Now, let me explain, before you act like I voted democrat or haven’t read “The Chronicles of Narnia” or didn’t like “Radical” by David Platt (which, I didn’t really, so, sorry, Christian culture).
On Nov. 29 at the World Challenge, unabashed Christian and PGA Tour player Zach Johnson, quite possibly the Tim Tebow of golf, cursed on air, then apologized later on Twitter. His slip-up showed his humanity, and his apology showed his aim. I liked it.
In a culture where Tim Tebow is marketed and portrayed as perfect (don’t get me wrong, I love Tebow and everything he stands for, but think about it, if he was ever seen sipping a Guinness, ESPN may turn it into a 30-for-30 documentary), Johnson’s slip-up showed that he messes up—which, in my opinion, is more attractive than making others feel inadequate. Plus, as a golfer myself, anything less drastic than killing members of the gallery with a chainsaw is an understandable expression of frustration.
“Hey guys, I cussed on the course today and it was on the air,” his tweet said. “I am very sorry. I am flawed and a sinner, and I admit my mistake…”
I like this scenario in light of my broader point.
We put Christian athletes on a pedestal. We cling to them. We see them as the superheroes in The Avengers, on the front lines, fighting for the cause we believe in. It’s not wrong to look up to them; their stories are encouraging. But we elevate them more than we elevate the cause, and that’s wrong, and we elevate their sin more than forgiveness, and that’s wrong.
See, the first draft of this column was a letter to Pope Benedict XVI, asking him to canonize Tim Tebow as a saint—the point being that we already elevate Tebow to the point of sainthood anyway, so we may as well just make it official.
That column, however, ended up in a folder on my desktop called “Nixed By The Editor,” and the 12 other columns already there gave it a jovial welcome to the family. I think they all had a cookout or something. Apparently, calling the Pope, “Benny,” “Sweet Sixteen,” and “Benihana” throughout the letter is borderline offensive, and I can’t say whatever I want just because I grew up Catholic for 18 years, which is probably true. So I said 10 Hail Marys and a Glory Be and repented of my sarcasm. Oops.
The heart of the problem, I think—why we’re so judgmental of prominent Christians (whether it’s an athlete, pastor or politician) who may utter an f-bomb, or any curse words, and why we’re so star-obsessed with people who believe what we believe whether that’s Tim Tebow or the Pope—is that Jesus isn’t enough.
Aaron Rodgers wins a Super Bowl, for example, and I proudly say, “Aaron Rodgers is a Christian,” comfortably telling myself, “Aaron Rodgers believes what I believe.” I go to church and see U.S. Open Champion Webb Simpson sitting in front of me (which happened), and I say to myself, “I’m really happy I go to this church.” Gabby Douglas wins a gold medal, and we broadcast her quote around the Internet as if to say, “See, someone who believes in our God won a gold medal! You should believe in our God, too!”
A couple months ago, right after the Olympics, I interviewed Masters Seminary professor Paul Felix, the father of three-time 2012 London Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix. He had an interesting quote about the nature of Christians in our modern culture.
“She’s had an amazing career,” he said of his daughter. “God has blessed her. My thing was, win a gold medal in your relationship with the Lord. That’s more important than winning a gold at the Olympics. Christians kind of come out of the woodwork when another Christian wins a gold medal.”
That’s true. Our celebrity-obsessed culture has very much invaded the church. We buy Papa Johns because Peyton Manning owns 21 of them (not pizzas, franchises), and our actions and attitudes indicate that we believe in Jesus because Tim Tebow believes in Jesus. What if Christian athletes like Allyson Felix and Tim Tebow didn’t make Jesus look “cool” and “hip?”
Is Jesus enough? Is the Bible enough?
The thing is, Jesus didn’t drop the f-bomb on the golf course—Jesus didn’t even sin, not once—so what’s the big deal? What’s the big deal when Sports Spectrum puts Michael Vick on the cover or runs a story that talks about disgraced basketball coach Dave Bliss?
I’m a sinner who has been changed by God’s grace just like Michael Vick and Dave Bliss.
I wish Jesus was enough. I wish the Bible was enough. I wish it didn’t appear as if we were too shallow and insecure in our faith as we latch onto prominent Christians like a leach, only to be let down when someone drops an f-bomb on national television or has an affair. Didn’t Peter curse when he was denying Christ, of all things? Didn’t David have an affair and then kill someone?
This past summer, I interviewed PGA golfer Ben Crane, and I think he said it best. “There are also a bunch of players who would say the guys at Bible study are just a bunch of hypocrites,” Crane said. “We say, ‘Well there’s always room for one more.’ Yeah, we are (hypocrites). That’s why we need Jesus—because we don’t do it right all the time.”
Somewhere, along the line, perhaps we’ve forgotten what we need.
This column appeared in the November 2012 Sports Spectrum DigiMag. Log in to view here. Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum magazine. His column tackles sports and faith from another angle, whether it’s humorous, personal or controversial. Follow him on Twitter-@steve_copeland or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.