Gabby Douglas, Jeremy Lin, and the God of Parking Spots

My friend David French posts at French Revolution about journalistic snark directed toward Gabby Douglas and her professions of faith in the midst of her dazzling Olympic gold-medal-winning performance in the all-around at the London Games.  Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon wrote:

As a Christian myself (albeit one of those really freaky papist kinds), I’ve often wondered what it is about Christians like Douglas that unnerves me so. The closest I’ve been able to figure it is that Douglas and her ilk seem to espouse a faith based on what is commonly referred to as “The God of Parking Spaces.” It’s the deity that grants wishes to those who ask nicely. Douglas is a girl who has described God as the figure who’s “waking me up every morning and keeping me safe in the gym every day.” She told People Thursday, “I was on the bus and it was raining and I thought, ‘It’s going to be a great day.’ My mom used to tell me when I was little, ‘When it rains, it’s God’s manifestation, a big day’s waiting to happen.’ I texted my mom, ‘It’s raining. You know what that means.’” It means that Russian girl is going down, I guess.

If Williams finds Douglas “unnerving,” it says more about Williams than it does about Douglas.  Some people are always looking for an opportunity to demean what looks like a simple or traditional version of Christian faith.  Douglas, she alleges (on the basis, it’s worth noting, of very little evidence), casts her faith in a false deity, “The God of Parking Spaces,” the idol to whom you pray when you’re in a rush and you need that perfect parking space at the airport.  Since Gabby attributes her victory to divine blessing, it must follow, Williams assumes, that she would attribute failure to an absence of blessing.

Gabrielle Douglas

Since the Olympics are in London this year, let me just say that this is bollocks.  There were a few who sneered in the same way at Jeremy Lin — about whom I wrote a book — since he sometimes attributed wins and hit shots to God.  The assumption is that these people (young, non-white evangelical Protestants) Christians view God as a cosmic Pez-dispenser.  Push the buttons just right and out pops whatever you desire.  If you do not get what you desire, then you must not have pushed the right button.  There is often (though I can’t say about Williams’ case) a demeaning of sports here as well, that comes from those with very few, or negative, experiences in sports.  Why in the world — they ask, salving their wounded egos, and assuring themselves that what they do is so much more important — would God care about sports?  And if God gave them the victory, does that mean God took it away from their competitors?  Surely Jeremy Lin and Gabby Douglas are too simple-minded to think through their faith.

But no.  That is not the answer.  This is not a simple faith, but one version of the Christian tradition that has developed over the course of centuries.  In this view of the world, all things are divinely superintended.  It’s not merely that God gives Gabby Douglas the victory; it’s that God gives Gabby Douglas life, the breath in her lungs, the lungs to breathe it with, the talent in her body and soul, the strength in her spirit, the family that supports and inspires her, the opportunity to compete on the highest level, and then (when God gives it) the victory.  When God gives you the parking spot, it’s for his purposes, and not because you prayed in just the right way.  And when God does not give you the parking spot, that too is for his purposes.

Williams goes on to write:

I don’t think the force that I, for want of a better word, call God rains down sufferings or blessings based on individual piety. I believe in a grace that gives me the strength to muscle through the sufferings, and the gratitude to appreciate the blessings. That’s why the subtle implication, when an athlete or an artist says that God was with them on a winning day, seems so strange, and why, I imagine, it rings so hollow for others. And though I am in awe of a young girl whose talent is damn near miraculous, I likewise don’t believe in a God who made it rain for her to win.

Williams identifies as Catholic (and no, we Protestants do not find that “freaky”), but her God sounds vaguely Deistic.  The thing is, Gabby Douglas never said that God “rains down sufferings or blessings based on individual piety.”  In fact, she’d probably tell you that — as the Old Testament tells us quite clearly — God makes his rain fall upon the righteous and the wicked alike.  She’d probably also be the first person to testify that she did nothing to deserve the blessing God just gave her.  That’s why it’s called grace.  It’s not a gift if you earned it.  Gabby probably believes in a God who gives her strength and gratitude, but who is also profoundly involved in the world, and in her own life, in mysterious and impossibly intimate ways.  She believes in a personal God, a God who joins us in the trenches, a God who is always giving himself to us, a God who catches our tears in a bottle, and a God who cares about sports because he cares about the people performing them.

