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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