As many of you know, several days ago, a friend of mine posed a question on his blog in which he asked: “Is Tim Tebow a Hypocrite?” What could only be ordinarily described as a “sleepy little site” was suddenly alive and booming with internet traffic. And for two days, his “hit count” went through the roof as many evangelicals sought to defend Tebow and his “platform.”
As I watched that little scenario unfold, I began to think about putting up a post on this site asking the same question. Only, my interest was not so much an examination of Tebow’s actions in light of Matthew 6, but an examination of why celebrity drives evangelicals in the same way that it seems to drive others in society. I had a genuine concern that when we elevate gifted young celebrities to a position of spiritual authority, we run the risk of their personal stories running afoul, as did the story of Ben Roethlisberger. Not surprisingly, my post ignited this blog, much in the way that my friend’s post had done on his site.
Today, as I continue to ponder this issue, I want to approach my initial concern from another angle. I want you to look at this recent ad for Nike and I want you to tell me what you think.
For me, two things jump out almost immediately. First, this ad is part of a larger group of ads that feature some of the very best athletes of our generation. From LeBron James to Dwayne Wade to Manny Pacquiao, this campaign is built on the idea that we are witnessing extraordinary athletes that are doing things worthy of our attention and adulation. And than there is Tim Tebow. Tim currently has a regular season quarterback rating of 72.9, which establishes him as the 27th best starting quarterback in a league with only 32 starters. Clearly, he is not featured in this campaign because of his enormous talent. He is not Payton Manning. He is not Tom Brady. He is not even Aaron Rodgers. Tim is in this campaign because he is an enormously polarizing figure, whose popularity and notoriety stems from the fact that he is an outspoken evangelical Christian. So there is an undeniable sense in which his “platform” for Christ is opening doors to lucrative contracts. This alone should give us pause to think.
The second thing I notice is that the language and imagery being used in this campaign is undeniably Christian. “We are witnesses” is part of what we call the core “Christian kerygma.” In other words, of all the things that are said in the earliest Christian sermons found in Acts (and elsewhere), “we are witnesses” is one of the six most common themes that are being preached as the Gospel is being brought forth into the world. But here, the language and imagery of the Christian faith is not being used to testify to the work of Christ. It is being explicitly co-opted for the sake of buying and selling products. Consider, if you will, the following ads for Manny Pacquiao and Tim Tebow. You will need to click on them to read the fine print.
Are you comfortable with this? Are you comfortable associating sacred language and imagery with an advertising campaign designed to generate money for a transnational corporation?
Perhaps you are. Perhaps you are not. But what about when this Christian language and imagery is used by a company that has a prolonged history of utilizing underpaid labor – and even virtual slaves – in human sweatshops to produce its goods?
This is what I’m talking about when I am questioning the wisdom of giving a young, Christian celebrity a spiritual “platform.” Today, on January 11th, the day we set aside to focus on the human trafficking pandemic, we pause and force ourselves to ask tough questions. For the Gospel must be good news for all, including those in this recent 2008 video who were forced to labor under atrocious and inhumane conditions.