Friday, October 23, 2009

Remember this guy? Those of us who go back to the '70s can probably identify "Rock 'n Rollen," the name he used at various sporting events where he sported his trademark rainbow Afro and usually held a sign that said "John 3:16." (His real name is Rollen Stewart and believe it or not, there is actually a documentary about him).

Rollen's act seemed harmless back in the day; nothing more than a chucklesome curiosity. But now more and more athletes, coaches and other sports figures are pushing a religious message, both on and off the field. Florida quarterback and former Heisman winner Tim Tebow is among many who have promoted a pro-Christian message, which has now created an anti-religious backlash. Tom Krattenmaker's op-ed piece in USA Today (a shorter version of his book on the subject) basically said that people are tired of the proselytizing and that athletes like Tebow should keep quiet (basically the sports version of separation of church and state; not an uncommon analogy given the religious symbolism of today's sport). Just as quickly, pro-Christian groups rose to Tebow's defense.

There are a few points from all this that I think need to be said:

1) This is an issue because there is so much media out there. In the days before YouTube, FaceBook and other instant access, instant communication technologies hardly anyone was complaining. So if you want to blame someone, blame the media for constantly sticking a microphone in someone's face. You can't blame Tebow or others for using the opportunity to espouse something they feel strongly about.

2) Say what you want about Tebow and others like him (including Texas quarterback Colt McCoy and another Heisman winner Sam Bradford of Oklahoma), but they are not hypocrites. Many of these athletes and coaches have gone on mission trips, worked in disadvantaged inner city neighborhoods and generally done a lot of positive things to help people all over the world.

3) The main thing that disturbs me about the religious promotion, especially after a game, is that it gives the impression that faith is a zero-sum game. In other words, if God gets the credit for Team A's victory it suggests that God wanted to hurt or punish Team B. I can't believe that God would want anyone to lose, get hurt or otherwise fail in a sporting event. Failure, defeat, humiliation and the like happen because we live in a fallen world, not because God chooses one team over another.

4) What especially seems to upset Krattenmaker and others is what's perceived as Christianity's exclusivness. In an age that puts so much emphasis on diversity, inclusion and acceptance many can't accept the basic Christian message so clearly expressed in John 14:6--"Jesus said, 'I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" In most cases, the desire to see non-believers come to Christ is not a matter of trying to force or impose one's belief, but out of a genuine sense of love. There is a real sense of urgency because Christians believe that the person who does not accept Jesus is lost to eternal damnation.

That's a strong motivation to get out the message ... and a lot more serious than losing a football game.


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