This week, Gabby Douglas made history by being the first non-white woman to win the gold medal in the ladies’ gymnastics all-around and the first American gymnast to win gold in both the individual and team events. In the moments after receiving her individual gold medal, Gabby told a reporter, “It is everything I thought it would be; being the Olympic champion, it definitely is an amazing feeling. And I give all the glory to God. It's kind of a win-win situation. The glory goes up to him and the blessings fall down on me.” It isn’t particularly unusual to see American athletes publicly express some sort of religious devotion. This is, however, a much more specific declaration of faith than “Tebowing”, making the sign of the cross before throwing a pitch, or kissing a crucifix before stepping into the batters’ box. Gabby tweeted later in the evening, “Let all that I am praise the LORD; may I never forget the good things he does for me!” Many of her tweets after that include similar references to God.
I don’t know anything about her religious convictions or what type of church she attends, but these things sound very much like something that a Bible-believing evangelical would say. The pressure of competing on the world’s biggest stage must be overwhelming, but despite all of that pressure, her first thoughts turn to the goodness of God. The first impulse of any Bible-believing Christian should be worship in good times and in bad times, and it appears that that is Gabby’s first impulse as well. I only wish that I had enough presence of mind to remember that fact even in circumstances that are hard or are incomprehensibly distracting.
An interesting wrinkle in all of this is the response of the media. I have seen no negative commentary with regard to Gabby or her comments, EXCEPT a Facebook status that was posted by the Huffington Post at “HuffPost Religion.” In the morning of August 3, they posted a picture of Gabby with her medal with a caption that quotes her comments to the media and then asks, “What do YOU think of about athletes publically thanking God?” This blog is not old enough to have a venerable history of dignity and decorum, so I will not strain myself to phrase this diplomatically: I CANNOT THINK OF A MORE STUPID, DISCONNECTED, RELIGIOUSLY BIGOTED QUESTION!
I suppose that Facebook subscribers can have an opinion about it. They can love it or hate it, but there is nothing in our system that even comes close to guaranteeing anyone that he has a right to be free from exposure to someone else’s expression of religious beliefs. Why is this an issue? There are times when certain manifestations of religious expression must be disallowed, but the Constitutional bar is extremely high, as it should be. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, were targeted by laws in the first part of the 20th century that would keep them going door to door. The Supreme Court rightly protected them even though coming to a person’s home uninvited in order to pedal religious literature is much more invasive into personal space than quietly praying on a bowed knee on a football field or being honest about one’s feelings of gratitude to God after winning an Olympic gold medal. Is the Huffington Post so biased that it sees an issue where there is none or so committed to an agenda hostile to religion that it seeks to generate one where none existed before?
Overwhelmingly, the comments on the post are supportive of Gabby and I think that is because most fair-minded people don’t see an issue. Good for them, but it appears that our media has a profound lack of respect for the freedom of an individual to express his or her personal religious convictions in a non-confrontational or obnoxious way. Gabby appears to me to be a class act whose focus is exactly where it should be: on the God who created her, blessed her, and will continue to honor her as she seeks to honor Him.
Cantwell v. Connecticut 310 U.S. 296 (1940); Murdock v. Pennsylvania 319 U.S. 105 (1943); Follett v. Town of McCormick 321 U.S. 573 (1944) (Note: these cases evaluate government action, but speak to the larger of issue of what type of public action is permissible that is motivated by religious belief.)