Tony Dungy is my Hero

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who hare spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, deceives himself. Galatians 6:1-3, ESV

I watched the press conference yesterday morning in which the Philadelphia Eagles formally announced their signing of Michael Vick. There has been great public outrage since word leaked Thursday night that the Eagles had signed him to a two year deal. One person in Philadelphia wondered aloud on a radio program why Vick had not been executed for his role in a dogfighting ring. The fact that, as a society, we are more outraged at dog fighting than we are of child molestation or spousal abuse is outrageous to me, but that’s another subject for another time. What impressed me during this press conference was Michael Vick’s mentor and adviser, former NFL coach Tony Dungy. Coach Dungy is an outspoken Christian. In fact, one of the reasons cited for his decision to leave coaching was the fact that he wanted to have more time to contribute to the lives of young men who needed guidance and direction. He left a multi-million dollar job to pursue the work of mentor ministry.

The Eagles have been blasted in the media for giving a second chance to Vick when he hasn’t proven that he deserves one. Last time I checked, that’s why we called a “chance” and not a “guarantee.” Michael Vick doesn’t deserve a second chance. None of us do. But Coach Dungy didn’t provide Michael with a second chance, he extended to him the grace of Christ. He didn’t sit at his home in Tampa and pray that Vick would contact him. He went to Leavenworth and extended grace to him where he was. Grace doesn’t say, “There’s help available to you after you do this list of things to prove you deserve it.” Grace says, “You don’t deserve it, but I’m giving it to you anyway.” What Vick does with the grace extended to him is ultimately up to him. What we do with the grace extended to us by God is up to us.

I understand the world’s reaction to Vick; those in PETA who have set animal life as their idol have no concept of the grace and mercy of Christ to work in and change the life of a person. What I don’t understand are those who claim to be Christians who join in the verbal lynching of a man who has done what he can in the limited amount of time given to him to show himself to be broken and contrite. What he has done to “deserve a second chance” is that he has been willing to confess his sins, apologize for them, humbly speak out against them, and then allow a mentor to walk through life with him. I don’t know too many of us average joes who will allow someone to truly mentor us, for to be mentored you must first admit you don’t know it all and second, submit to the guidance of another.

Part of the problem with the prison system in America is that it is not truly designed to rehabilitate offenders. It’s used to mark them with the Scarlet Letter of “Felon” and then, as a pridefully blind society, we force them to carry that stigma for the rest of their lives. If you tell someone they’re nothing but a worthless ex-con enough times, they will believe you. Coach Dungy has set an example for his fellow Christians of how we should respond to those who have paid their debt to society and need to be brought back into society with the goal of making them productive members of society.

Mentoring takes time, it takes wisdom, it takes commitment. But it’s a command of Scripture that applies to the lowest of criminals, to the most famous of criminals and to everyone in between. After all, Scripture tells us that if you are guilty of breaking one law, you’ve broken them all in the eyes of God, so none of us is really aren’t any better than the dog abuser, the child molester, the thief, or the murderer. Before Christ, we are all criminals in the eyes of God, and we all need a mentor to guide us through this life.

Put in the wrong circumstances at the wrong time with the wrong people, I’m sure I would be capable of anything. May I never think so highly of myself to look upon anyone caught in sin and say, “That would never be me.” Such a self-righteous attitude is the first step down the slippery slope to entanglement in atrocious sin. I know. I’ve been there before, and it took someone willing to walk with me back up the dirty slope to get me out. And if, God forbid, there is another lesson I must learn in this life that must begin in the pit, I pray there is a Tony Dungy standing there who is willing to walk that road alongside me.

A New Sexual Ethic? Part 4

This is part 4 in a 5 part series of a response to Carter Heyward’s essay “Notes on Historical Grounding: Beyond Sexual Essentialism,” which can be found in Sexuality and the Sacred:Sources for Theological Reflection, edited by James B. Nelson and Sandra P. Longfellow.

Third, Heyward claims that Christianity is isolating and denies community. By setting rigid boundaries concerning sexual behavior and then consequently excluding those who refuse to live by those standards, Heyward states that Christianity is proving itself dated, close-minded, and supportive of “compulsive heterosexuality” (Heyward, 12). Historically, Heyward claims that women were isolated from the Christian community by being declared “as evil, ‘the devil’s gateway’” and then systematically used as scapegoats for the sexual sins of the men around them (Heyward, 14).

