On Using Fame as a “Platform” for Christian Witness

In response to a few recent posts, my friend Haddon raised the question, Should Christian athletes (or other well-known Christians) use their stature as a “platform” to speak about Christian faith?

I tend to think that they should not.  I don’t have the final word on this, but I think this way for several reasons.

First, the character of God’s far-reaching salvation.  The various arenas of our lives are to be inhabited as redeemed people in redeemed ways.  To use them as “platforms” for something else is actually to diminish the value of God’s creation and his good gifts to us.

God created all things and called them good.  He gave us vocations (teachers, gardeners, engineers, etc.) and roles to play in family and neighborhood (parent, husband, wife, daughter, son, neighbor, friend, etc.).

God also gave us a range of activities to enjoy on the Sabbath.  Such activities were to be different in that they were to be seriously frivolous—fun activities that brought us joy and didn’t produce anything.  We worked six days to produce—an important part of God’s creation economy.  But on one day we were to explore, play, and have fun.

All these things and every arena of human experience have been perverted in various ways at the fall.

Among the many ways that Sabbath activities like sports and play have been corrupted is that sports are now used to establish one’s value to one’s parents, coaches, or peers.  Sometimes international competitions, such as the Olympics, are pervertedwhen they were used to establish claims to national supremacy.  Sports are perverted when they’re not received as good gifts—as goods in themselves—but instead are used for other purposes.

In redemption, God reclaims all arenas of life and frees creation from the corrupting grip of Sin and Death.  He begins the process of reclaiming our lives, vocations, and relationships. 

He also gives us back our Sabbath activities as good gifts.  Receiving them as such is part of what it means to embody redeemed behavior.

So, taking Sabbath activities seriously as Christian people involves seriously enjoying sports and refusing to use sports for any other purpose. 

When we establish our value and identities by “succeeding” in sports, there’s something wrong with that.  And when we use sports for some other purpose—even as a “platform” for speaking about the gospel—there’s something wrong with that.

 That’s why I said in the last few posts that a redeemed quarterback will be serious about having fun, being a good teammate, and eliciting from the other side the best possible performance.  He receives the game as a gift and inhabits it as it was meant to be played according to God’s intentions.

Now, I don’t think that sports figures must remain silent about their Christian identity.  But speech about Christian realities is, in an important sense, irrelevant to analyzing football games in post-game press conferences.  In fact, to be a faithful Christian in such a situation is to really think through the game and talk through its dynamics faithfully.

Using those opportunities as platforms for something else diminishes the Sabbath-oriented character of the game.  It is to mistreat a good gift from God, seeking to turn it into a non-Sabbath activity. 

Explicit speech about Christian realities only because relevant if one must talk about why he’s so serious about having fun, being a good teammate, and eliciting excellence from his competitors.

I know that it stems from a kind of piety to want to exploit opportunities to commend Christian identity to the public, but good intentions don’t justify such an approach as biblically faithful.

More to come on this . . .

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13 responses to “On Using Fame as a “Platform” for Christian Witness

  • athanasius96

    I think it’s OK to be honest about who you are, but it should be done with humility. Being a Christian should never be a showy thing. We have come a long way since the time Billy Graham was criticized for posing a “prayer” with his co-workers for a press shot. (Billy later apologized.)

  • Haddon Anderson

    Thanks for this post!

    Great thoughts. What’s interesting is that we tend to assume that “platforms” are a necessary and good thing. At times, we’re even encouraged to pursue them.

    I’m really looking forward to reading your future posts. Glad you’re engaging this!

  • Jason Staples (@jasonstaples)

    While I agree with part two, I’m not sure it makes sense to regard professional sports, which are not “play” as much as a job, as “Sabbath activities.”

    • timgombis

      Good point. That’s another corruption of sports — getting paid! Check out Ken Burns’s documentary “Baseball.” There was an uproar in the late 19th cent. when baseball players started getting paid. Hard to believe these days.

      But the larger point stands. Should any vocation or Sabbath activity be “used” for something else? Does such use diminish its value?

      • Jason Staples (@jasonstaples)

        I don’t think it’s a corruption of sports any more than someone getting paid to act, sing, or any other form of entertainment. Sure, folks in the 19th C. were upset about the rise of professional sports, but that doesn’t mean it is a corruption of sports. Athletes have been paid in some way or another essentially since spectator sports began millennia ago.

        As for the larger point, I think lots of things are and should be “used” for something else, and I don’t think that necessarily diminishes the value of the thing being used. The bigger question is whether the use is honest and reasonably connected.

        FWIW, I had a post related to this whole discussion a while back: http://www.jasonstaples.com/blog/2010/sports-and-christianity-how-should-christians-handle-competition-580

      • timgombis

        To your first point, Jason, true enough, late 19th cent. objections don’t make the case. I do realize that turning athletics into entertainment has a very long history, but those working in theology and sport have laid out some significant arguments that doing so corrupts games, sports, and athletics. I think there’s something to that.

        Viz. the larger point, that is indeed the question. Should athletes or public figures use their well-knownness as a platform?

  • Andrew Gleddiesmith

    It seems to me that we shouldn’t use vocation and Sabbath as platforms for something else but I do think that we should be ready to reflect theologically on what we do. The danger I see in what you have argued is that it could lead to a silo-ing of activities. We then aren’t allowed mention Jesus except in the church silo. This would be to secularise our other activities by removing God from them. Instead we want to participate in our other activities because they are good things that God has given us to do with their own inherent worth derived from their part in God’s scheme.

    For example, when a certain quarterback speaks about the peace that comes during a game from knowing Jesus because it places football in its correct (non-ultimate) context this is a good and appropriate theological reflection. When the same quarterback starts every postgame interview with “First, I want to thank …” where the connection between the thanks and the game of football is tenuous at best then we have football being used as a platform. It would be better at those moments to reflect theologically on the joy of being embodied, the joy of playing, the joy of competition, winning and losing as a Christian, etc.

    • timgombis

      The areas of our lives shouldn’t be walled off from each other; it’s just a question of how they are integrated. That there are only two options–silence, on one hand, and evangelizing all the time, on the other–demonstrates a poor imagination of how Christian conduct should look in any and every area of life.

      • Andrew Gleddiesmith

        which is exactly what I was arguing for. It seems that your post only says dont do this as opposed to saying this “third way” might be the route to take. It would be interesting to hear how you would handle the situation.

      • timgombis

        I didn’t want to post it all at once — thinking through this over several posts.

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