Happy Thanksgiving to you all (and happy Chanukah to those celebrating).
Tim Marchman had a great takedown the other day of a long Sports Illustrated piece by Thomas Lake on Tim Tebow. Marchman zeroes in on the crux of Lake’s argument, that as a white, straight, Christian male, Tebow became an easy target for criticism “at no risk to your standing among the politically correct.”
Later in the piece, Lake complains:
Preaching has gone out of style in America. So has telling people what they should or shouldn’t do, and telling them there’s only one way to get to Heaven, and telling them they need to renounce their old ways or they’ll probably go to Hell. Southern Baptists haven’t changed much. They mostly say and do what they’ve always said and done, but those things have become unfashionable in the Age of I’m OK, You’re OK. And being unfashionable is OK with some Southern Baptists. Certainly it is with the Rev. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas. He’s not afraid to say, No, you’re not OK, and this lack of fear has made him a cultural heretic.
Marchman smacks this down with extreme prejudice:
Like the riffs about the persecuted straight Christian white man and those who have enough grace that they can spare some for others, this is so nonsensical that it can only be taken as conveying an attitude, one sympathetic to the moral rigor of the Southern Baptists (if not their occasional excesses), and disapproving of ’70s vintage California cokeheads clutching self-help books. The problem is that it isn’t actually true. Robert Jeffress is a cultural heretic not because of his lack of fear, but because he’s said that President Obama is paving the way for the anti-Christ, that gay people are an abomination, and that Islam and Mormonism are heresies from the pit of Hell. Reducing him to some Tebow-like abstraction is a way of avoiding what he actually believes and wants others to believe, and doing so diminishes him far more than critics do when they take him seriously enough to think that he means what he says.
I’d add that preaching appears to be alive and well on television and in megachurches throughout the land (and preaching firebrands like Rick Warren and James Dobson have managed to become massively popular and wealthy in this presumptively inhospitable climate).
There’s a further bit of incoherence here. In one part of the article, Lake is describing PC as a license to unfair judgment and piling on, consistent with a larger complaint that political correctness is an affront to free inquiry and debate, a set of judgments that stigmatize unfettered expression of supposedly unpopular and unfashionable ideas. Then later, he’s defining those same forces of political correctness as insisting on a judgment free world.
The reason the political correctness charge is so annoying and incoherent is because those who invoke the term typically deny that they themselves police discourse as much (or more) as those they disparage as politically correct. As Marchman says, plenty of folks dislike what Tebow says not because they’re trying to be fashionable or whatever, but because they find his views abhorrent. And the folks for whom Lake is speaking also find the views of many people abhorrent and loudly proclaim as much. Not incidentally, many of those same people work hard to pass laws outlawing private behavior they find objectionable. But acknowledging the simple equivalence that people like Robert Jeffress have one set of judgments and people who disagree with him have their own set of judgments, might put Lake on less comfortable ground – having to defend the substance of views that he himself is perhaps unwilling to own. So instead, he’s tossing out mocking phrases like politically correct and ‘I’m OK, you’re OK” as an elaborate dodge.
Despite the presumptive oppression facing straight white male Christians in this den of iniquity that is contemporary America, they seem perfectly capable of finding large platforms from which to espouse their views. If anyone needs their memory jogged, not so long ago we had, for example, a white male, born again Christian president of the United States for eight full years, one who proudly and regularly wore his beliefs on his sleeve.
And Tebow can keep doing the same. But his defenders should stop acting as if he’s the most aggrieved man in the world because some people express their dislike for what he has to say, or how he goes about saying it.