They say on the Internet you can find almost anything. I found something interesting today, so interesting that I felt compelled to write something about it.
Here’s the background: HarperCollins, one of the biiiig publishing houses, announced Monday that Denver Broncos backup quarterback and former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow was writing an “inspirational memoir” that they would be putting out next April. And there’s apparently been a cascade of naysayers criticizing Tebow (not HarperCollins, though) for doing this. The gist of their arguments (if you could call them that) seem to be:
- Tebow, at 23, is too young to be writing his life story — after all, how much life has he really lived? He’s publicly admitted he hasn’t even lost his virginity yet — what makes him an expert on living?
- Tebow is a self-righteous do-goodnik who claims God told him to go the the University of Florida and — GASP! — has publicly admitted he hasn’t lost his virginity yet. We don’t want him preaching to us!
In the midst of this tempest-in-a-teapot, an interesting — and to me, somewhat surprising — voice has spoken up in his defense.
Said voice belongs to LZ Granderson, a columnist for ESPN.com. You can read his article on the reaction to the upcoming au-Tebow-ography here, but the basic thoughts behind it are:
- Nobody’s forcing you to read this book. If you don’t want to read it, don’t buy the thing, don’t download it to your Kindle and don’t check it out of your local library. Tebow has the right to write it (or have it ghostwritten), HarperCollins has the right to market it, and if you’re not interested, you have the right to ignore it.
- Since when is 23 too young to pump out an autobiography? Miley Cyrus has one out. Justin Bieber is working on one. Neither of them are even old enough to vote.
- For being only 23, Tebow’s had a pretty busy life. First sophomore to win the Heisman. Two national championships at Florida. Considered one of the greatest college players ever by most experts in that field. And that’s just on the football side. He’s also spent summers working at an orphanage in the Philippines and doing medical missionary work. He’s fought for the rights of home-schooled kids to play for local schools’ sports teams. And he’s worked hard to be a good role model and live a clean life, which is more than you can say for most NFL players. Or even most 23-year-olds.
- Too much of the criticism of Tebow smacks of anti-religious bigotry.
Allow me to unpack that last one a bit by quoting the Granderson article:
Now by all accounts, Tebow is a good kid who has had the misfortune of being characterized as a perfect person. Why else would years of volunteer work in the Philippines be met with cynicism? Why else would a reporter be so invasive that he asks the kid if he’s had sex yet? Those who resent Tebow’s “perfect” image seem to be hoping that somewhere along the road this self-proclaimed evangelical Christian will be tripped up, that this media-proclaimed “Great White Hope” in a sport dominated by blacks will have a blemish and that he who can do no wrong eventually will or already has.
The portrayal of being perfect isn’t fair to Tebow, but he played a role in its creation, and so it is a burden he will likely bear for the rest of his playing days. No matter how humble he remains or how much success in the NFL he achieves, a large contingent of sports fans will root against him for no other reason than that the media celebrates his desire to be a good person through the framework of his faith. DC Talk has a song — “What If I Stumble?” — and in the chorus, the group ponders a series of questions I’m sure must cross Tebow’s mind from time to time.
What if I stumble, what if I fall?
What if I lose my step and I make fools of us all?
Will the love continue when my walk becomes a crawl?
What if I stumble, and what if I fall?
Disliking an athlete because he beat your favorite team? That’s being a fan.
Disliking an athlete for wearing John 3:16 on his eye black? That’s something else — religious intolerance.
I concur. So what makes Granderson’s comments surprising?
It’s not that a member of the mainstream media is defending a born-again Christian — the MSM has never been as unified, or as liberal, as some make it out to be. It’s not that he speaks for THE major U.S. organ of sports news and opinion — ESPN’s staff covers pretty much the entire American political and religious spectrum (and some other countries besides). It’s that Granderson is part of a group that, to many people, seem like they’d be the last to jump to the defense of an evangelical.
LZ Granderson is gay. Openly so. No closet involved.
I just heard a squealing sound — was that someone’s brain screeching to a halt? Aren’t “those homos” (as I once heard a pastor say — wish I were joking about that, but I’m not) the enemy of all things Christian, trying to take over the government and corrupt our kids? On the flip side, aren’t those “religious bigots” (as I once heard someone characterize born-agains like myself) the enemy of gays, condemning them and trying to deny them civil rights?
Well, maybe not. Apparently not all homosexuals feel that way about Christians — Granderson has just moved to defend one. And apparently not all evangelicals feel that way about homosexuals. When John Amaechi, a former NBA player, came out of the closet in his own autobiography a few years back, several then-current NBA players were asked for comments, and a few said they’d be a little uncomfortable undressing in the same locker room as an openly gay man. ESPN’s Chris Broussard (an excellent roundball writer and, like me and Tebow, an evangelical/fundamentalist/born-again/whatever) answered that by saying that he plays pickup hoops with Granderson all the time, they both use the showers afterward, and it was the opposite of a big deal.
So yeah, maybe the whole concept of a “fags vs. fundies” war has been oversold a little.
If anything, the homosexual and evangelical communities in the United States have a lot in common. Both feel that the government is against them and they have to go to great lengths to defend themselves. Both are used as whipping boys by certain people in politics and the media. Both have leaders that tend to overstate the number of people they actually represent. Both have their own clubs with their own lingo that’s often impenetrable to outsiders. Both have lunatic fringes that are embarrassments to them and that their enemies portray as normal for their group. Both have cottage movie industries that churn out laughably bad films, which are seldom viewed by anyone outside the club (though the gay movies are on average slightly higher-quality than the evangelical ones). And both are insecure enough that, whenever someone famous joins their fold, they tend to put that person up on a pedestal as if that person’s “conversion” justifies the group’s choice of lifestyle (occasionally leading to that person’s burnout with and departure from the group).
Now, to answer a question you may or may not be asking, but I just want to cover my hiney regarding: do I believe homosexual behavior is a sin? Yes, I do. I believe what the Bible says, and the Bible says it’s a sin. Just like the Bible says divorce is a sin (except on very narrow grounds). Just like the Bible says premarital sex is a sin. Just like the Bible says gossip is a sin. Divorce, premarital sex and gossip (among other things) are rampant among American evangelicals, and why evangelical leaders continue to condemn homosexuality while ignoring the other iniquities going on right under their noses is a mystery that I not only haven’t solved, but frankly have given up trying to solve.
And that leads to what I got out of the Granderson article, and the fact that Granderson wrote it. Maybe we — all of us, left-wing or right-wing, born-again or not, straight, gay or whatever — have spent too much time pointing fingers and throwing rocks and not enough time offering hands of friendship and understanding. Maybe many of us have forgotten that we’re all just people — people with flaws, people with struggles, people with baggage. People with sin. The Bible (which I believe) also says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Ain’t none of us perfect — not you or me or LZ or Tim Tebow (Tim publicly admits as much). As I see it, nobody’s ever gotten a 100% score in life except Jesus … and look how folks treated Him!
What if, even as we recognize that we don’t agree on a lot of things, we were all willing to come out and admit that a) we’re all far from perfect, and b) there may be things we believe in that aren’t necessarily the truth? Maybe then we could actually deal with the issues that divide us in a rational and compassionate manner instead of flinging things at each other from inside our respective fortresses. Maybe then we could praise the work of a fundamentalist QB — or a homosexual sportswriter — for what it is without having to start Internet flame-wars over it. I have the social skills of a mistreated Rottweiler, and even I think we’re not doing as well as we could to build bridges instead of burn them.
Call me crazy, but I think it’s worth a try …