Should We Trust Ray Lewis’s Conversion?

I didn’t stay awake for the end of the Super Bowl last night — still battling jetlag a week after returning from Kuala Lumpur. But I got up early and watched a bit of SportsCenter while the espresso pot came to a boil. There was Michael Phelps, standing on the field after the game, framed by confetti. He told the reporter that the Ravens’ victory was more emotional for him than any of his 22 Olympic medals — weird. When asked why, he said because no one means more to him than Ray Lewis.

Meanwhile, I had a conversation with a friend last month who used to work at a high-end hotel that often hosted professional sports teams. He told me that the single most vile and unappealing athlete he ever saw in that job was, you guessed it, Ray Lewis.

Ray Lewis was the unquestioned victor in the two-week Super Bowl hype. In the NY Times Monday morning post mortem, there’s this gem of a line:

Lewis is victim and hypocrite, community pillar and obstructer of justice, a God-fearing man who fathered six children with four women.

Lewis’s constant professions of faith remind me, quite honestly, of Dog the Bounty Hunter, my personal reality show decadent addiction. Dog, aka Duane Chapman, talks incessantly about his faith on the show (now canceled). He prays with his family and those he apprehends on the show, and he uses all of the cliched speech of evangelicalism when he talks.

However, his children hate him — two of the children who figured heavily in the show have recently cut all ties with their father. Duane has 12 children by five women. And, more to the point, he continues to have problems with the law. In other words, in spite of his conversion, he still seems to be an asshole.

Like the Dog, Lewis seems to be milking his conversion for all it’s worth. His speech is laden with Bible verses and Christian euphemisms — when asked about the recent allegations that he’s been taking a banned substance made from deer antlers, he responded that he’s “Too blessed to be stressed.”

I did not have a dramatic conversion. Nor did I grow up in difficult circumstances, like Lewis and Chapman. The Christian faith, it seems, has been very important to them in the midst of struggles. But when I hear them talk about their Christianity, my bullshit meter hits the red area.

I’m not saying that Ray Lewis is not a Christian. I would never say that. If he confesses “Jesus is Lord,” then he’s a Christian. It’s as simple as that. I’m just saying that when I hear him talk about his faith, it seems very distant from mine.

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  • I beat you to it, for once.

    I think that anytime someone is talking about God, and that conversation focuses on how God centers around him or her, then we should be more than skeptical. And all of Ray-Ray’s Godspeak tells us how God has made Ray-Ray the bright center of the universe, done things for HIM. I hear very little about how Ray Lewis has changed his life to do more for God.

    • Tim

      That’s fair, I hear Ray saying that too. To clarify, I am not sure he is self-aware enough to realize that though. To me, he seems to have a very confused perspective on faith or he is completely manipulative (my post suggests he is somewhere in between).

      It will be interesting to see what he does next – Reality tv star?

  • Andy


  • Mr. Jorell

    Ummmm. This article really shows how ignorant people can be. The last time I checked Christianity was not for the person who’s perfect. But for the person who has issues or need help. I applaud Ray Lewis in his faith declarations, of course those with a contrary agenda would despise. Really,,,, the issue isn’t Ray it’s who He stands for. He stands for redemption. He stands for a God of second chance. Critics can’t stand someone walking in liberty. Especially when they give credit to Jesus. If it were up to “people” Ray would be somewhere still paying for his sin.

    • Ryan

      I think you misread the article, I seriously doubt anyone here wants Ray Lewis “still paying for his sin.” Perhaps Tony was just trying to point us to the other aspect of Christianity which is the fruit-bearing part, which is manifest in more than talking about the divine, it embodies it.

    • I love for people to give credit to Jesus. I’m not sure Jesus wants “credit” for some of the things Ray Lewis is giving to him.

      Redeemed yet imperfect? No question! But that also means we need to think, very carefully, before we open our mouths about the One who redeems us. Especially with millions of people watching.

