Thursday, January 14, 2010

What's wrong with telling Tiger Woods to become a Christian? (Dialogue column 1-12-10)

I wrote this for The Dialogue, the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO.

If you missed worship this past Sunday (and given the continuing bad weather many of you did), I mentioned in my sermon the case of Fox News commentator Brit Hume’s recent remarks that Tiger Woods should become a Christian. I shared that I felt instantly uncomfortable with Hume’s remarks, and that discomfort puzzled me. Am I not in the business of helping people to enter into relationships with Jesus Christ? After thinking about if for some time, I decided that my discomfort was not really about the substance of Hume’s remarks but rather that Hume was the one who made them. Lest I be accused of bashing Fox News or Brit Hume, I want to take some time here to further explain what I mean for both those present and those absent; besides, I believe there are some greater issues at stake than whether or not your minister cares for Fox News.

As I mentioned in my sermon, I’m no fan of Brit Hume, but then I’m at a loss to think of any talking head that appears on a cable “news” show that I do like. I believe these talking head, roundtable discussions produce more heat than light and do little to help educate any of us about the issues that affect our lives. Whether Keith Olbermann, Wolf Blitzer or Brit Hume suggested redemption through Christ to Tiger Woods, I would shake my head and sigh, because in a medium that trivializes and oversimplifies the great issues of our time on a daily basis, even Jesus Christ becomes another simplistic, partisan power play.
Last week on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the clip of Hume’s remarks drew dismissive laughter from the audience. As I remarked Sunday, we, as Christians, could dismiss the laughter as coming from an atheistic and secular group of people who are intent upon defaming our God and attacking our faith OR we could acknowledge that such a response is to be expected from a culture which rightly tfakes a cynical eye towards blowhards and pundits. What have they seen of Christianity in the media other than hypocrisy followed by simplistic repentance by public media figures who happen to be Christians like Ted Haggard and other hypocritical ministers, South Carolina governor Mark Sanford and other philandering politicians, etc. etc. etc.

In a sound-byte culture awash in a flood of information via the internet age, a comment from a pundit like Brit Hume counseling a celebrity like Tiger Woods to become a Christian can only accomplish two things: 1. trivialize the grace of Jesus Christ and 2. reinforce the smugness of Christians who already assume their superiority to anyone who does not believe as they do. What I would offer instead is that any recommendation of Jesus Christ to anyone—if it is to be meaningful, authentic and helpful—must come out of a relationship built on trust, intimacy and care. If we as Christians wish to be true to the dual commands of Christ to make disciples AND love our neighbors, we can do so only with humility and through the sharing of our own experience of God.

When we speak from a place of arrogance and privilege—which I believe Hume did and does—rather than from a place where we acknowledge our common need for God’s grace, our words do more harm than good. When we approach others who believe differently than us as if we are in a debate and the one with the better argument wins, we have already lost. When we treat our faith as if it is one more plank in a party platform that we will use to beat our opponents in the culture wars over the head, then we are not sharing the love of Christ and we deserve to be laughed at and dismissed.

Did Brit Hume have the right to say what he said on a national news program? Absolutely. Did it help demonstrate the love of Christ who came to serve and to sacrifice? Absolutely not. What Jesus needs are people who will follow his example. As Paul wrote in Philippians 2:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.

The only voices tht our culture will listen to regarding the redemption Christ offers are ones who have chosen to follow the path of Christ’s humility and sacrifice. Those voices cannot be found in our screaming and barking media landscape.
Grace and Peace,
P.S. I realize this post doesn't really address Hume's contention that Christianity offers redemption that Buddhism does not. That topic is multi-faceted and deals with issues concerning salvation, inclusion, pluralism, the relationship between different relitions, the nature of forgiveness and the means of it, and even the existence or non-existence of hell. Perhaps I'll write on this as well, but let's just leave it at this point with me stating that I feel quite sure that me speaking about my faith as a Christian does not necessitate me putting down another religion.


Roy Roper said...

I think I understand and agree with all of your points...but not as far as you're taking them by condemning a simple opinion that proclaims Christ. To say that you're not giving Brit Hume the benefit of the doubt is to put it mildly.

I don't think there's any evidence that this becomes a "simplistic, partisan power play" in this format, though it could be viewed (I think incorrectly) as such. I agree that Hume always comes off arrogant, but he wasn't wielding a plank, screaming, or barking. He was making a personal point that is well worth making—no different than recommending therapy, perhaps. And perhaps he prayerfully felt led to do so—who are we to say?

If I'm in charge of Fox, I might discourage it. As a fellow believer, I didn't cheer or shake my head. I figured it would draw more ire than thoughtful reflection, but I was glad he felt free to say it.

Are there better ways and formats to communicate the gospel? Absolutely. But should you say that it absolutely does not demonstrate the love of Christ? I really think that's going too far.

revpeep said...

I wonder, Roy, if you would feel as charitable if the comment were made by a liberal talking head on a different network? Or if it was offered by a person of a different religion in the same format?Do you really think someone motivated by love for another person would choose a talking head news show as the place to offer it?