What is so interesting about Heyward’s quick dismissal of all things “christian” is that God’s moral law, especially his guidelines concerning sexual relations in general, create and then reinforce exactly the sort of relationality that Heyward claims she is attempting to achieve. Relationship, community, unity in diversity, profound oneness and even wholeness are recurring themes throughout Scripture. Heyward is attempting to achieve the end of spiritual wholeness through the means of sex. Scripture teaches that even the most holy sexual relationship is but a picture of the unity and wholeness experienced in being a member of the bride of Christ (Eph 6.22-33). The foundation of Christianity is found in the words of Christ Himself when He stated, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14.6).

Throughout the epistles of the New Testament, believers in churches across Europe and Asia Minor are exhorted to live as a unified, healthy body (1 Cor 12), as a well jointed building (Eph 2); they are told to lay aside petty differences (Phil 4) and to pray for one another and for their common goal (1 Thes 5). These instructions for community are plentiful, and they center on the common love of God and the common call of spreading His glory among the nations. There is one part of living in community that Heyward seems to miss—justice and love are not relative terms that can be interpreted to mean that believers should turn a blind eye to those things which Scripture condemns as going against the nature of God. Justice and love are characteristics of the nature of God, and God declares to His people, “For I the Lord do not change” (Mal 3.6). If God does not change, the characteristics of His nature are fixed and unchanging as well. Therefore, the principles of spurring one another on to love and good deeds (Heb 10) and of confronting one another when fellow believers are entrenched in sin (Mt 18; Gal 6; 1 Cor 5) apply to all things described in Scripture as moral laws which reflect the character of God. So long as desires are allowed to reign unchecked and people continue to seek fulfillment in things other than a relationship with God through Jesus, true spiritual wholeness will not be realized.

C.S. Lewis described this spiritual wholeness of Christ as Joy, and upon contemplating this matter of desire and pleasure made the following observation: “Joy is not a substitute for sex; sex is very often a substitute for Joy. I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for Joy.” Heyward and her intellectual companions have attempted to substitute pleasure for Joy by completely freeing human sexuality from all encumbrances of law and discipline, but they have yet to achieve the wholeness and fulfillment for which they so desperately search. The struggle to find wholeness through the creation instead of the Creator (Rom 1. 25) is a confirmation of Lewis’ belief that physical pleasure is an unsatisfactory attempt to fill the “God-shaped void” in the lives of people.

This God-shaped void brings Heyward to the natural end of seeking God in God’s created order—Heyward describes sex in divine terms, completing the move from a supposedly “christian” sexual ethic to a glorification and worship of sex that is essentially pagan sex worship. In her discussion of this new christian ethic of sex, Heyward draws upon the work of Freud, who described the eroticism of sex as the “life force.” Heyward also quotes Audre Lorde’s description of the erotic as “the source of our creativity, the wellspring of our joy, the energy of our poems, music, lovemaking, dancing, meditation, friendships, and meaningful work.” For the Christian believer, this description could very well be used to describe God. In the Psalms, it is the glory and worship of Yahweh that inspires David and the other psalmists to write and dance and meditate. The entire book of the Song of Songs describes the fruition of a sexual relationship between a husband and wife when that relationship is rightly focused upon God and upon one another. Paul tells the church in Corinth, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10.31).

The focus of the life of the believer is not self pleasure or self glorification. Rather, the believer is to focus on the glory and worship of God. To give creative or inspirational credit or worship to anything other than God Himself is to commit an act of idolatry. Heyward attempts to explain this usurpation of God by declaring, “Theologically, we are speaking of our power in right relation; from a christian perspective, the power of God” (Heyward, 15). She claims that the power of God is reached and realized through the act of sex, but God himself prohibits worshiping him through sex acts (Lev 18, 20).

These major themes—the role reversals of men and women, the search for false community, the replacement of God with an idol—work together to show that while Heyward claims that her work, heritage, and ideas are Christian, she is actually committing the very sin that she exposes in the Church; she is further removing herself from the authority of the Bible and establishing her own ethic based upon tradition and personal experience. Heyward has taken Wesley’s quadrilateral of interpretation and reversed it; instead of beginning with Scripture and clarifying it through tradition, philosophy, and personal experience, Heyward begins with personal experience and reinterprets or discounts philosophy, tradition, and Scripture. Those ideals and absolutes which go against personal experience and desire are laid aside and explained away as being culturally irrelevant. This is precisely the place that Heyward envisions: “A historical perspective on sexuality is important… because such a view enables us to envision and perhaps experience our own possibilities…. We are involved in shaping our own dreams.” By using sex as a means to channel the power of God, Heyward argues that personal, sexual realization enables humanity to make its own destiny—humanity becomes god.