  • Ayin

    “In other words, in spite of his conversion, he still seems to be an asshole.”

    This has been one of my two long-standing beefs* with Christianity. There’s a certain kind of Christian out there (frequently, but not always, of the “Born Again” stamp) who is convinced that the conversion experience is enough. No. A conversion experience is like an artist receiving the inspiration to create a work of art. Inspiration only goes so far. After that, it’s up to the artist to do the work and create the art. The inspiration is only the beginning.

    *My second beef with Christianity (in case anyone was wondering) is that some Christians are rather pushy with their faith and try to impose their values on the rest of us.

  • It seems to me, Tony, that the real question you’re actually asking is, “Is Ray Lewis’ newly spotlighted religiosity a demonstration of authentic faith, or is it just a PR thing?

    I couldn’t say one way or the other. And honestly, I don’t think it matters whether I feel he’s being honest or faking it.

    A quote from a post you wrote back in December:

    I nominate benefit of the doubt as a Christian virtue. In this era in which the communication between those of us who’ve never personally met is increasing exponentially every year, we are more than ever confronted with the ideas and opinions of others. I submit the the Christian posture toward the other should always be the benefit of the doubt that the other has beneficent ends.

    So in the spirit of that quote, I’m gonna just give Ray Lewis the benefit of the doubt.

    • Bobby

      This. If the guy’s a jerk, then hopefully someone will smack him upside the head. I’ve heard so many of stories of “that person is so rude, egotistical, belligerent, etc…” and then you meet the person and they’re not really like that.

      Yes, when people openly speak of their faith we cringe. But I’m not so sure that’s an indictment of the person so much an indictment of us. Can’t we ever just assume the best, smile, and hope that Ray Lewis will represent Christ well to others?

  • Cory

    Announcer: “Ray, you just won Super Bowl XLVII! What are you going to do now?”

    Ray: “I’m skipping Disney World (they won’t let me in anyway) and going to seminary to shore up my shoddy theology!”

    • Teer Hardy

      Corey, you beat me to it!

  • GregW

    In Philippians, Paul says he’s happy about anybody’s way of sharing the Gospel because it’s being shared and it’s God who does the real work anyway. Those who don’t see the need yet, need to hear Ray Lewis give God the lead in his life.
    That he quoted Jon Gordon, from The Energy Bus, with “too blessed to be stressed”, could show he is working on making his less-than-perfect-self better. It’s our value to hold people accountable to what we don’t think they’re capable of. It’s God’s value to meet us on the road and throw a party for a step in the right direction. That’s my take.

    • H

      well said my friend.

  • Robin

    I agree with comments that Lewis’ God language is annoying and seems shallow. I also agree that, while Lewis proclaims his faith boldly, he can still come across as an ass, which makes his faith seem less sincere. I have to defend a bit, however, comments that we don’t hear what Lewis has done to change his life. To hear that, just travel to Baltimore.

    Baltimore City has some of the highest poverty, drug use, homicide, and HIV/AIDS rates in the nation. In addition to giving his money to combat these issues, Ray Lewis has put forth a tremendous amount of energy to teach and mentor boys and young men about making wise decisions. He shares about lessons that he’s learned from mistakes that he has made, and he is a difference in their lives. As someone who lived in Baltimore for 8 years, I can say that young boys and men in that city don’t see Ray Lewis as an asshole who possibly got away with murder; they see him as a good man who has learned hard lessons and chosen a better path. Are they right? Who knows. I know, however, that some young men who are at risk of getting involved with gangs, drugs, and all sorts of violence are changing the way they live their lives because of Ray Lewis’ positive influence, and that counts for something.

  • Chris

    “I’m just saying that when I hear him talk about his faith, it seems very distant from mine.”

    Don’t you think that’s precisely because his life experiences are very different fron yours as you’d mentioned.

