Ray Lewis and the culture of convenient and celebrity Christianity
Last night, NFL pundits celebrated the illustrious career of one of the fiercest competitors to ever don an NFL uniform. From the analysts in the booth and studio to the hundreds of media types tweeting sentimental snippets, Lewis was hailed as a great leader, a great competitor, a great tackler...great, great, great.
Meanwhile, an obscure nobody named Priscilla Lollar suffered through another day without her son.
It has been 13 years since that fateful night after the Ravens won the Super Bowl and Lewis and his entourage were somehow involved in the stabbing deaths of two men. One of the victims' blood was found in Lewis' hired limousine. The white suit Lewis was wearing was discarded and never recovered. Yet, Lewis was never convicted of anything but a misdemeanor obstruction of justice. He was initially charged with murder, but cut a deal.
Lewis received probation and the NFL fined him, but never suspended him.
He went on to enjoy a singular career, one that will have many saying he is the greatest linebacker ever.
But for the Lollar family, Lewis' fairy tale is their nightmare. Brent Schrotenboer of USA Today wrote about this very dark side of Lewis' story:
Priscilla Lollar still doesn't believe her son is dead.
Any day now, she hopes he might finally return from Atlanta, walking through the door of her home in Akron, Ohio, as if nothing happened on the morning of Jan. 31, 2000.
"If I truly accept that he's not coming back ... " says Lollar, her voice trailing off. "I don't discuss him in the past. I don't really acknowledge anything."
Deep down, she knows he's gone. She knows it every time she turns on the television and sees Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis - a reminder that her son, Richard, has been dead for 13 years, stabbed to death outside a nightclub in Atlanta, along with his friend from Akron, Jacinth Baker.
Their murders remain unsolved. But as the anniversary of their deaths approaches - and as Lewis dances into the sunset of his NFL career - the victims' relatives are still seething at him. While Priscilla Lollar says she's "numb" to Lewis, others want answers. And justice.
"My nephew was brutally beaten and murdered and nobody is paying for it," Baker's uncle, Greg Wilson, told USA TODAY Sports. "Everything is so fresh in our mind, it's just like it happened yesterday. We'll never forget this."
Ray Lewis wraps himself in Christianity now. He boldly wears the big C on his chest like he is the big celebrity Christian, giving God all the glory for his life and career.
After his Ravens pulled off an inspired and unlikely upset victory over Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncose, Lewis was found on the sideline by a CBS reporter. Lewis, hoarse but passionate, kept repeating a portion of Isaiah 54:17.
"No weapon formed against you shall prosper," he shouted several times.
Many, myself included, found his choice of Bible verses odd. You would think a man associated with the violent stabbing deaths of two men would avoid referencing weapons when thumping his chest and giving "witness."
Now, I, of all people, know the importance of forgiveness and restoration. I believe all kinds of sins can be and are forgiven, even the biggest and ugliest of them.
But I do not believe in this convenient form of Christianity that people in trouble find in order to reinvent and redefine themselves. I do not believe in using Jesus as a reputation repairman.
I do not believe in redemption without repentance.
The Apostle Paul, himself was party to murder prior to his conversion. But he never hid behind a plea bargain. He never covered up a thing. He never discarded evidence. In fact, he made himself an example of the ugliness of sin and the riches of grace.
1 Timothy 1:15
Lewis' celebratory Bible quoting was defiant in tone and generally confusing.
What did it mean? Was the weapon Peyton Manning's arm? Or was it an article in USA Today? Was it the nagging gnawing of his conscience? Or, does he even feel remorse?
Who knows? He won't talk about it.
Has Lewis ever met with the families of the victims? Has he ever tried to give them closure, to explain what happened, how he didn't murder their sons? Or, has he, with the aid of the NFL and the media, simply swept it under the rug?(As a side note, I find it odd that Tim Tebow is taken to task and ridiculed and hated for his Christian witness, while Ray Lewis is celebrated. Odd. Sad.)
How do I know Lewis remains unrepentant? He said as much...
Lewis declined to comment when asked about the subject Thursday by USA TODAY Sports. Messages left for agents and attorneys representing him were not returned. Oakley, recently living in Atlanta, didn't return messages seeking comment. A relative of Sweeting, living in Miami, hung up when reached by USA TODAY Sports. And the prosecutor, Paul Howard, declined a request to be interviewed.
Said Lewis: "You want to talk to me about something that happened 13 years ago right now?"
I refuse to celebrate the career of this man. I refuse to identify myself with him in some bond of a common faith. The Jesus I know is not a force field to ward off the inspection of a life or investigation of a deed. He deals in truth AND grace. He is full of both.
Am I wrong?
I know some are willing to give any celebrity a pass, as long as they proclaim Christ. They somehow think the cause of Christ is more apt to be furthered by the endorsement of celebrity.
Here is a news flash: Jesus doesn't need your endorsement. God is not impressed with accomplishment or human acclaim. He is not some outsider, hoping an insider puts Him on the map.
Those without Christ are the outsiders. They can celebrate one another and promote themselves all they want. Without Him, they are dust in the wind. A tale already told. A puff of smoke. A vapor.
Ray Lewis needs Jesus; not vice versa. And...if he knows Jesus, he needs to stop misrepresenting what Christ is all about.