Tim Tebow, True Religion and the Times
When pictures appeared of football player Tim Tebow kneeling for pre-game prayers, the nation paused briefly to throw another log onto the ever-burning debate about Christianity and its place in our society. Recently added to the blaze was the viral video “Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus || Spoken Word,” which features Jefferson Bethke delivering a poem on the topic of the Christian religiosity vs. relationship with Jesus.
While the video pleased many Christians, it prompted others to appeal to James 1:27 to remind people of the importance of true religion. It also prompted non-Christians to express confusion about Christianity, or simply to make fun of it, just as many have scorned Tebow for his public prayer.
Whether Tebow or Bethke are representing Christ properly is a discussion unto itself. But rightly or wrongly, whenever events relating to Christianity surface in the news, my first thought is, “For the love of all things holy, please don’t make us look stupid!”
It is true that Christians should constantly balance clarity with subtlety and boldness with appropriateness when communicating God’s truth. Nevertheless, Jesus Himself promised us that we will always be hated—a fact that is sometimes difficult for me to accept. We should discern how and why we are affected by the type of hatred that characterizes this period in our nation’s history.
The concept of Christian influence on society permeates The King’s College. We regularly prepare for sophisticated theological discussion and the integration of Christianity in the political sphere. In Western Civilization and Bible classes, we ponder the intensity of martyrdom throughout history and in foreign countries.
We often think of persecution in images of physical torture, imprisonment, censorship or playground bullying. Those images are concrete and familiar. Even the court rulings that inhibit religious freedom are relatively simple, if difficult and scary, to approach.
But the negative pop-culture Christian identity, the jeering Internet memes and the public jabs people take at Christians sometimes reduce our erudite discussion to petty squabbling. We anxiously avoid being identified with Christians who do anything to incur derision on our beliefs. Some react angrily to antagonists, while others submit apologetically to anti-Christian criticism. As America becomes more anti-Christian, Christians become more disgusted with one another.
In a nation whose government still maintains a historically remarkable amount of religious freedom, the church’s biggest danger lies in destroying itself from within. This can result from doctrinal disagreements or denominational feuds. It can also result from external hatred, comparatively subtle in the U.S. as opposed to, say, China. This hatred can seep into Christians' minds, convincing us that we believe in biased, unfounded, childish ideas for weak, dumb people who can’t accept reality.
Many King’s students carefully consider their beliefs, as they should. Sometimes, however, no amount of reasoning through our Christian beliefs can help us shake the feeling that maybe, in some ways, the opposition is right. That maybe we shouldn’t be so pushy about our disagreement with homosexuality. That maybe we shouldn’t try to make economics a moral issue. That maybe we shouldn’t evangelize outside the privacy of our own homes. If people can’t force Christians out of the U.S., they’ll at least confuse us. How are they doing such a good job?
Perhaps the most effective persecution in our country today is not so because it threatens our physical wellbeing or confounds our intellect, but rather, it is effective because it hurts our pride. We’ll come with prayer and respectful protest when the government outlaws our ability to attend church in public schools, but God forbid a football player to kneel on the field!
Again, the point isn’t that people like Tebow are or aren’t representing Christ exactly as they should. And we can’t know the motivations of Christians’ hearts to do certain things; Paul said in Philippians 1:18: “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (NIV). Provided people like Tebow aren’t doing anything definitively inappropriate or false, maybe we should be less concerned with the way non-Christians view us and more concerned with preaching Christ. We should be excellent in all we do and loving in our dealings with others, but our primary focus is not our image, but Christ’s. Furthermore, by focusing on Christ’s image, our image as Christians will develop into what it should be.
The arguments opposing Christian beliefs are compelling. And sometimes, non-Christians make pretty fair accusations of unreasonableness or inappropriate conduct. We do need to think through our beliefs and always be ready to provide reasons for the hope within us. We do need to respectfully and lovingly present good arguments for our positions on moral issues. But as the battle rages on, godly humility is what Christians can have that non-Christians cannot. It is the hilt by which we carry the Sword of the Spirit.
Hatred of Christians today can either divide us or cause us to humble ourselves enough to defend against it. Sometimes the criticism holds a grain of truth, and sometimes it does not. We will always be hated, but as long as we focus on representing Christ, the hatred is just a sign that all is well.