As a fellow Christian, I resonate with Brit Hume’s desire to give a verbal witness to his faith. I love to share with others the good news of hope and grace that I have received through Christ. But when I saw the drama unfold regarding Hume’s statements about Tiger Woods, Buddhism, and Christianity, I couldn’t say amen. In fact, I winced.
Why? It took a few days for me to articulate why my heart couldn’t in good conscience affirm Hume’s verbal witness, or join the chorus of my fellow Christians who interpreted the negative response as widespread media bias against Christians. While affirming Brit Hume’s free speech rights wholeheartedly, and while acknowledging I might have said something far less helpful in the same setting, here’s why I would try to find a different response, if I were in a similar situation.
1. If someone wanted to get a personal message of hope and solidarity to Tiger Woods at a time of public shame, it would have been most appropriate to do so through personal means, accompanied with personal presence and other expressions of empathy and compassion.
2. Because the message was given in such a public forum, it seemed like Tiger’s shame became an opportunity for a promotional message for Christian faith, and an critical message about Buddhism. Whether Hume intended to do something like this or not, the timing could be interpreted as somewhat analogous to Rush Limbaugh using the catastrophe in Haiti as an opportunity to criticize President Obama. Rush is certainly free to do this, but doing so will likely have unintended negative consequences along with the positive one of gaining empathy from the base to which he appeals.
3. Ironically, then, an intended message of compassion could be interpreted as an act of exploitation – using a shameful personal tragedy for the benefit of one’s religion. I’m sure Brit Hume would never intend such a thing, but I can see how people could interpret it in this way.
4. Any group that is in a majority or that enjoys other kinds of advantages, I believe, has special responsibilities, remembering Jesus’ words about much being expected from those to whom much has been given. The Christian faith is the largest faith community in the U.S. (and world) by a strong majority, which means that we Christians have to take special pains not to use our advantages inappropriately. So – to the degree that people expect more from Christians, to the degree they hold us to a higher standard – I think public hope for exemplary behavior from us is appropriate, even though as fallible humans we Christians fall short like everyone else.
5. Ironically, to use our freedom and power as Christians in ways that hurt or insult others – whether it’s Tiger Woods or Buddhists – can be an act of inconsistency with the way of Jesus. When I think of how Jesus would respond to Tiger Woods, I immediately think of the powerful story in the Gospel of John (chapter 8). A woman was brought before Jesus – perhaps naked, or clutching a bed sheet – who had been “caught in the act” of adultery. He did not condemn her, and in fact, managed to confront those who were about to cast stones. It’s an amazing story in which every detail rings with meaning, worth re-reading in this context.
It’s always easy to offer Monday morning quarterbacking, and I don’t want to do to Brit Hume what some may think did to Tiger Woods, namely, use a possible mistake on Hume’s part to make a point of my own. I have misspoken so many times, sometimes as a lapse in the spur of the moment, sometimes in ignorance, and sometimes from indefensibly bad and shabby motives, so I don’t intend this as a criticism of Mr. Hume, with whose desire to bear witness to his faith, again, I share. But I do want to learn from this episode, and so here’s what – as a Monday morning quarterback, admittedly – I think Brit Hume himself might now wish he had said: “As a person who has made many, many mistakes myself, I identify with Tiger Woods. I am no better than he, and I stand at every moment in the same need of amazing grace that he does. I’m thankful that through my relationship with God and the life and message of Jesus, I have found forgiveness for my sins and power to begin to change and grow. I can only hope that Tiger will find the same mercy that I have experienced, and continue to experience, and if there’s any way I can be of help to him, I offer myself for that purpose.”
It’s way easier to point out mistakes in others than to avoid them oneself!