Saturday, June 11, 2011

Of Coaches, Politicians and Other Idols

The biggest news and greatest shock to Buckeye fans across Ohio (of which I am one) was the resignation of The Ohio State University's football coach, Jim Tressel. Coach Tressel resigned largely because of an NCAA investigation prompted by an article in Sports Illustrated magazine. The article had the effect of taking down the greatest football coach in Ohio State's history.
Ironically, Sports Illustrated ran an ad a couple of decades ago that featured a photo of Alabama coach Bear Bryant with a tag line that read "In Alabama, an atheist is someone who doesn't believe in him."
Tressel had obtained similar status among his myriad fans in Ohio. But unlike the rough and gruff Bryant, Coach Tressel was known for a very public religious orientation. He's been a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for years. Coach Tressel has a reputation as an evangelical believer. For that reason, I couldn't help but react when I read of his comment to a appreciative crowd who came to express their gratitude for his years of service. Thinking about the next Michigan game, Tressel remarked, "Next November 26th, we kick Michigan's _____."
You notice I haven't finished the sentence. The coach used an expression I am not accustomed to hearing from fellow believers.
Lest you think I'm picking on the coach or being overly sensitive, Gov. Sarah Palin is another example of a very public professing believer. I know that because I've followed her rise carefully and read some of her books and various writings. Gov. Palin is a member of an evangelical Bible Church in her hometown, Wasilla, Alaska. She is accepted (or criticized) by the general public as a believer.
Knowing that, I've cringed more than a few times when the governor has written or recalled her own -how shall I say this?- "colorful" language. Recent published emails from her years as governor of Alaska document what I say.
Call me odd if you wish, but I can't help reacting in a couple of ways. First, why in the name of sense (or Scripture) does a believer damage their credibility as a believer by sinking to foul language? And yes, it is foul. Do public people not realize that everyone is watching, everyone is listening?
Second, do they not realize that some things are just not fitting for Christians whether we are public figures or not? Is the Scripture warning against "filthy communication" not plain enough?
Yes, I know I'm picking. But it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks according to Jesus, and He should know. You think? So as I've read President Bush's own words in his autobiography, "Decision Points," I've been disappointed in him more than a few times. He is given to the occasional off color remark, and that tendency undermines his testimony greatly.
There are two huge lessons here for us all. First, our tendency to put public Christians on a pedestal is not good for them or for us. They cannot live up to it and we are sure to be disappointed as their faults become obvious to all.
The second lesson is equally simple. Small things matter. An off color remark or inappropriate action can have devastating effects on our testimony, causing people to question the validity of our character. The world is crying for consistency; for someone they can believe in. We need Christian leaders and Christian examples. But most of all we need Christians who are willing to live up to the name.

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