    I once heard a black pastor of a more traditional african-american congregation say that most of the people in his congregation could never feel comfortable in your average mainline church because the people there came across as too perfect (even if they weren’t). Whereas black folk are generally more “out there” or open with there flaws and shortcomings, caring less about the pretense of propriety.
    Although you’ve kind of covered your behind by saying you would never say Lewis is not a Christian, the comment does come across like a judgment. It’s funny, I was once a part of a very liberal mainline denomination and I frequently heard this kind of thinly veiled condescension. Or maybe it was a resentment that these people get to go around shouting “praise God” all the while continuing to be (apparently) jerks, while I’m here quietly following Jesus, going deep in my theology, and doing all the right things but not getting noticed.

    It seems there is a very fine line between genuine faith and sel-righteousness.

    • Yes, I agree. That’s what I’m trying to admit: that his faith is surely sincere, but it does not resonate with mine whatsoever.

      • Chris

        Does it need to resonate with yours? As long as he is a professing Christian and you acknowledge the sincerity of his faith, shouldn’t the desire to appreciate those differences be exactly what you need to round out your Christ-likeness?

        This is why to me very often so-called” progressive” Christianity can ring rather hollow. For all the talk of acceptance of “otherness” in practice it really can be quite discriminating (not in the good sense) and exclusionary.

    • H

      Imagine, this is coming from a ‘progressive Christian” wow…

  • megan

    He says he’s a Christian, professes Jesus as Lord…I agree that’s good enough for me on the conversion front. Not that his conversion needs to be “good enough for me” but for lack of a better term. I’m not going to judge the sincerity of his faith. I’ll leave that to God and Mark Driscoll.

    But on the whole, I find him seriously annoying and theologically deluded. He invokes God to avoid taking any public responsibility for his actions. He can’t talk about his involvement in a double murder because this is “God’s time” and records about his PED purchases are “a trick of the devil.” He has also reinterpreted just about the entire Bible so that its main topic is now Ravens football dominance instead of Jesus Christ. I think he’s a self-aggrandizing asshat and I think he has, unfortunately, made his faith a part of that.

  • n2m

    So let me get this straight, the author of this blog wants to condemn another believer in using profanity. One of my favorite singers says you never know what is going on in another persons heart, all the more reasons to be gentle….I can’t attest the life change and heart change for either dog the bounty hunter or Ray Lewis…I have never sat at a Starbucks and had a coffee with them to hear their story of what change/changes is occuring in their lives because they have come to Jesus. But with the finger pointing this writer and execution of the charecter of a fellow believer I as this question, how are you allowing Jesus to change the words that fall out of your heart and is the actions of the ones he is commentating on any worse that his profanity laced post?
    Colossians 3:8 ESV But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.
    Ephesians 4:29 ESV Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
    Matthew 15:10-11 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”
    James 3:10 ESV From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.
    Ephesians 5:4 ESV Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.
    Matthew 12:36-37 ESV I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

    • We have a rule on this blog: no quoting bible verses out of context.

  • Curtis

    No. Why would we trust anyone whose primary motivation to speak is to make money for themselves, their owners, and their commercial sponsors?

    Ray Lewis may or may not be sincere. We are certainly not in a place to judge that. But we are in a place where it is clear that we cannot trust anything a pro athlete says.

  • I think that you answered your own questions. You didn’t grow up in difficult circumstances, you didn’t have a dramatic conversion, and their faith is very distant from yours, but that doesn’t make it any less legitimate. I remember several years ago I was bitching at God about some people I went to church with. I don’t mean I was praying for them, or about them, or about my dislike for them, I was bitching about the judgmental attitudes that I constantly encountered and in the midst of it I received a truth that I remind myself almost daily, “judging people for being judgmental IS being judgmental,” and I was reminded of Jesus saying “you judge by human standards, I judge no man.” I can’t judge another Christian’s walk. I have to extend them at least as much grace as I hope to be extended. I know I’m a giant screw up, a total mess, but I also know that because of Christ I’m accepted by God AND much to my shock and surprise He has repeated used me and my story to His glory, I can only imagine all the seed spread over the last two weeks. 🙂

