By Frank Wessling
“Go into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” We read this in the Gospel according to Mark, chapter 16, verse 15.
“Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words.” This instruction is usually said to be from St. Francis of Assisi. It sounds like it could have come from Francis, encouraging his friars in their common mission, but there is no known source for the quote.
“Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world.” This is part of what Fox News TV commentator Brit Hume said on the air in early January about golfer Tiger Woods. For his earnest-sounding effort to ease the pain of scandal that now clouds the life of Woods, Hume got a whipping in the media. “Stupid,” “shocking,” “ignorant” were some of the kinder comments.
He learned that offering unsolicited religious advice in public is dangerous, especially when it sets up one faith as superior to another.
In discussing the sad condition of Tiger Woods now that a history of marital unfaithfulness on his part is known, Hume said, “The extent to which he can recover 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.” Then came the call to “turn.”
Did Hume do a bad thing? Or was he simply trying to share the good news that he has experienced and which he believes will help a brother in need. What he did was both bad and good – and most of the bad might be the fault of television’s rules for talk: everything must be short and punchy.
First, the good. Because of this incident, there may be millions of Americans who now know a little more about Buddhism and some of its contrast with Christianity. And there may be as many who think a little more seriously about forgiveness as a mark of their faith.
Since Brit Hume is a smart man with a background as a careful journalist, he may well understand the real differences between the way Buddhism sees recovery from a wrong turn in life and the way Christianity sees. But, pressured by the need to quickly make a point, he compressed that understanding into pithy comments that were true enough, but came off as condescending to Buddhism.
Recovery from the pits of life does depend on faith in some form, as Hume noted. And Buddhism does not offer “the kind of forgiveness and redemption” that Christians believe in. Buddhism is more an ethical system than religion; a way of right living without gods. There is no deity to be offended and no need to be forgiven. Recovery for Buddhists involves refocusing on the right way, released from the desires that led to stupidity and pain.
It would be appropriate in a public forum to suggest first that Tiger Woods should take his faith more seriously. He has said he finds it a great help in the concentration required for golf. He could benefit from the same contemplative focus on marriage.
Should he be encouraged to try Christianity? Yes, if he gets such encouragement from hearing a story. As an evangelist, Hume would need to share his story of being reborn over and over through forgiveness and the redeeming love of a compassionate God. That’s the way Tiger Woods, or anyone, is most effectively influenced.
If St. Francis did say to the brothers, “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words,” he would not have wanted them to use words they didn’t know. The words would have to come from their own lives, what they knew from experience.
And the people they preached to would have looked to see whether their words matched their lives.