In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on!


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Religious Expression: The New Flatulence?

I was listening to our local radio sports talk show the other night, and up came the subject of Tim Tebow, apparently now the most widely admired, or despised, human being on the planet. In addition to his remarkable athletic and team leadership skills, Tebow--once a quarterback for the University of Florida Gators and now one for the NFL's Denver Broncos--is just as famous (or infamous, depending on your viewpoint) for his public assertions and displays of Christian faith. For example, he likes to etch references to Bible verses into his eye black, and take a knee in brief prayer on the field before, after, or during a game. He did the latter a couple of weeks ago after leading the Broncos back from a 15-point deficit in the last five minutes of a game against the Miami Dolphins. Ecstatic fans started copying that stance at home, in public, and everywhere, and posted pictures on Facebook of themselves and others doing it. And just like that, "Tebowing" was born. There's even a web site devoted to it.

The fan euphoria evaporated quickly the next week, however, when the Detroit Lions decimated the Broncos and Tebow had a terrible game. To add insult to injury, Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch sacked Tebow in the first quarter and celebrated by doing his own bit of "Tebowing" while the man who inspired that move was still lying on the ground. This sparked a storm of controversy in the sports world over whether Tulloch was "mocking" Tebow and his beliefs by taking a knee over him. Tebow himself, as a befitting a Christian gentleman, took no offense and dismissed the incident as just another football player "having fun with his teammates" (but the backlash against him continues; at a game against the Oakland Raiders this past Sunday, Raiders’ fans held signs that read “Welcome to Hell,” directed at Tebow during the pre-game warm-ups).

During the talk show one of our local sportswriters, while criticizing Tulloch's gesture, suggested that Tebow "deserved it" for "wearing his religion on his sleeve," and that kneeling and praying should be limited to the locker room or the privacy of the player's own home. "I don't need to see that," he said in a disgusted tone of voice, and opined that such behavior was probably just for show anyway. Another sportswriter on the show also criticized Tulluch's "Tebowing," but stressed over and over that he was "not a religious person."

I started to seethe as I listed to this banter. It wasn't about Stephen Tulloch's kneeling in mock prayer over Tim Tebow's prostrate body--if Tebow himself can pass that off as a clever joke, so can I--but rather the attitude of the sportswriters in speaking about religious faith, or the public expression of it, as though it were something offensive that one just doesn't manifest in polite company.

What's happening in this country? Since when did acknowledging God become socially unacceptable, like belching or breaking wind? Perhaps it was when openly anti-religion groups like the ACLU, and atheistic professors and commentators in academia and the mainstream media, convinced America's intellectual elite--even sportswriters?--that expressions of faith are out of bounds (no pun intended) in the public sphere, a sinister threat to our secular "multicultural" society and even to our democratic political system. We're all familiar with their efforts to remove any reference to or reminder of God from public schools, public meetings, and public property, even streets and sidewalks. Now, apparently, their sympathizers would like to remove those things from purely voluntary, privately funded events like professional sports contests (as well as from ads televised during broadcasts of those events--remember the furor a couple of years ago over Tebow's pro-life spot with his mom that aired during the Super Bowl?)

Why do some people feel outraged or threatened when a young athlete briefly takes a knee in public, apparently to give thanks to or invoke the aid of, the Deity in which he or she believes? And how would a casual observer know--and why would he or she presume--that such an act is empty and hypocritical? Wouldn't it be just as easy to assume that it is sincere? Why, then, would the observer be offended? And why would someone who didn't think anything offensive was being done take elaborate pains to dispel any suspicion that he is a "religious person"? Does he think he'll be shunned, or not invited to cocktail parties?

Gestures like Tebow's aren't novel or uncommon at sporting events. Over the years I've seen many football players other than Tebow take a brief knee in the end zone after scoring a touchdown, or even make the sign of the cross. I never heard criticism of those acts, so one wonders whether it's Tebow himself, and his more outspoken brand of faith, that some people object to. And there are certainly other common practices by players that we "don't need to see," like scratching their "private areas" or patting each other on the rear end, that I've never heard a sportswriter complain about.

I suspect that unashamed, public expressions of faith rub many people the wrong way because their consciences are pricked, and they might be reminded that their lives are not focused where they should be. Almost always the expression, especially one like Tebow's at a sporting event, is not intended to embarrass anyone or make them feel badly. But the expression and the one making it is condemned nonetheless.

Not so many years ago a gesture like Tebow's would have been lauded, or at least tolerated without comment. Those were the days when Christian faith was the norm in this country. And those days are, apparently, long gone. Now people have no problem with the orgy of materialism and crudity that professional (and increasingly, college) sports has become; they pay hefty ticket and cable prices to watch obscenely wealthy athletes engaging in violent, arrogant, and juvenile behavior on the field, while commercials aired during the event feature boorish men and barely-clad women promoting gluttony and alcohol abuse. But these same people find it offensive when a player kneels for a moment to acknowledge the God who created him.

If anything, sports--and all walks of life, really--need more Tim Tebows. We need more people of faith, whatever their church or denomination, to come out of the closet and not be afraid to "offend" others by openly praising and witnessing for the Lord. We must not let the forces of darkness drive the church underground and rob humanity of His light. Nor should we hide that light under a basket in order to avoid personal criticism or loss of friends or connections. We are taught that "if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf." (1 Peter 4:16) This was precisely Tim Tebow's point when he Twittered, in response to the alleged mocking of him by other players and fans:
“Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things he has done for you.”
Amen, Tim.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

BRAVO!!!! I liked Tebow's reaction to the 'mock kneel' gesture: it was, in a sense, 'turning the other cheek'. I, for one, applaud Tim's bold proclamation of his Christian faith. He truly LIVES it, in word and deed. We need to see more Christians like Tim, who aren't afraid to say they are believers. I think he has far more supporters than detractors. And SHAME on that sports chat guy....