After Church: Olympic Race Issues

Seriously, I can’t believe what I watched on Thursday night.

Great times all around! Gabby Douglas becomes the Women’s All-Around gold medalist, surprising just about everybody by being completely and utterly consistent on every single routine. Honestly, I’ve never screamed at my television just to see her land and win the gold medal. Gymnastics is always nerve-wracking to watch, especially when you see so many people crack under pressure. Gabby did not; she perfrormed exceedingly well and through hard work, she beat everyone else. Good for her!

Furthermore, if her nonchalant comments didn’t say it loud and clear, she’s a Christian. How many interviewees at the Olympics did you hear tell the NBC reporter that they meditate on Scripture before they go and perform? Or that they give all glory to God, and that He blesses them in return? If that isn’t the definition of a conservative Christian, I don’t know what is.

But, of course, this is NBC we’re talking about, and they have the intention to rile me up somehow. Enter Bob Costas, reading off a teleprompter about race issues.

What? Why?

Let’s say that the last thing that was on my mind was “FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN GOLD MEDALIST IN ALL-AROUND”. Rather, it was mostly just “USA WINS!” – a common identification with our nation. Isn’t that how it should be if we’re post-racial, or do we just have to keep bringing the race issues back to the forefront? There’s a debate to be had on this, for sure, but why at the Olympics? Why diminish her personal accomplishment to make a petty political point in the middle of a competition where unity is the name of the game, bringing everyone together? Isn’t that totally against the spirit of the Games? It’s not as if she made a point to say “I am doing this for all African-Americans” or something to that effect. She’s just a girl who really likes gymnastic, and now has won the top honor of her field for however short a time.

The problem isn’t the issues of race in itself, but the way it’s handled. It’s a self-righteous and prideful take on the progress of our society, rather than a self-effacing truth about American life. The lessons of Martin Luther King has, surprisingly, been forgotten. You know that “I Have a Dream” speech? Here’s some relevant excerpts:

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood…I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. (emphasis mine)

It just confuses me that this portion was missed! We should live in a society where it isn’t an issue, where it doesn’t need to be pointed out, least of all by a charismatic sports broadcaster reading a teleprompter. It makes a farce of the whole idea of equality that we must constantly mention “we are equal”, rather than just being equals.

It may surprise you that Martin Luther King Jr. barely ever talked of racism in his theological writings; rather, the problem was societal injustice as a whole, and racism was one part of it. Martin Luther King wishes to establish a universal community based on agape love, and thus a universal theology becomes the basis of his methodology. As such, race becomes an issue to King only as it impedes the human community’s union. King believes in natural law, in the innate characteristics of humankind to know what is right and wrong inherently. His method of social action was inspired by Gandhi, who, in turn, was inspired by Jesus – even so, King’s theology sticks closely to a Protestant viewpoint even with foreign influence.

However, what makes King unique – and perhaps the reason why his influence still carries such weight – is that his ethic was universal in its very character. Humans are material, yes, but that material only accounts for housing the spiritual being within it. The color of your skin doesn’t determine the color of your soul. The physical body must be respected as it reveals God’s image, but the will of human beings (a non-physical entity) accounts for good and evil. Thus, race becomes another arbitrary factor within the scheme of human relations, an attempt to separate the human community. The goal was to save the soul of America and the world, not just the soul of the African-American community in America.

King’s willingness to work with all who would help for the freedom of his own people made him extremely effective. This singular focus on the African American community was because of his context and the pressing nature of the issue, yet his theology shows the relevance of this contextual action to many other situations. His actions were his universal theology particularly applied, not the end of King’s theological development. Once the Civil Rights Act was passed, he continued to fight against not only racism, but war and poverty – his macro-vision was extraordinary, and he continued to fight the war against poverty, another kind of injustice. There’s a reason why King suddenly disappears from pop culture after 1964 – his opposition to the Vietnam War and the United States’ policies towards poverty made King a communist and enemy in the eyes of the government (certainly, that was true beforehand, but it was exacerbated by opposing a standing president in war-time). We wouldn’t want to spoil our preconceptions of the MLKJ with that little chestnut, would we?

The whole human community must participate in King’s theology to remove forms of injustice resulting from sin in human society. God exists as a “primary mover”, and this personal God leads the children of God to act like Jesus in redemptive suffering to awaken awareness of the interrelatedness of all creation. If anything characterizes King’s true theology, it’s Galatians 3:28: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

But, I think it’s obvious that NBC isn’t interested in theology – they’re only interested in the surface-level issue at play. So we see a major new network ignore her religion because, hey, that’s not important to a person, right? Instead, it’s just another insinuation about the “progress” of human civilization that we made ourselves, not with the help of a Christian religious leader whose very views about universality, straight from the Bible, changed America’s cultural dynamic forever.

I’m a little pissed off, to say the least. And so should you.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.