Gabby saw a sign of God’s presence in the rain.  I see a sign of God’s presence in the cross, in the icon on my wall, in the sculpture on my bookshelf, and in the scars across my arms.  I see signs of God’s presence everywhere.  It may make Williams feel superior to put down Gabby Douglas’ faith, but it actually makes her small.  And it makes her God small as well.  The God who is infinitely involved in all things, who is unchanging precisely because he is always and eternally complete and active love, is a great and majestic God.  He is the God of Parking Spaces, but only because he is also the God of All Things.

About Timothy Dalrymple

Timothy Dalrymple was raised in non-denominational evangelical congregations in California. The son and grandson of ministers, as a young boy he spent far too many hours each night staring at the ceiling and pondering the afterlife.
 
In all his work he seeks a better understanding of why people do, and do not, come to faith, and researches and teaches in religion and science, faith and reason, theology and philosophy, the origins of atheism, Christology, and the religious transformations of suffering

  • http://www.breakpoint.org Gina

    What a wonderful piece! Thank you.

  • http://homeschool-chronicles.com Tara

    Thanks, Tim. This was spot on.

  • Ellen

    Well done! I find all of the hoopla over Gabby so demeaning to all of the hard work she has done and the faith of her and those who support her. It is beyond impolite and downright bigoted (on a variety of measures) to make assumptions about the depth and breadth of Gabby’s faith. And frankly, all the Salon writerdoesis expose her own ignorance and parochial views. But this is what is called journalism these days.

  • anna

    The phrase “God of Parking Spaces” was coined because so many who claim a personal relationship with Jesus are constantly vocalizing praises for items of convenience, like a good parking spot. This is disconcerting not so much because it represents a false view that one’s piety is rewarded with first-class benefits, and therefor failure and disappointment must be a symptom of blessings withheld, but rather because it has the appearance of being incredibly self-absorbed. When Douglas suggests that the rain carries a special message of victory for herself, it sounds like a strange brew of egotism, religiosity, and superstition. It doesn’t rain to herald success for Douglas. I wouldn’t try to guess at this girl’s sincerity or try to imagine how she would deal with failure and sickness, but language like this deserves a critical ear, especially when so publicly expressed. Like Williams, I don’t hear Douglas and feel that she is representing the Christian faith in a way that I value, and I share Williams’ concern that not all witnesses are good witnesses.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Do you think that Douglas believes it rains only to herald her success? How do you know? That’s not what she said, is it?

      No one said, or would say, that all witnesses are good witnesses. But I do think we could be a little less quick to judge one another’s faith.

      I don’t know Gabby personally, so I can’t say this for certain (any more than you can say the opposite for certain), but having spent a lot of time amongst people who make similar professions of faith, or who see signs of divine presence and love in the smallest of things, these are often the people who accept “blessings withheld” with the least sense of “failure and disappointment.” They’re the same people who believe that God can bring good things out of evil and joy out of hardship. As David French’s article made clear, Gabby’s endured a good deal of hardship for a sixteen year-old. And the more we learn about the particulars of her story, the more that’s clear. She doesn’t seem to feel that God was cursing her for impiety by separating her parents or sending her father to war for so long, does she?

      As I said, those who praise God for a good parking spot just have an attitude that we should “praise God in all things,” seeing all things as a gift from God. This is not particular to evangelicalism or those “who claim a personal relationship with Jesus.” It’s a similar attitude to many of the saints and mystics, who saw that all good things are gifts of God. There are different views in how to understand not-good things, but Gabby’s pretty squarely in the broader Christian tradition here.

