Kanye West, Joe Wilson, Serena Williams, and You

What do Kayne West, Joe Wilson, Serena Williams, and many Christians have in common?

(And in case you’re wondering, Luke and I wrote our posts independently of each other a few days ago only to find out that we’d used some of the same current events to make different points.)

West has had a hugely successful recording and producing career, but he’s becoming just as well known for his outbursts at awards shows. By now, most have either seen or heard about his latest incident during last week’s Video Music Awards. After 19 year-old Taylor Swift came to the stage to accept her best female video award, West grabbed the mic from her mid speech and stated that Beyonce had “one of the best videos of all time.” A shocked crowd responded with a chorus of boos.

Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC), until last week a relatively unknown multi-term representative, became the center of the nation’s political attention as a result of yelling, “You lie!” during President Obama’s recent prime time speech on healthcare reform. Wilson’s startling interjection came in response to the president’s assertion that health reform would not insure illegal immigrants. It earned him a vote of rebuke by the House of Representatives.

Perhaps the world’s best women’s tennis player, Serena Williams was recently penalized a point for unsportsmanlike conduct during her semi-final match at this years U. S. Open. The penalty was leveled after Williams went on a profanity-laced tirade against a line judge who called her for a rare foot fault. Because the incident occurred on match point, William’s outburst gave the match to eventual champion Kim Clijsters. It also cost her $10,000.

In each case, (and regardless of whether we agree with their positions) one could argue the individual in question had a legitimate point to make. In cooler moments, West might argue why he thought Beyonce’s video possessed more creative merit than Swift’s. Wilson later pointed out that the proposed healthcare reform provisions lacked appropriate enforcement measures, making its exclusionary language effectively meaningless. Williams might note that replays did not conclusively show a fault, making the line judge’s call especially dubious given the circumstances.

But whatever subsequent clarification or discussion might take place, it’s extremely unlikely that any of the three will be able to undo much of the damage caused by their intemperate actions, at least anytime soon. And that damage, in turn, threatens to undermine severely any reasonable point they might have made.

Hopefully the parallels to our own lives are becoming obvious. Christians possess the bedrock truth of the gospel, the good news that God himself became man, lived a perfectly obedient life to his Father’s will, was crucified in our place as the payment for our sin, and rose again to the new and eternal life that he guarantees for those who trust in him. For so many reasons, this truth offers profound hope and joy.

But so often, you and I obscure that truth when we fail to express it in the proper way. We are called to proclaim and defend the truth of the gospel. But we aren’t called to be inappropriately angry, dismissive, or insulting toward those who don’t agree to it. To put it succinctly, our manner is vitally important to our message.

This is surely one of the reasons why the apostle Peter can write these words: “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15).

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