The Debate Over Tiger Woods’ Soul

by Derrick G. Jeter

The air is blowing hot these days around New York and Washington, D.C. Not the outside air mind you—that’s rather chilly this time of year. I’m talking about the hot air emanating from the pompous, pseudo-intellectuals who make their livings wind-bagging about things they little understand and little care to learn. I’m talking about the professional critic and cynic—the babbling brainless rabble who nightly demonstrate their stupidity on the airwaves. I’m talking about the talking heads, not the ones who from a coherent opinion and give it with civility and tact, but the ones who know little of civility, tact, or coherence. I’m talking about the Keith Olbermanns of American opinion-making.

Perhaps you heard about, or saw Brit Hume, Sr. Political Analysts for Fox News, commit the unpardonable sin of saying that Jesus Christ was the unique means of forgiveness and redemption for human sin. On January 3, 2010, Hume appeared on Chris Wallace’s Fox News Sunday and the topic turned to Tiger Woods and the current scandal swirling around the revelations of his many dalliances. Hume said, “The extent to which he [Tiger Woods] can recover, it seems to me, depends on his faith. He is said to be a Buddhist. I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. So, my message to Tiger would be, ‘Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.’”

This comment generated some blowback and awarded him an invitation to appear on the O’Reilly Factor, with Bill O’Reilly, the following evening. There, Hume explained and expanded on his comment the day before:

My sense about Tiger is that he needs something that Christianity, especially provides and gives and offers, and that is redemption and forgiveness. I was really meaning to say in those comments yesterday more about Christianity than I was about anything else. I mentioned Buddhism only because his mother is a Buddhist and he has apparently said that he is a Buddhist; I’m not sure how serious he practices that. But I think that Jesus Christ offers Tiger Woods something that Tiger Woods badly needs. . . .

If Tiger Woods were to make a true conversion we would know it; it would show through his being and he would know it above all. And he would feel the extraordinary blessing that that would be, and he would shine because he is so prominent. It would be a shining light and would be a magnificent thing to witness.

Now I confess, I just about wet my pants when I heard him say this! But I also knew that others would wet their pants waiting for a chance to criticize him for his “bizarre on-air attempt to threaten Tiger Woods into converting to Christianity,” in the words of Keith Olbermann. These remarks were merely prelude to an interview Olbermann had with the President of the Interfaith Alliance, Welton Gaddy, who had also written an Op-Ed in the “On Faith” section of the Washington Post. In that piece, Gaddy concluded that “Mr. Hume’s comments were not that of a news reporter so much as that of a televangelist.”

I should say, before I exam Mr. Gaddy’s criticism of Brit Hume, that Mr. Hume doesn’t need my defense; he’s a big boy, who knew what he was saying and knew the consequences of his opinion. Frankly, Brit Hume isn’t even the issue, he just happened to be the mouthpiece announcing the issue. What is at stake in this little controversy is whether Christianity can be presented positively in the public square. As Peter Wehner argued convincingly in the National Review Online, Christopher Hitchens, when he was touting his atheistic screed, god is Not Great, damned Christianity with nary-a-peep of criticism from the like of Keith Olbermann or Welton Gaddy. Yet, Brit Hume’s placid comments about Buddhism in comparison to Christianity have damned him.

Gaddy, according to his Op-Ed, which he basically reiterated on Keith Olbermann’s show, has two problems with what Hume said. First, Hume’s statement was made on “a news program [which] should deal with news, not evangelism, whatever religion is involved.” He cites the use of the “Fox News” logo on the O’Reilly Factor as proof that that program is a “news program.” After reading this I was left with the question of whether I was to take this seriously. Does Mr. Gaddy really mean to assert that Hume should have remained mum because the use of the Fox News insignia “proves” that the O’Reilly Factor is a “news” show and not an opinion show? This is too silly and simplistic by half. One might give Gaddy a pass if his criticism on this score were childlike, but this is simply childish. Anyone who has ever watched the O’Reilly Factor knows that it is an opinion show, and while news may be “reported” it is only as context for commentary. Brit Hume appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s show, not as a “news anchor,” as Gaddy would classify him, but as a man with an opinion about Tiger Woods’ situation.