      • anna

        No, God is not a “God of Parking Spaces.” He doesn’t care whether you had Cornflakes or Oaty O’s for breakfast. My sense is that he doesn’t even give a hoot about the Olympics. He isn’t Gabby’s personal alarm clock. I don’t believe he makes one get hurt while padding another’s fall. Yes, He is the giver and sustainer of Life, and one is called to live a life of thanksgiving, which is what I think William’s was saying, but when one begins to believe that God orchestrates the universe to benefit herself in a way that makes her victorious in her earthly pursuits, she is entering into a world of self-absorption. After all, one typically only gets that convenient parking space at the expense of another missing out. If one wins another must lose. I’m not against competitiveness, but I think one should have enough sense not to try to sanctify it.
        I don’t believe that God pre-ordains every miniscule detail of a person’s life. I’ve seen how that approach plays out and am very unimpressed by it, if not completely repulsed. Thankfully, this approach isn’t all tradition has to pass on to us. In fact, you can find plenty of opposing views in Christian tradition, so calling on tradition, in this case, isn’t compelling. There is a lot of superstition and pagan thought in small “t” tradition, even among some “saints and mystics.”
        I thought it was pretty clear that no one is judging Gabby’s faith. William’s was picking apart common expressions of the faith that she finds full of disconcerting implications, and she’s not the only one. And, as far as Gabby’s faith holding up through her parent’s separation…that ‘s great, but practically everyone has had to deal with tough times. You came to all kinds of conclusions about Williams, even calling her God small, and she’s had to deal with cancer.

        • http://drgtjustwondering.blogspot.com Diana Trautwein

          Thanks for this thoughtful response, Anna. I didn’t read Williams’ response as deistic or critical of Gabby as such. Rather, I read one struggling believer question the language that is so often used at times like this, language that can sometimes turn people away from the God who ‘makes it rain on the just and the unjust.’ Gabby is delightful – young and enthusiastic and her outspoken testimony is to be commended. But to judge Williams so harshly on the other side seems to me to be falling into the very same rhetorical trap. Williams has written exquisitely of her own struggles with serious, repeated battles with cancer, with trying to raise her girls as a single mother, with her commitment to Jesus within the context of the Catholic church. She raises some interesting questions with her critique and those questions deserve even-handed consideration not reactive judgment.

        • Timothy Dalrymple

          Anna, I would recommend you re-read Williams’ piece. She was pretty clearly being critical of Gabby’s faith, and several on this thread have been as well. They’ve portrayed it as superficial and superstitious.

          I think I was pretty clear that she is an inheritor of one stream of Christian theological tradition — to quote, “one version of the Christian tradition.” It’s not even necessarily Reformed or Calvinistic. There are several streams of Christian tradition that find a sacramentality in all creation and signs of divine presence and grace even in the minuscule. Gabby never suggested that God had orchestrated every detail in the world in order to serve her. That was Williams’ extreme extension of what Gabby said. Can’t we all just admit that she leapt to judgment?

          Williams’ comments would have deserved more respect if she had been criticizing one way of understanding God’s work in the world, rather than leaping to the conclusion on the basis of a few non-dispositive comments that this theology represented Gabby’s way of thinking. And if she had been raising earnest questions rather than reflexively condemning a different form of faith than her own. As it was, she leapt to conclusions about a sixteen-year-old girl and attributed to her a “logic” that is only taught in the most absurd and extreme health-and-wealth settings.

          I feel bad for Williams’ experiences, but it doesn’t make her right.

          • anna

            Maybe, you should go back and read your interview with the late William Stuntz. It was a beautiful piece that may actually shed some light on the logic behind the expressions Williams is reacting against, which is not as you say, a logic that is only found in the “most absurd and extreme health-and-wealth settings.” I’m referring, in particular, to his response to your question, “Have you ever, in Christian circles, been blamed for your fate? Have you ever been told that your pain or your cancer would go away if you prayed with faith?”

