For the last couple of days, an interview Russell Wilson did with a pastor at San Diego’s Rock Church has been trending on Facebook. In the interview, Wilson reveals that he and songstress girlfriend, Ciara, are practicing abstinence.
The video was linked to by a local Fox affiliate with the headline: “Ciara and I aren’t having sex after God spoke to me.”
I was immediately curious how people would respond to this story. Would they be entranced by a salacious story about a local hero? Would they be interested in his faith because he’s so high profile? I skipped over the story and went straight to the comments.
They didn’t disappoint:
“I love Russell so much that I don’t even care that he’s lying right now.”
“I quit having sex with my girlfriend after Santa Claus spoke to me.”
“Good on ya Russell Wilson!! God will bless you both for this decision. You have our support and prayers!!! Thank you for being transparent a real hero for young boys to emulate!!!”
The comments went on and on. Most of them were from non-Christians who couldn’t care less about Wilson’s religious views, followed by the comments of Christians who were excited about his positive Christian example.
The incident brings up the issue of Christian spirituality and celebrity culture, and the way Church folk flock to any famous person who makes the most tenuous profession of interest in Jesus Christ.
The Kingdom Overturns the Status Quo
The whole New Testament narrative overturns the world’s idea of value. When Jesus shows up, He reshuffles the deck. Suddenly, the last (those living on the edge of respectable society) are first, and the first (the prominent) are last.
This idea was completely foreign when Jesus shared it, and it’s no less foreign now. Because our culture places fame on the highest of pedestals, Christians tend to rush toward any pseudo-celebrity who promises Jesus and the Gospel a platform.
This rushing after fame is questionable for a number of reasons:
It Ultimately Undermines the Gospel
I remember working in a Christian retail setting with over $1 million in inventory and not having a single book about missions, but the biography section would be filled with the latest celebrity offerings.
This fact communicates something about our perception of the Kingdom. It’s easy to infer that God wants famous people with huge platforms from which they can talk about Jesus. We tend to forget that the Gospel is personified in the everyday faithfulness of normal people.
It Sets People Up for Failure
Celebrities are just regular people—under a great amount of stress. Famous Christians are constantly being told that if they’re not using their fame to spread the Gospel, they’re undermining the very reason God blessed them with popularity. The ones who take this to heart feel like they have to turn every moment into an opportunity to talk about their faith, but what happens when they struggle?
Obviously Russell Wilson wasn’t as forthright about marital troubles in the press as he was about his faith, and why would he be? But when news hit last year that he was getting a divorce, Christians lost their minds. I remember reading some of the meanest nonsense from disappointed Christians who felt that he had “thrown away his Christian witness.” And like every Christian celebrity, Wilson was strung up by the very people who, just the day before, was so glad he was speaking up for truth.
Look at Justin Bieber or the Jonas Brothers trying to negotiate youth’s rocky road and a vocal Christian witness in front of millions with the temptations that come with celebrity.
It Confuses People
Like the rest of us, people of renown tend to filter Christian themes through their own experience. So God’s goodness gets conflated with lifestyles and opportunities that most of us will never know or experience—but we all long for.
So when Russell Wilson gives his testimony, it’s about a 14-year-old that Jesus dramatically visits in a dream to foreshadow the future being prepared for him. What’s that future? It’s an NFL quarterback career and a big platform from which to share the Gospel.
A lot of Christian celeb bios have the same theme—God preparing people for the spotlight. But people need inspiration for their work-day lives. They need to understand that the life God often prepares for us is a quiet one working with our hands (1 Thess. 4:11).
It Sets the Celebrity Up as the Ultimate Hero
In explaining his Super Bowl loss to the Patriots, Wilson told Rock Church in San Diego that God spoke to him after the interception that cost the Seahawks the game, “And on the third step God says to me, ‘I’m using you … I want to see how you respond. But most importantly, I want them to see how you respond.’”
Did God say that? Maybe. It sounds like the kind of thing God might say. If God did say that, did he intend Wilson to tell everyone about it? Probably not. If God wanted to make an example out out of Wilson’s response, then the response speaks for itself. The minute that Wilson draws attention to his response as God’s point all along, he inadvertently points to himself.
It’s a dangerous position that Christian stars find themselves in when using their fame to promote God’s Kingdom—because ultimately, they become their own illustration and the hero of the narrative.
Fame is always about public relations and putting the best face on everything. The struggle we all experience is an important part of healthy spirituality. How can you have a spirituality that whitewashes all the actual failure and only has a glittering image as a platform. Again I think back to Russell’s failed marriage.
I don’t fault him for having a marriage that failed (nor do I have room to). But it points to the danger of using Christian fame as a platform, because everyone sees the celebrity as a shining example of faith and they don’t get to see the real challenges the person faces. So when a failure finally comes to the surface, it’s a shock and threatens to undermine everything they’ve said. When, in truth, our failure is an important part of our growing spirituality.
Is God a Respecter of Persons?
Is fame wrong? Not necessarily. We’re all called to use our gifts to the best of our abilities. If someone can become known for something they do excellently, that’s fantastic.
Where it becomes wrong is when we elevate the individual in our minds, and thereby encourage them to elevate themselves as well. We’re not meant to be elevated and objectified. There aren’t many of us (if any of us) who can truly handle it.
We’re meant to live in community where we can be authentic and open with each other. Fame can encourage isolation and is too often inauthentic and manufactured.
Maybe we need to be making heroes out of the people in our midst who we truly know. Maybe if we find some renown doing something we love doing, we should do it the best we can and that’s our legacy.
I’ll tell you quite honestly, I am more touched by Russell Wilson’s regular trips to the children’s hospital than I am by most of the stuff he says about God.
Perhaps we need to quit expecting the famous to be spokespeople for God, and let them just be people. And maybe, just maybe, we should be seeing the normal, everyday heroes in our own lives.
This article originally appeared at jaysondbradley.com. Used with permission.