You can’t escape the news about Tiger Woods the last few days. He’s trending no matter where you get your news. As I’ve been reflecting on this remarkable athlete’s latest landmark accomplishment–winning his 5th Masters title and his 15th major championship–I’ve begun to realize that Tiger Woods creates a dilemma for the Christians who follow his career, both conservatives and progressives. Tiger Woods stands in the breach of America’s faith and political dilemma.
Full disclosure: I am a golf nut. As I’ve aged well past my athletic prime, I now see golf as the ultimate challenge. I can relate to it as I watch it on television much better than I can with other sports. I used to be a pretty good basketball player, for instance, but I could never do some of the things I see the stars in the NBA doing–I can appreciate what they do, but I can’t truly relate to it. But golf is different. Although I consider it a major accomplishment if I shoot a round under 80, from time to time, I can pull off similar shots or play a hole as well as the best golfers can. What I can’t do is sustain that kind of play for very long. I don’t have the mental focus nor do I put in the hours of practice it takes to make that a realistic possibility. So, when I watch Tiger Woods play golf, I can relate to it on some level. I know how difficult it is to do what he does. I know what he feels when he gets it right, and I can relate when he struggles. Some people think it’s boring to watch golf on tv. I think it’s the most compelling theater in the world of sports–especially the majors–and especially when Tiger Woods is in contention. There’s nobody even close to Tiger when it comes to building a buzz of excitement. There are roars from the galleries when players hit remarkable shots, and then there are “Tiger Roars”, and if you’ve ever watched much golf, you know there is a big difference. When Tiger is on the prowl, stalking the lead, there is an energy on the golf course that is palpable. It’s called the “Tiger Factor” and it often causes players he is competing against to become rattled. It happened last Sunday in the final round of the Masters. That, to me, is must-see-tv.
Tiger Woods isn’t a Christian. He was raised in the Buddhist faith. That alone probably makes a lot of conservative Christians raise an eyebrow of suspicion. Then there was the sex scandal that Tiger became immersed in about a decade ago. It was revealed that he had many affairs outside his marriage. That scandal ruined his marriage and mostly brought his remarkable career to its knees. His reputation was in shambles. That made him a target of the Religious Right. Tiger struggled for quite a few years to rebuild his reputation and his golf career. He lost sponsors and he lost fans who wrote him off as a selfish, hedonistic pagan. And then came Donald Trump. Suddenly, the Religious Right started supporting a man whose lifestyle made Tiger’s look like an amateur, yet conservative Christians flocked to him and defended his honor. Starting to see the dilemma?
Tiger also presents a dilemma for progressive Christians. Most of us don’t really care about his Buddhist background. We were disappointed, like most people, in his unfaithfulness to his wife. But we didn’t tend to pile on in judgement and condemnation. But then came Donald Trump. Progressive Christians were very vocal in their displeasure with Tiger when he played a round of golf with President Trump back in February. And now word comes that Trump plans to award Tiger with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This sent the progressive world into a tizzy. I read comment after comment, many on progressive Christian social media platforms, about how Tiger better not accept that award or he’ll lose all the respect they have for him. The fact is, the majority of professional golfers tend to be politically conservative. Tiger Woods is a registered Independent, but he has not shied away from associating himself with President Trump (he was also close with President Obama). It seems many progressive Christians are willing to forgive a lot of things but draw the line at tolerance for Trump. I struggle with this, too. If I’m being honest, I’d get a kick out of seeing Tiger tell Trump to throw that medal into the nearest sand trap. Petty, perhaps, but honest.
So what do we do with this dilemma? Perhaps we just need to check ourselves. Perhaps Tiger is a great lesson for all of us, conservatives and progressives alike. Maybe we need to learn from this that we’ve lost our ability to be tolerant of others.
Maybe this is a reminder to live and let live and just enjoy the unique abilities we all have.