            Of course, this is only part of the criticism. The other part was the implication that if you win at something, it must mean that God brought it about, and not just by giving her breath (I don’t remember any dead people competing for goodness sake), but by willing the other competitors to fail. I would argue that Gabby’s expressions, which reflect the thinking of a large group, have their roots in theistic determinism. Blending theistic determinism with personal desires versus desires for what has been called God’s “revealed will,” leads to all kinds of problems. Thankfully, the faith is not limited by poor phrasing, or even screwy theology, but has a way of getting around these things, hence the distinction between judging Gabby and showing an aversion to something she said. Even so, language is important, and as William Stuntz demonstrated, it can have worrisome logical implications that need to be addressed.

            If Williams was being snarky, it wasn’t at a sixteen-year-old gymnast, it was at a mindset that I believe is much more prevalent than you seem willing to admit but had obviously recognized yourself not so long ago. Why else ask Stuntz the question that you did? He wasn’t affiliated with any health-and-wealth churches.

            By the way, Tim, just so you know the reply awaiting moderation is this same reply as this but for some reason Doug’s email and image were automatically entered. Also, I know this thread is getting old so don’t feel like you need to reply, but if you do respond give me a heads up, so I’ll know to read it.

    • Robert

      Anna, you don’t get it, neither does Elizabeth Williams, even though she claims to be Christian. What Gabby says unnerves her, because she’s jealous of Gabby’s piety, and conviction. Give glory to God, and praise God in all things. She sees God in all things, be it good or bad. When it rains, its God preparing her for a big day…While most of us view rain as a negative inconvenience at best. To be honest, those with a Christian worldview, not those who merely claim to be Christian, would simply sigh and pray for EW, because her post clearly demonstrates her lack of personal relationship with the Lord. I could turn around and call you both idiots to “defend” Christianity and Gabby while going on some diatribe to prove you wrong, but instead, I thank the Lord, for your comments, which reminded me of a song from PCD called Open the eyes of my heart, reminding me to open my eyes and truly see the work of the Lord in all things. If you never heard of it, check it out, its a uplifting song, even on rainy days…

    • meria

      It really comes down to criticizing a small beautiful sixteen year old, hardworking, black, Christian girl for being so amazing at her sport that she medals at the Olympic games and enchants the real people of the world with her grace, charm, smile and sportsmanlike demeanor. Gabby love God and she believes that he loves her; that should mount no attack of opinions, that is her statement of faith and her opinion. We take her at face value as Americans, the people she so capably represented, on the premise that indeed as stated in the Declaration of Independence that, “we hold these truths to be self evident that all men (people) are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. She carried herself with grace and dignity and those who would vilify her would be wise to remember that as is stated in the bible, if you believe in any part of it,” the fear of The Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Who’s right? Figure it out. By the way God is the healer, also, so he was in the cancer battle as well. Does he get the glory for that?

  • http://saet-online.org/category/blog Jason B. Hood

    Great post, Tim. I’m grateful for people who are classy enough not to demean people with simple faith in order to get published or pad their patheos hits.

  • John Haas

    ” . . . it’s that God gives Gabby Douglas life, the breath in her lungs, the lungs to breathe it with, the talent in her body and soul, the strength in her spirit, the family that supports and inspires her, the opportunity to compete on the highest level, and then (when God gives it) the victory.”

    To paraphrase: If you’ve got an athletic victory . . . you didn’t win that!

    • Bob Wiley

      You must have enjoyed Michelle Obama’s admonition to Gabby Douglas about how the gold medal winner celebrated her victory.

  • http://blog.christianitytoday.com/women Katelyn Beaty

    What this essay as well as David French’s neglected to address was Mary Elizabeth Williams’s ongoing battle with cancer, a battle she alludes to at the end of her article about Douglass. She writes, “…I don’t believe in a God who punished me with disease any more than I believe in one who rewarded me with health. I certainly don’t believe in one who ‘keeps me safe.’ I don’t think I got to live while my friends Phoebe and Gigi died because I prayed better.”