The supposed abuse of “news” is not the real issue, however. Gaddy, both in his opinion piece and interview with Olbermann, articulated the real rub he has with Hume’s comments. In the interview, in which Olbermann called Hume “holier than thou,” Gaddy said:

I would defend Mr. Hume’s right to confess his faith however he wants to, but all of us know that with rights and freedom come responsibility. And he’s talking on a national news program, he’s giving his opinion as he has the right to do, but anybody who is pro-American, who loves liberty and this nation wants to support the unity of religions and not contribute to their divisiveness. And his statement—though he backed up on it a little bit last night—his statement was still a judgment about another religion; a judgment he really doesn’t have the authority to make.”

Apparently Mr. Gaddy is confused. On the one hand Hume shouldn’t give his opinion on a “news program,” but on the other hand Hume has every “right to confess his faith however he wants to” and presumably wherever he wants to—and Gaddy would even defend Hume’s First Amendment right to do so. And yet, some how in expressing his opinion, Hume is somehow not supportive of “the unity of religions” but is in fact contributing “to their divisiveness,” though he “really doesn’t have the authority” to make such judgments. And to cap it all off, Brit Hume, who shouldn’t have expressed his opinion on a “new program” though he has a right to, even though he’s not qualified to give his opinion, which was really divisive, is un-American. Oh, . . . I see . . . the logic now . . . I think. . . .

But Gaddy’s illogic is richer still. He wrote:

The implication of Mr. Hume’s suggestion to Mr. Woods is utilitarian—you will get a better deal related to forgiveness in Christianity than you can get in Buddhism. Christianity is not a means to an end; it is a holistic faith to be embraced and lived. Seeking the easiest form of forgiveness—though such a description of forgiveness in Christianity is woefully inadequate and misleading—is not a reason to become a Christian. The life of a Christian involves far more than a response to wrongdoing.

Gaddy would have us believe that “all religions are basically the same, . . . / They all believe in love and goodness. / They only differ on matters of / creation sin heaven hell God and salvation.” You know, the minor issues. . . . I’m being facetious here, but Mr. Gaddy, who claims to be a Christian minister for the past 50 years, seriously misunderstands the nature of Christianity. Would Tiger Woods get a “better deal” in Christianity than he would in Buddhism? You bet! Hume’s judgment about Buddhism’s lack of forgiveness and redemption was correct—it doesn’t exist. Buddhism teaches that individuals must work off karma—bad energy—that we carry over from previous lives before we can reaching enlightenment. There is no room for love and grace in Buddhism; and if there is no room for love and grace then there can be no room for forgiveness and redemption, for these cannot be had without love and grace. Christianity, on the other hand, is defined by love and grace—that a holy God would sacrifice His only Son to satisfy His holy judgment upon human sin so that we might be forgiven, redeemed, and reconciled to God is the supreme act of gracious love. What other religion is based on the death and resurrection of a Savior who willingly, lovingly, graciously sacrificed Himself, not for His sins but for the sins of others? None! In this regard, Gaddy is strikingly confused because Christianity is a means to an end—the salvation of the human soul. While Christianity may be a “faith to be embraced and lived” it can only be embraced and lived through faith in Jesus Christ, which is what Hume articulated. Gaddy should know this if he’s been a Christian minister for 50 years.

But it’s worse than this. Gaddy says, “Seeking the easiest form of forgiveness—though such a description of forgiveness in Christianity is woefully inadequate and misleading—is not a reason to become a Christian.” If it isn’t, then I wish he would tell us what is. Would he have Tiger Woods and the rest of us perform or work for forgiveness? That isn’t Christianity! When it comes to forgiveness leading to salvation, which was Hume’s point, “easy” depends on which side of the ledger you’re reading. It’s easy for us to accept God’s forgiveness through Christ, but it was a forgiveness harshly bought in the death of Jesus.

Finally, Gaddy reminds us that the Christian life “involves far more than a response to wrongdoing.” He is correct, Christianity must be more than a response to wrongdoing, but can’t be less than a response to wrongdoing. The first response in the Christian faith is alway to wrongdoing . . . my wrongdoing, my sin. Without that I can never live the life of a Christian, at least not the kind of Christian that follows the biblical Christ, because that kind of Christian believes that forgiveness and redemption is found in none other than Jesus Christ . . . just as Brit Hume said.