Is it healthy in America for Christianity to be the default punchline of jokes regarding religion, at the same time other belief systems are off limits?
This question comes to mind after the razzing Tim Tebow received as a minor league baseball player when his team, the Columbia Fireflies, visited Charleston, South Carolina to play the RiverDogs. Throughout the series, whenever Tebow came to the plate the team would play the Hallelujah Chorus and the team mascot, Charlie T. RiverDog, wore eye black with John 3:16 just like Tebow did during his college football playing days. When Tebow’s teammates came to the plate, the scoreboard simply referred to them as “not Tim Tebow.” Mind you all this took place in what is considered the Bible Belt.
After criticism from fans and social media over the awkward attempt at humor, the team apologized for crossing the line. As a confession, I started my career in minor league baseball, and from my experience, people who run minor league teams aren’t deep ideological thinkers. They, instead, flatter themselves as being would be PT Barnums, pushing the envelope to get some much-needed publicity on the cheap. But one can’t blame team management if it were surprised by the backlash. After all, they were just following modern American social norms that Christians are fair game.
One imagines if a Muslim got the Tebow treatment the ACLU would have camped out on the team’s doorstep with lawsuits in hand, and the national media would have swarmed Charleston like the plague to fret over religious bigotry in Donald Trump’s America. But as this happened to a Christian, instead of the locus of the national media descending upon Charleston, all you heard from the press was the silent chirp of crickets.
Unless you live in a cave, you are likely all too familiar with the public portrayal of Christianity in our culture. For instance, if you hear a standup comedian telling a joke that involves Catholicism, you can expect the punch line to be about pedophile priests, the more graphic the joke, the better. Nor does a night goes by where Mormons aren’t ridiculed somewhere on stage in this country. But it doesn’t really matter the denomination, being Christian is to be the gag in all humor involving religion. And when the subject matter turns serious you can count on the talking heads to suggest as a matter of indisputable fact that to be Christian is to be homophobic, misogynist, and anti-science, and if you listen to influential politicians like Bernie Sanders, Christians are even unfit for public service.
For Tebow, the snide comments regarding his religious beliefs have been a daily part of his life for years now. In his football playing days, he was even asked by the NFL Network if it was his faith that provokes journalists, as if his faith needed the approval of the press. His answer, of course, was courteous, “You know, I’m not sure, but I know one thing is I am extremely blessed. God has blessed me with so many people that support me, a great family that supports me, great teammates and a coaching staff and that’s what I’m focused on.”
As usual, Tebow’s handling the latest mockery of his faith in Charleston with his usual good graces and shrug of the shoulders, accepting the team’s apology saying, “If they did some silly things, I didn’t worry about it.”
I understand Tebow’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I also understand he will probably never make the Major Leagues as a player, and as an NFL quarterback, he never would have been mistaken for Tom Brady. But many of those who relentlessly mock him and wish him to fail are doing so solely because he is a high-profile person who is public about his Christian faith. That is nothing more than naked bigotry.
Since the incident in Charleston, Tebow has been promoted to the Florida St. League but not before having a positive economic impact in the South Atlantic League. This year the Fireflies’ home attendance has been up 40% thanks to Tebow’s presence, and he is a draw on the road as well, often selling out stadiums. Maybe instead of making fun of him, the management of the Charleston RiverDogs should have thanked him instead. After all, Tebow sold more tickets to their games than they ever could.