    So how should we expect Williams to respond to this sentiment, which describes something as insignificant as finding a parking space, if we extend the logic to her current battle with cancer? “When God gives you the [successful cancer treatment], it’s for his purposes, and not because you prayed in just the right way. And when God does not give you the [successful cancer treatment], that too is for his purposes.”

    It’s one thing to praise God at the height of Olympic victory. It’s another thing to praise God when your body is being ravished by disease. But the logic of this essay suggests that both are equally appropriate, because God is “the God of All Things.”

    I’d rather have a deist God who wasn’t that personally involved in the heights and lows of my life, than an intimately involved God whose purposes and intentions are so obscured as to be unintelligible and frustrating.

  • Jo Ann

    The deeper biblical message is not “God gave me this victory, yay God!” It’s “God is glorified in all things,” which includes my successes and my failures. It’s not up to me to understand why.

  • Jeremy

    “The assumption is that these people (young, non-white evangelical Protestants) Christians view God as a cosmic Pez-dispenser.” —-Uhhh… forgetting Tim Tebow (and my pastor, and youth pastor, and friends, who are all white) here?? It’s not a “non-white” thing: it’s an evangelical thing… as in a True Christian Believer thing. Mainline churches are losing members in vast numbers because they’re not True Christians… they see color or white or whatever (He’s the God of all of us), but True Christians only see God’s active hand in our daily personal lives no matter how mundane or exciting it is because God is in control of everything; if other so-called ‘Christians’ cared to read the Bible, then they’ll realized that God maintains a real presence in everything we do! Non-true Christians should stop making it a race thing and start making it a God thing. Get right with Him by believing in a real heaven and hell, and asking Christ to be your personal Savior who ordains the very steps in your life’s path. Deuteronomy 31:8 *The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.* 1 Corinthians 10:31**Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.** Period.

  • http://www.pamrichardswatts.wordpress.com Pam Richards Watts

    Well said, Tim! Thank you for taking the time to dive into a matter of faith and witness that often gets theologically sticky-especially for those whose theology is faltering to begin with.
    As if it weren’t hard enough to live out faith with boldness and sincerity, those in the public eye constantly take hits for their performance in that arena too.
    I give this piece a gold medal on the subject!

  • Bobby B.

    As evidenced by his competitive nature, Mr. Haas is an expert on athletic victories. Perhaps the point he wished to make is that God played a far great part in her victory more than the government (especially the current administration).

  • Belva

    It was with dismay that I watched the team after they had won their medal. Gabby was all but being shunned. She was literally having to make herself a part of the group and was always on the outside – no one going directly to her to hug and celebrate. I couldn’t figure it out. Now I know. A public profession of faith in God where it’s all about “winning” creates judgement from others and she has been judged – by her teammates first of all regardless of her contribution to the team’s win, and her religious affiliation is Always judged. As has been said before by a wise black man: Why can’t we all just get along?

  • Bob Wiley

    Important story. We got to keep Gabby in our prayers. She’ll be a target of those who want to score points against conservative Christians.

  • Steve Hutchison

    Great commentary on this whole mentality. I hope your comments reach Gabby Douglas, Jeremy Lin, Tim Tebow and all of the Christians out there who have the courage to not only speak out for Christ but to show their faith by the way they live their lives. You are right by alluding to the mentality that we make ourselves better by bringing down those whom God has blessed and is giving them a platform that we don’t have. I love your writing!

  • http://www.cloquetchurch.com Rich D

    Losers do not typically receive the same interview opportunities as do winners, but that would be where expressions of faith might have more traction. Gabby, for instance, expressed hope and confidence in God even after her fall from the balance beam and her lackluster performance on the uneven bars. It impresses me when anyone (let alone a 16-year-old) possesses the poise to articulate faith in God on an international stage even when the outcome was disappointing. Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells, for instance, both expressed faith and gratitude in winning (only) silver and bronze respectively in the 100 m women’s hurdles.

