah’s water-drenched sacrifice.
- Isaiah had a vision of the holiness of God, reminding him that he was “a man of unclean lips among a people of unclean lips.”
- David exemplified courage when he asked “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine who defies the things of God?” before he slew Goliath with one smooth stone from his slingshot.
- “Spurgeon calls the death of Christ on the cross the ‘colossal sacrifice.’ We have rebelled against an infinite God. Only Jesus understood the true nature of our sinful offense against a holy God. Our need is as deep as hell and the grace of God is as high as heaven. We need infinite grace. Christian men, you will not act like Christ until you understand what Jesus Christ did for you,” explained Swanson. If we are to love our wives like Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25), then we can only begin to imagine the level of selflessness and sacrifice required of us as men.
Do you think you are going to get some resistance when you’re standing for truth? Yes! Will it be easy to become men of Christian passion, holiness, courage and sacrifice overnight? Absolutely not! That’s why Swanson exhorted men to consider the father of the son who was demon-possessed and mute. He said, “With tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
“We need strong men, resilient men, men of faith,” said Swanson.
Three Provocative Questions
Doug Phillips asked a series of questions which put the 100th anniversary of Titanic’s sinking in perspective:
- Does our hope come from things men do, or from a sovereign God?
- Do we see God’s mercy in the midst of judgment?
- What is our guiding light — independent science or dependent faith?
The Titanic provides a timely and timeless opportunity for Christians to speak the gospel message of hope, using a moment in history that has fascinated hundreds of millions around the world. Jesus, the groom, willingly died for His bride, the Church. That self-sacrifice is the heart of the Gospel.”
And it’s that willing sacrifice by Christ to lay His life down through death on the cross for the sins of man which became the model for the sacrifice that the men of 1912 demonstrated as they laid down their lives to ensure that women and children would survive. In fact, that biblical notion was referenced over the course of the conference when speakers cited John 15:13, which says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
Adam McManus is a political commentator and editor of the Take a Stand E-news Alert.