NBC commentator Tony Dungy is under fire for commending Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles on his faith and for saying that Foles’ faith was a significant factor in his confidence and performance during the game.
Dungy’s remarks were met with a wave of social media outrage.
Another early critic tweeted, “Does NBC want you preaching on air?”
Sports analysts and public figures soon expressed concern, culminating in two days of coverage by national and international outlets.
Replying to his critics, Dungy tweeted, “NBC pays me to express my opinion. And it was my opinion that Nick Foles would play well because his Christian faith would allow him to play with confidence. And that he’s a good QB. I think I was right on both counts.”
Many of Dungy’s critics and most of the national outlets covering the developing controversy have focused on whether God cares about football and whether Foles was justified in thinking God gave him a “special moment.”
What hasn’t been sufficiently emphasized is the emerging phenomenon of “Christian-shaming.” And the absurdity of it.
We experienced this sort of Christian-shaming when social media flash mobs mocked evangelicals who had called our nation to pray in the aftermath of the black and blue shootings, the Vegas shootings, and other harrowing events that unfolded. In the view of these Twitter activists, a Christian’s tweets about prayer are simply a means of avoiding the issue instead of acting upon it.
Similarly, Christians were on the receiving end of public shaming from such an august American institution as the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights. In a report on religious liberty, entitled, “Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties,” Chairman Martin R. Castro argued that Bible-believing Christians employ the phrase “religious liberty” as a code phrase for “discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, Christian supremacy or any form of intolerance.” As William McGurn noted, Castro’s contribution illumines the way many secular progressives insult Christians and Christianity.
In response to Christian-shaming, Americans should be clear about two things.
First, there is nothing in the world wrong with being Christian in public. For Christians, our beliefs are deeply held convictions that should shape our identities, organize our lives, and motivate us to be good neighbors and citizens.
There is nothing wrong with Nick Foles and Tony Dungy making a connection between their faith and their public life. Why should NBC or its viewers care if Foles and Dungy identify as Christians? Would they have the same reaction to somebody on television who identified as Buddhist? As transgender? As a secular progressive?
Similarly, there is nothing wrong with public prayer as a response to a harrowing event. The critics might think our calls to prayer are a way of avoiding the issue. But for our part, we’d turn the criticism around and say that our prayer is a more powerful form of activism than their social media flash-mobbing. In fact, our obedience to the biblical command to pray is more important than the sum total of our Tweets, radio shows, or opinion pieces.
In the same way, there is nothing wrong with our quest for religious liberty, no matter what Chairman Castro says. That is why our Founding Fathers enshrined the free exercise of religion in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Second, critics who shame Christians for being religious in public need to realize that they—the critics—are religious people who practice their religions in public, even if they don’t notice it.
That’s right. Each and every American, from the outspoken Christian to the died-in-the-wool atheist, has a “religion,” whether they use the term or not. Something or somebody sits at the center of all people’s lives, shaping their identities, organizing their lives, and guiding their views of right and wrong. That something or someone functions as the god of that person’s life.
In other words, every human being ascribes ultimate worth to something or someone, to some person or ideal or ideology. If it is not the God of Jesus Christ, it may be the many gods of the Hindu pantheon. Or sex or money or power. Or anything else. Fill in the blank.
Every person is religious in this deepest sense of the word, and every person’s functional religion will exercise a significant influence on his or her public life.
So, let’s embrace it. Let’s stop shaming people for being transparent, for articulating publicly what they believe privately. And let’s start admiring them for putting their cards on the table, letting the rest of us see what it is that motivates us and makes us who we are.