    A minor detail: I don’t know (and could not find) where it says in the OT that the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous. But Jesus said as much in Matt 5:45. Is there an OT reference I’m missing?

  • http://ymicreative@mac.com T Taylor

    Great piece of writing, Tim. God is sovereign, but thankfully and lovingly gives us freedom of choice to say, do and believe whatever and however we like. Just read a book called “Schizophrenic God” that deals with some of the misunderstanding and confusion of how God works in this world. Thanks for the good work at Patheos! http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13207122-schizophrenic-god

  • JoAnn Dameron

    Gabby only had a small window of time to give God the glory and she used it. She didn’t have the time to tell her whole story. The journalist have all the time in the world to write their opinions of Gabby and her faith and trust in God. I am so proud of this young beautiful, talented girl that truly trust in a wonderful God that wants to have a relationship with all of us. He loves all of us including the competitors. Gabby knows that there were other times that was hard and God sometimes tells us “no” because He has a better plan for us but she only had a few seconds and she gave God honor that was due Him.

  • KW

    “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)

    I am beyond shocked by the critiques of Gabby Douglas’ faith. Let us remember that she is 16 years old, and her relationship with God will mature as she matures. Anyone who hasn’t at one time believed in a “Santa Claus” God is not being honest with themselves, and I challenge anyone who wants to demean another’s faith to check their priorities. We have no authority to judge another’s relationship with god. For now, I see nothing wrong with her Personal relationship with God. It isn’t as it she’s had a perfect life, and it isn’t as if she’s dominated every competition she has entered. It was simply her time to shine, and perhaps her victory gave some extra motivation to the 2nd and 3rd place finishers to work harder to achieve Gold in the next Olympics. Her gold medal wasn’t given to her, it was earned, and she was able to earn it through God.

  • Doug

    For crying out loud, no one wants to criticize Gabby Douglas as a person. Williams is not out to slam Douglas, and neither is anyone on this thread who found some point of agreement with Williams’s article. Gabby worked hard and won a gold at the Olympics. That’s terrific, and America is proud of her.

    The issue here is a particular style of Christian language, common to many, which Gabby gave an example of in her public statement. Williams is simply asking herself, why don’t I as a Christian relate to this kind of language? Why doesn’t it seem right to me, or reflect the faith as I know it?

    Plenty of people, especially on this comment thread, don’t feel that way, but Williams is certainly far from alone in her feelings. Is it because Williams and her ilk are not “true Christians” as some have suggested? No, I don’t think so. Nor do I think that Williams was trying to suggest that people who express themselves like Douglas aren’t “true Christians.”

    Perhaps what we have here is a fault line between two Christian cultures, two theological alternatives. Personally, I think this is a fascinating question to explore. Unfortunately, that’s not happening here. Most of what we have instead is a lot of our-team vs. their-team squabbling. That’s a pity.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      The problem, brother, is that Williams misconstrued Gabby’s statements and attributed a logic to them that is actually foreign to them. Neither Gabby Douglas nor other people who use language in that way are assuming that God gives cancer as punishment, gives blessings to those who pray just right, or protects us from all bad things. It was a caricature, and not a little scornful.

      What I’m suggesting is that there is something much richer behind the kind of language Gabby used than Williams allows. I think that’s the long and short of it.

      • Doug

        Onyour advice, I re-read Williams’ piece. I just don’t see it. To my reading, Williams is clearly not mocking Douglas, nor is she doing much construing (mis- or otherwise) at all. She merely repeats Douglas’s words and recognizes the fact that she can’t relate to them, specifically as a Christian. In fact, Williams takes pains to praise Douglas for her sporting accomplishments and calls her a young woman of “both deep faith and profound gratitude… authentic… a hardworking girl with strong values.” Williams recognizes that she herself may be the one with less faith than Douglas.

        I’m going to stand by my prior comment therefore. This isn’t about Douglas or the quality of her personal faith. This is about the public language of faith, and its variations. Douglas’s statement was only a particular instance that served as segue to a more general topic. David French’s reading of Williams (and perhaps your own) seems to me uncharitable in this case. People on either side of these issues need to be slower to take offense, even though (and perhaps preciely because) it’s a good way to rally the troops.

