Jason Collins, Tim Tebow, and the End of the White Evangelical Male

Maybe you weren’t aware of it, but white evangelical maleness ended last week, with the dismissal of Tim Tebow from the New York Jets and the coming out of Jason Collins.

Daniel D’Addario of Salon suggests Tebow may be the last mainstream evangelical celebrity. D’Addario points to the overall waning of evangelical influence on the culture at large, even the possibility of an evangelical “recession” as labeled by Rev. John S. Dickerson. Remarkably, Dickerson estimates that the actual number of church-involved, politically/culturally motivated evangelicals may be as low as 7% of the U.S. population.

I’m not even sure Tebow was that great of a model of Christian manliness. Part of what made Tebow’s relative success as quarterback of the Broncos in 2011 so astonishing was precisely that it seemed so miraculous. How could a quarterback play so badly and still win?

D’Addario also asked Dickerson if “he thought, over the past two years, that Tebow’s public prayer and professions of virginity had been helpful or hurtful? Dickerson paused. ‘There’s a passage in Romans, Chapter 14, where the Apostle Paul says that each believer needs to live out the faith of their own convictions. I don’t think it’s my place to judge him.’”

I’ll judge him. There’s another verse I’d like to quote from Matthew 6.5-6: “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”

Growing up as a Presbyterian, this passage might have outstripped John 3.16 in importance. I was taught that faith was a private matter between me and God, not to be flaunted in public – not out of embarrassment for my faith, but out of humility. My dad once upbraided my smart-ass brother for a junior high musical performance in which he mimed crossing himself before a difficult choral number, to the laughter of the audience. Never mind that making the sign of the cross isn’t part of Presbyterian tradition, some things are just between you and God. Like your cracking pubescent voice or your facility at recorders and Orff instruments.

But the point is, evangelical masculinity can’t get a break in the media anymore. Chris Broussard of ESPN and Tim Brando of CBS couldn’t even express their real opinions about Jason Collins coming out without secular society jumping down their throats and calling for their firing.

I actually don’t think the two men should be in any way officially censured or demoted for what they did. We need to live in a society that tolerates idiots in the name of free expression.

Broussard was asked about Collins’ statement of faith as a Christian and he gave his opinion. His choice to “preach the Gospel” that Collins couldn’t be a Christian because he is gay was self-serving and unprofessional. But I tend to think the religious rantings of a sportscaster will ultimately damage fewer people than the homophobia of actual religious authorities. Like the Pope.

As for Brando, his Tweet wasn’t so much offensive as sad. His exact words (corrected for grammar): “Simply being a Christian white male over 50 that’s raised a family means nothing in today’s culture. The sad truth. Period.”

As Paul Constant of The Stranger noted: “Yes! Finally, after over 200 years as a nation, won’t somebody speak up for the poor, embattled straight Christian white men? Thank God this brave sports reporter has spoken up for the oppressed, voiceless white dude. What a hero he is.”

I actually have sympathy for these poor white dudes (of which I am one, albeit playing for Jason Collins’ “team”). For more than 200 years, the identity of the white, heterosexual Christian man has been caught up in being the default position of power in this country. White people have treated their race and culture not as an identity, but as the identity by which other identities are measured.

This lack of awareness of whiteness as an identity is how a commentator like George Will can claim to be against identity politics, when he is, in fact, one of the primary promoters of white identity politics. (Here’s one of his classic diatribes based on the infamous “wise Latina woman” comment of Justice Sotamayor.)

We are entering a period in American history when European ancestry, Christianity, and heterosexuality will no longer be the assumed default. I suspect that the past 30 years of resurgence of fundamentalist Christianity and right-wing identity politics will be seen in the course of history as a temporary backlash to the radical social changes unleashed in the 1960’s. The kinds of predictions Harvey Cox made in the 60’s in The Secular City, which many in the 1980’s and 90’s thought needed to be revised or discarded, are happening now, three decades late.

At the risk of sounding shocking, white Christian people are going to have to find a way to have “white pride,” by which I mean they’re going to have to create an identity for themselves that isn’t based on dominating everyone else or measuring everyone else by their standard.

But you don’t have to have agree with the views Brando expressed to have sympathy for the process of grief he’s going through. As a white, middle class, Protestant Christian who came out at the age of 23, I understand what it’s like waking up one day and realizing you must fight for your little plot of dignity in the world.

The process is nothing compared to what people of color, immigrants, women, Muslims, Jews, or anyone else not of pallid complexion with a y chromosome has had to go through. But as human beings we all need a little understanding sometimes. Even the soon-to-be-extinct white Christian male.

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  • http://Website Robert Lindsay

    A word from the “smart-ass brother” who is mentioned in the article. As I recall, our music teacher, Mrs. Webb, had given me a xylophone solo in a school chorus performance of the song, “Simple Gifts.” I was to play the ‘bridge’ portion of the song (“When true simplicity is gained…”) on the xylophone.

    I had been struggling with this xylophone solo for two weeks, and still hadn’t got it down. So when I did the sign of the cross that night, I really WAS praying, praying that I wouldn’t **** it up in front of the audience, which consisted of school parents.

    I don’t know how well the prayer worked, because I still stumbled through that performance. That night, I was the Tim Tebow of xylophone players. When I finished the performance, I was just glad it was over.

    As for Tim Tebow, while I support his right to pray in public if he wants to, I think he’s delusional to think that God really cares about the outcome of a football game. If God really took sports seriously, he never would have created somebody like Tim Tebow in the first place.

  • http://Website Lila Rebecca Feldman

    Smart-ass cousin comin’ in…yeah I agree, football is pretty small on God’s list of priorities. I think the point is that Jesus is for everyone. If white people stop following Jesus, he’ll gladly embrace brown people. He already has. Race doesn’t exist. In Christ there is no Greek nor Jew.

    Mariano Rivera is a Christian.

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  • http://Website Bob Hiller

    Not that it makes a huge world of difference, but Chris Broussard isn’t white.

  • http://Website PrRandy

    You mean Tim Tebow is straight?

  • Kermit

    I wrestled from the time I was five to current day. Each match, I prayed in the middle of the mat before it started. I wasn’t doing it to be showy. I did it because I needed to ask God to keep us both safe. It was a simple prayer that lasted a couple of seconds.

    After the match, win or lose, i looked up and pointed to the heavens for thanks.

    Also, one of my senior pictures had me “tebowing.” Very few people ever saw that picture until I released it on facebook a couple of weeks ago. The only reason I did it was to remind myself that through prayer I was safe, and through Jesus I was saved.

    Though it was all public and accessible, I’ll never know if anyone saw it or commented on it. My eyes were closed, and in my mind, that is my inner room. I’m still wrestling thirty years later. I’m pretty sure that is my reward.

  • seber12463848704

    What does he want, a round of applause for being born white and male? The end of the white male isn’t coming, the end of white male entitlement and privilege is coming. And THAT’S what white men are scared of. White men will always be big players in America, they just might have to treat other races with a modicum of respect too (shock horror).