  • Mike

    Perhaps those of us who have been around the faith community for awhile are prone to be skeptical of public figures using religious language in the public narrative because they are public figures using religious language in the public narrative. We are used to human beings having ulterior motives – we see in in church a lot with local business leaders and public officials who appear to attend church because they think it makes them look good. Religious groups have always had this, but when you combine it with the expression being trite (easy to regurgitate from pop religion) and the person using that expression has the kind of wide-sowing-of-his-seed that Ray Lewis has in his background, well. It’s understandable that our bullshit meters would hit the red.

  • ME

    Tony Jones’ and Ray Lewis’ faith both seem very distant from me. They are both fascinating and infuriating, but, I’m glad we are all in it together trying to figure it out. Even agnostics and assholes!

  • Lee P.


    Man that act is old.

    Ray Lewis is arrogant bordering pyschopathic. His invocations of God are of the “God came down from heaven and made certain we won this football game” variety. That’s the worst. I mean this idiot was screaming “no weapon formed against us shall prosper!” over and over again a few weeks ago. After a FOOTBALL GAME. What a corny goofball.

    I think the guy is a imbecile and I’m tired of his WWF/Preacher act. I don’t believe him for a minute. Maybe that’s my problem. Maybe I am cynical. but I think I’m right.

    • ME

      We all look pretty stupid when compared to Jesus. We are arguing over being the tallest dwarf.

  • kerri

    “When they have really learned to love their neighbours as themselves, they will be allowed to love themselves as their neighbours.”― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
    What more is there to say about the way we treat one another, in Christ-ian love, none the less… how about welcoming a Brother into the Kingdom, all the while giving glory to God for the remarkable Grace he has showered upon us all – the unworthy. K~

  • Kyle

    I’m wary. I don’t question his sincerity or his Christianity. But I get really, really nervous when men and women of faith make it such a huge part of their “celebrity brand”….which happens in athletics quite a bit.

    Tim Tebow made (makes) me nervous, and he seems much more grounded than Lewis. A bit on the goofy side, but most likely fairly solid.

    And, speaking of Tebow….Why is it that the media makes a complete mockery out of his overt faith antics while almost idolizing Ray Lewis for his?

  • Max

    Legendary wrestling promoter said it best when describing Shawn Micheals’ conversion.
    “… you were a fucking asshole and a prick, and if you’ve found God that’s generally because I’ve noticed people in this business that find God do so when everybody else hates them so bad they won’t speak to them. When mortals won’t speak to you, you find a higher power.”

  • brian f

    Tony, given the recent debate around mark Driscolls comment doubting on Obama’s faith and your blog post regarding It, you compare and contrast these two situations.


  • Like all Americans he has the right to free speech. He got the team fired up and who knows what his pryers did or not. He also has the freedom of religion. Wasn’t the death of Christ so we can acknowledge our sins and we will be forgiven.

    Chris if you are going to church to be recognized for your participation, Please stay home! Religion is not for you to be recognized, remind people of your good deeds.

    Ray Lewis is one of the most important people on our team. He’s a leader and team mates do that little extra from his guidance. Did you think in late November the RAVENS!
    would win the Super Bowl? Beat Peyton Manning, the next week Beat Tom Brady, I’m thrilled they did it. I think they got support some where, was it from God no one knows.

    In the football community Ray is Respected, for his capabilities, His hard drive, his guidance and support of the younger players. Trust me an NFL team has to be a family to accomplish what they just Did. Peyton Manning waited 1 !/2 hours to talk to Ray while he was in the locker room after the Bronco’s game. That says a lot to me about Ray’s Character.

    You LOVED that we won the SUPER BOWL!! Don’t belittle the man because he sure helped us to become WORLD CHAMPIONS!!