Heaven knows, in our growingly impious age I want to encourage any affirmation of Christian piety I stumble across. On that order, whenever Super Bowl Champion/Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, an outspoken Christian for several years now, launches into one of his Scripture-citing breakouts, a part of me cheers him on.
Bubbling up in another part of my brain, however, is an irresistible question : Why isn’t Lewis broadly lambasted for his unabashed Jesus-loving as is another high-profile, NFL disciple, Tim Tebow?
After particularly spectacular, on-the-field performances, the Heisman-trophy-winning, New York Jets back-up quarterback regularly takes a brief, reverential knee to the Creator. It is God, Tebow believes, Who built him for gridiron excellence, so gratitude is in order.
This demonstration of outward sanctity has generated a Tebow-despising cottage industry — involving, occasionally, other players — ruthlessly lampooning the soft-spoken, twenty-five year old. It’s hard to deny Tebow’s “religiosity” has further earned him an uncommon level of animosity from a substantial swathe of sports commentariat.
Why not, then, the same derisive reaction to the arguably more stridently spiritual Baltimore superstar?
For those willing to acknowledge a few prickly realities, seems to me the answer is fairly obvious:
First, Tebow is white, Ray Lewis is black.
In the hierarchy of fashionable values, loathing for rock-ribbed, fundamentalist Bible-thumping of whatever species clearly ranks wayyyy up there — but not as dominatingly as tyrannical “racial-correctness”. Whether taking the form of cartoonishly skittish racial oversensitivity, condescension towards anyone who doesn’t look like Conan O‘Brien, or even mild, but default, anti-Caucasian hostility, it’s undeniable: folks nowadays, especially the mainstream media, celebrate, or at least tolerate, conduct in “people of color” which would earn lofty denunciations for a pale face.
Exhibit A is full-throated Bible-quoter Lewis. Any fairer-hued NFL tackle or quarterback, or celebrity of whatever kind, who ballyhooed enthusiasm for Jesus like the now-retired Ravens’ linebacker does, would be mercilessly hooted out of elegant company by the “tolerant” but trendy set.
Lewis gets a pass, not from any suddenly flowering piety in Scripture-detesting pop culture, but because of a patronizing, at-all-costs determination to insulate African-Americans from criticism. Any criticism.
Again, I’m thankful Ray Lewis (and other black sports and entertainment luminaries) can mention Jesus without being publicly pilloried by the hipster establishment — it’s the latter group’s cowering and insulting motives, though, which are less than respectable.
Next, and perhaps just as significantly, today’s guardians of libertine orthodoxy give a pass to Lewis, and countless other openly “religious” athletes, film, TV and music stars, for another, more nuanced reason: they don’t take seriously these celebrities’ professions of Christian devotion.
Let’s face it, whatever the sincerity of Ray Lewis’ current passion for the things of God, his background has been, ummm, checkered, to put it delicately? Both criminally (hazy implication in the fatal, 2000 knifings of two Atlanta night clubbers) and personally (producing six children by four different women, none his wife), in prominent respects the Baltimore All-Pro’s lifestyle has fallen ambitiously short of the Savior’s standards.
The point here is not whether a gracious God has forgiven Ray Lewis, but rather whether a cynical public buys him as the genuine, Bible-believing article. Ironically, lots of jaded observers are unwittingly applying a time-worn New Testament measure: “Every tree is known by its own fruit” (Luke 6:44). Rightly or wrongly, they’ve adjudged the “fruit” of Lewis’ lifestyle deficient when evaluated against the holy Book he references so zealously — thus, they wave off his faith as phony, irrelevant. Harmless.
Tebow? His history, by contrast, does little but underscore he means what he confesses. Raised by missionary parents, boldly expressing his faith throughout his college career, openly pro-life, unflappably modest and polite withal — not a lot of conflicting signals there. There’s also that sexual purity thing.
For a party-till-you-drop society, therefore, Tim Tebow presents a problem. When one’s philosophy is carpe-diem, how to account for a handsome, muscular jock who insists he’s saving himself for his wedding night? Who doesn’t merely flap his gums about Christian fidelity, but apparently embodies it in the most sacrificially practical ways? To the orgasm-obsessed, appetites-driven sector, Tebow is, at best, incomprehensible. At worst, unacceptable — a walking, threatening rebuke to them.
Turns out, confronted with a Tebow-type, the life-maxim of “me-me-me” and “now-now-now” comes off rather shabbily. He must, then, be torn down, discredited — something, sadly, too many have been gleefully available to do, whether he was shining with last season’s Denver Broncos or riding-the-pine for 2012’s Jets.
Still not convinced that’s the issue?
When, after an entire season marooned on the sidelines, Tebow reportedly expressed some exasperation to coach Rex Ryan, CBSLocal‘s Peter Schwartz stamped him “not the good teammate that we all thought he was“. Tebow “might not be this great guy … that everybody thinks he is,” Schwartz decreed — dismissing a young man’s otherwise pristine rep because, essentially, he had the audacity to momentarily exhibit understandable, human emotions.
Worse still was widespread reaction last November when announcements surfaced of Tebow and actress Camilla Belle scotching their budding relationship. Giddy viciousness erupted; reams of childish and petty sniping from shallow-thinkers unwilling to abide an adult man not consumed by his glandular impulses: Camilla wasn’t “getting any” from the virginal QB so she dumped him; he’s a tiresome Jesus freak, that’s the problem; maybe “Timmy” is gay!
The comparison between Tebow and Lewis is not a reflection on either of them so much as on the disturbing stuff that makes tick modern American society. The profane is stubbornly elevated, the decent routinely demeaned.
I pray Ray Lewis presses on in his Christian journey, increasingly modeling a rigorous, full-hearted faith for many years to come.
If so, he’d best prepare himself: at some point he can expect to get a taste, at least, of the treatment Tim Tebow’s been enduring since stepping into the stadium lights.