        • Timothy Dalrymple

          Well, thanks both to you and Anna for the continued, thoughtful conversation. I just went and re-read it myself. Do you think Gabby Douglas believes the following?

          (1) “[Williams] got to live while her friends Phoebe and Gigi died because [she] prayed better.”

          (2) “God rains down sufferings or blessings based on individual piety.”

          (3) “God…made it rain for her [Gabby Douglas] to win.”

          Nothing Gabby Douglas has said — at least nothing I’ve seen, and certainly not the statements she quotes — entail these positions. She gave thanks to God for her victory. If she had lost, and were interviewed afterward, I suspect (very strongly) that she would have thanked God for the opportunity.

          Do you really think, if Gabby Douglas were asked, “Did God give you this victory because of your greater piety?”, that she would answer in the affirmative?

          Anna, I’ve been blamed for my broken neck — there are such people out there. But even in that case, it was more that I was blamed for not praying with sufficient faith to be healed. I was not blamed for the original injury, as though it were a punishment. This was what the dearly departed professor Stuntz was describing as well. This is not to excuse being blamed for not being healed — that’s bad enough — but it’s not exactly what Williams is described, and it does tend to come from certain popular-level charismatic circles. In my case, it was from inmates in the prison where I was serving chaplaincy.

          Whether Williams was being snarky or scornful is not particularly important to me. But she *does* misunderstand here the Christian athlete who gives thanks to God for victory. I’ve said similar things to reporters myself following victories, and I never, never would have agreed with the logic Williams believes stands behind them. I do not know of a single Christian athlete in any sport — and I know many of those athletes — who would agree with them.

          Regarding the rain comment, would she have said the same to St. Francis finding signs of divine presence and grace in all kinds of natural phenomena? I think this is one of those situations where Einstein’s quote is relevant that one can live as though nothing is miraculous, or as though everything is miraculous. Or, I’m reminded of the Jesuit practice of trusting the Spirit to work through your imagination and to speak to you in a thousand tiny ways. There are many more-charitable ways to understand these statements, but Williams goes for the least charitable.

          Honestly, I suspect (though I do not know this) that Williams is being overly influenced by her secular colleagues’ disdain for an athlete who is “so, so, so into Jesus.” I’ve lived in Williams’ circles for much of my life, and I know there’s a scorn toward simple evangelical Jesus-lovin’ there. And I don’t know about Williams’ case and would not even care to speculate on this particular point, but I know that I often find Williams’ style of scorn toward Jesus-thanking Christian athletes amongst those who have a bit of scorn for sports in the first place.

          Anyway, I should probably let this go. Hope you see this, but please don’t feel obligated to respond. I get your point of view, I think, I just don’t think she had enough basis to attribute this view to Gabby, and I think the view she describes is really much more limited than she thinks it is. It is not a mainstream view in any sector of evangelicalism, and certainly not common amongst Christian athletes. Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Athletes in Action, any ministry involved with athletes, would teach the exact opposite of what she says.

          • Doug

            Thanks for the reply, Tim. I wouldn’t speculate on what Douglas personally believes. I do know that most (alas, not all) Christians who speak the way that she does would not endorse the sentiments in your examples. But this is precisely my point. Religious language of this nature strongly suggests to many people outside the Evangelical fold that these sorts of things are precisely what Evangelicals believe. If the purpose of such public utterances is to provide a witness for others and not simply to affirm oneself or one’s fellow Evangelicals, then it seems counter-productive to me.

    • Bobby B.

      I believe that there are many people who do want to slam “Gabby Douglas as a person.” They do so because she is a person who has, and publicly espouses, beliefs that they want to marginalize, even extinguish.

  • ymoore

    Just for the record, anyone who disparages “the God of the Parking Spaces” doesn’t live in NYC!


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X