USA Today recently featured an article entitled, ‘And I’d Like to Thank God,’ by columnist and author Tom Krattenmaker that I found very interesting. Krattenmaker aimed to expose the unhealthy intolerance that is bred through the surge of evangelicalism within the big-time sports scene.
His issue really centers on the narrow beliefs of evangelicals and the overt effort by Christian leaders to baptize the sports scene in the waters of biblical exclusivity. The issue here for Krattenmaker is the resulting offense that fans feel when they find themselves on a different theological page then their favorite players.
As a Christian and a sports fan I am naturally interested in this article. However, I am writing this not primarily as a fan or a Christian but rather as a reader who was, quite frankly, appalled at the inconsistencies and cheap shots that filled the article. In the interest of brevity I have listed a few of the more blatant and troubling examples below.
Not Faith but Christianity that is the problem
Krattenmaker makes it clear in his article that his issue is not so much the fact that the players are spiritual as it is that they are Christian. And in particular, he is referring to evangelical Christians. He uses the pluralistically pejorative terms such as ‘conservative’, ‘far-right’, ‘exclusive’, and ‘judging’. All of this to show that such intolerant, judgmental Christians are out of step with everyone else.
Now these Christians are more than a nuisance. They are unsettling and somewhat threatening.
Movement that Uses influence to shape worldview
In addition to being unnerved by the message Krattenmarker reveals that it is actually the powerful evangelical leaders that are calling the plays executed by the evangelical athletes:
Far less visible, but worth knowing about, are the infrastructure and strategy of the sports-world evangelicalism that powers these pious displays. Athletes’ expressions of Christian faith reflect decades of hard work by evangelical ministries to convert players and “coach” them to use their stature to promote a particular version of conservative Christianity.
My first response to this is, “So?” Wouldn’t you expect church leaders to teach doctrine and then expect to see people live in such a way that honors God? This is kinda the point. This should be refreshing to people in light of all the stories we hear of religious hypocrites. Here we have integrity, humility, and faithfulness.
My second response is, “What?” Krattenmaker is writing an article that is appearing in America’s Newspaper (USA Today). He is writing to critique a worldview and promote his own. He wants players, coaches and teams to act differently. He wants them to act in a way that he agrees with.
So he is venting and complaining about influential people using their platform to influence moral and spiritual positions while he himself writes on a large platform to urge people to think and act differently with respect to their moral and spiritual positions. He is like the overweight heart doctor that tells you to mix in a salad. If Krattenmaker followed his own logic he would never have written the article for he would have been afraid that he’d step on someone’s toes.
Do We Own these Guys?
Another strange feature in this article was this concept that since the public is involved with the players (via taxes?, tickets, jerseys & TV time) then we have some type of say in how these guys conduct themselves. He refers to the players as ‘the civic resource’. I guess it never occurred to me that I own these various teams and players. If this is true, I can’t wait to read his next post on how all of these football players who dig ladies are unduly offending and marginalizing the gay sports community. Or maybe he could write an article about how the networks offend vegetarians with incessant pictures of Turkeys on the Thanksgiving weekend.
Tom is just being silly here. These guys don’t work for us.
And what has Tebow done but wear some eye black with Bible verses or talk about how he loves Christ? As a Christian myself, I have had to do some digging to see if he was just speaking church talk or if he truly loved Christ.
I can’t believe he would worry about Tim Tebow potentially offending a non-evangelical when we have just as many athletes in the police log as box score. In addition to crimes we have plenty of just bad guys who are bad examples. But Krattenmaker is concerned with eye black and a post game prayer.
He Doesn’t Live in His own House
Probably the most interesting facet of Krattenmaker’s article has to do with the fact that he doesn’t even live by his own rules. He argues that it is the narrow religion of evangelicals that is the problem:
If their take on God and truth and life is the only right one — which their creed boldly states — everyone else is wrong.
Then he sites a poll that says that the majority of Americans do not agree with biblical doctrine concerning the exclusivity of Christ. His conclusion is that pluralism must govern not exclusivity:
Our pluralism is a defining and positive reality of American life — but not one that is much valued by those who define the faith coursing through the veins of sports culture.
But here is the problem: he is not a consistent pluralist. He himself is narrow in his beliefs. In reality everyone, with the exception of the person who says that no one is wrong, is narrow. Krattenmarker himself has narrow beliefs. He believes that Christians are wrong. His faith is exclusive as well.
I wonder if Krattenmaker would have allowed his morality and basis for truth to have been calibrated by public opinion in Nazi Germany. Will you always line up and march behind the banner of what the public thinks is right? How horribly captivating and potentially devastating is this worldview? What we really need is a standard by which to measure truth objectively. Oh, wait a minute, that is Tom Krattenmaker. Never mind, we are good as long as he is writing opinion columns and books. Phew.
Narrow Beliefs vs. Narrow Minded
I find it troubling that Tim Tebow and his family were dragged into this. From what I’ve read and heard about Tebow he is a nice guy who, in spite of his ‘dangerous’ beliefs, is genuinely well regarded by teammates, coaches and opponents.
Krattenmaker plays dirty with the Tebows; he punches below the belt. It is juvinille and unfair.
He sites that Tebow works overseas with his dad promoting the exclusive message of Jesus. They teach the literalness of hell, exclusivity of Christ, the authority of the Bible, and the necessity of repentance. And this is a problem for Krattenmaker. Memo to Tom: They are missionaries! This is what the Bible teaches! What do you expect them to talk about, the zone read?
To sully the Tebows for their doctrine is just not fair. He slides things in like this:
one-truth evangelical campaign that has little appreciation for the beliefs of the rest of us?
How do you know what they appreciate? For all we know they might really appreciate and understand what other people think and believe. We might conclude that they do since they are willing to learn and understand the culture of those in the Philippines where they spend a lot of time ministering there to the locals. Having been in a third-world country as a missionary who is American I know that you don’t just waltz in and expect people to relate to you because you are an Americans; you had better know and understand them.
There is a big difference between having narrow beliefs and being narrow minded. To hold a narrow set of beliefs would indicate that you do not agree with everyone else; it refers to your worldview or doctrine. To be narrow minded means that you will not listen to anyone else; this refers to your personal character. Too often folks aim to attack the narrow belief set of Christians but the charge is actually leveled at their personal character.
The ironic thing here is that it is Tom Krattenmarker who is both narrow in his belief set and narrow minded in his character. He refuses to listen to other people that do not agree with his narrow belief set. He wants them to be silenced because they are offending others…errr…him.
Sadly, this is what I have come to expect from opinion writers in our day. With all of the competition in various media forms guys have to get their stuff read. And the easiest way to do that is to be provocative. The quickest and easiest way is to be provocative and attack someone that everyone likes with the weapons that everyone seems to value. Therefore the hard-working, successful, Christian, nice guy, has a target on his back.
Krattenmarker has a new book to promote and looky here, I’m talking about him. So maybe his strategy is working. Well, it’s working if his objective is to be talked about and not taken seriously.