I was tempted to let Josh Hamilton off the hook until last week when he came back to Dallas to play. When he stepped up to the plate the first time, he was met by a tremendous cavalcade of boos from fans who felt antipathy for a player they thought had given up on the team, made a list of excuses for his behavior on and off the field, and in the end, “played the God card.”
Too be fair, players are often booed when they revisit an old team, as part of a good-natured spirit of healthy rivalry. Conversely, many times you see a crowd erupt with an outburst of approval to a player who has left the team with a reputation of tremendous contribution as well as good character. (Josh was also booed during his last game as a Ranger, a one-game AL wildcard loss to Baltimore.)
What stuck in my craw though, and I believe also the public, was his response when asked by a reporter to react to the boos:
He said, “Where was Jesus got-after the most? His hometown.”
The public hears him compare himself to Jesus. Really? You’re going to compare yourself to Jesus being rejected in Nazareth in explaining why you’re not well received?
The response attested to his accurate perception of the boos—not the fun type of boos, but the kind that indicate that you’re truly not welcome.
I think that my whole purpose here is not to so much to lambast his previous bad behavior in a way that lacks forgiveness or grace. But he was given grace after grace after grace after grace. At some point, accountability has to come in.
I want public figures who prominently promote themselves as Christian in the public square to act in a Christ-like way, to “walk the walk,” and if not, to shut up, because it reflects badly on the Christian body.
But what about grace you say, what about forgiveness? Shouldn’t the public see how Christians forgive each other?
What then about Paul demanding that an immoral brother be expelled from the local church until he repents? (I’m not suggesting that Josh be expelled from the local church. Paul’s admonition is to preclude sin from infecting the rest of the body.) The point is that in the every day affairs of the church, accountability sometimes takes a more prominent position on the stage than grace.
There are many public figures who have acted badly for everyone to see, then with Christ’s help, changed. Think Chuck Colson. What a testimony he was to the redemptive power of Christ to a world that wants the same.
But if the public figure uses forgiveness as enablement, or an escape from accountability, and does so repeatedly, he does Christ a disservice, brings shame on the church as a whole, and causes those we are trying to reach to ridicule us. (Not that I am embarrassed with being ridiculed.)
So then, to those of you who the spotlight of fame lands on, get your act together so when you do, people can see the beacon of Christ working in you. We are supposed to be a light to the world, not a spotlight pointed into a dirty mirror.
Now if we are honest, when the same spotlight is pointed at us, we quickly see that we ourselves can “talk the talk,” but not “walk the walk.” So we need to be careful calling the kettle black (even as I call the kettle black.).
There does seem to be a difference though between a person not “walking the walk,” privately, and one who doesn’t “walk the walk,” publicly, even as both are firm in their faith.
Christians who are in the public eye and especially those who are outspoken proponents of their faith have much more impact on the perception of that faith to outsiders.
If a bank audit reveals that the small businessman has committed fraud, then he has done a disservice to his faith, but it has little influence outside his circle. The same audit to the company CEO in the news has a wide and public impact. His circle is bigger. We are in his circle. The public is in his circle.
Sharks tend to ignore smaller fish. It’s not that the little fish don’t taste good; it’s that they aren’t as fulfilling.
The public figure has more accountability than the private one. Not fair, but that’s the way it is in our world.
There is however, a conflicting choice to be made that complicates the situation.
On the one hand, a sincere believer should want to share his faith in the manner he feels appropriate. Some of us choose to be outspoken, to use our words as much as our actions. Others prefer to let their actions speak for themselves. There is a place for both.
But if you do have a significant vulnerability to any kind of temptation, then you should either carefully and honestly consider if you can live above that weakness in a ongoing way, and if you don’t think you can perhaps it is best to step back and limit your public exposure to avoid the judgment of hypocrisy at first to the faithful, and second to the worldly. Maybe that’s the best witness you can have.
Now that I’ve spoken to the public figure, I need to turn the attention to the flavor of our judgment.