Saturday, January 05, 2008

What About "God Talk" In Public Life?

In the years that I’ve followed presidential elections I don’t remember there being so much “God talk” in all of the campaigns of both Republicans and Democrats. No doubt the candidacy of former Baptist pastor Mike Huckabee has been catalytic as has the Mormonism of Mitt Romney.

Some reporters are obviously tired, even sick and tired of mentioning religion while others are spending a lot of time and space in trying to figure out the significance religion is playing in numbers of votes.

This is also a busy football season with college bowl games and NFL playoffs. Many athletes are verbal about the role their faith plays in their athletic success. Sometimes I feel a collective cringe from the bank of reporters interviewing an athlete who would like to thank “my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”.

Kathy Orton mentions in her blog, “Praying Fields” that she noticed the reporting on Florida Quarterback Tim Tebow’s (pictured) receiving The Heisman Trophy had a conspicuous absence of Tebow’s references to Jesus and God. Tebow is the son of Christian missionaries and often speaks at Christian events and churches. His faith is central to who he is and at the Heisman award ceremony (here on YouTube) he thanks Jesus and God at least 3 times. Tebow also thanks his teammates, coaches, parents and siblings.

Many reporters have chosen to no longer report on the role faith plays in a person’s success because they have deemed it inappropriate and irrelevant. Some reporters even cry that it is insensitive and an intrusive attempt at proselytizing.

William J. Baker in his book “Playing With God” said, “I’ve always wondered why athletes felt compelled to mention their faith during an athletic event. It didn’t seem to me to be the time or the place for such declarations.” Baker believes that Tebow’s purpose in faith declarations via highly covered sports events is winning souls for Jesus.

My reflection on this conversation is, “So what?” What if Tebow is trying to win souls for Jesus with his testimony? He has religious freedom to express it and others have religious freedom to reject it.

When athletes also testify, recommend or endorse a certain workout routine, diet, shoe or coach’s system, are they not also seeking to influence others to “do it” the way that works for them? Some athletes proclaim their routines of mental preparation, concentration, envisioning tactics and focus. So what?

“Well, when someone says that ‘Jesus is the way’ they are saying at the same time that everyone else’s religion is the wrong way.” So what? Again, when advocating a diet, shoe or technique the same dynamic is in play. People that wear Adidas instead of Nike don’t scream about intolerance and prejudice.

One comment on Orton’s blog declared, “God really doesn’t CARE about football, and anyone praising and thanking him for their own achievements on the gridiron sounds like an idiot…You want to play football? Shut up about your ‘god’.

The commenter has the right to his opinion and the freedom to express it. So does Tebow. If the athlete, politician, businessman or Hollywood celebrity is Muslim or Hindu, I'd be interested to know. It is a part of who they are. Objective reporting lets me know about it.
Is there too much “God talk” in public today? It’s a matter of opinion. But reporters who choose to omit the “God talk” from their coverage of a religious person are failing to give objective reporting.

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