December 15, 2015

Tyson Fury: Prophet or Punk?

I have been listening to Tyson Fury and the responses to him from Christian and non-Christian camps with detached bemusement and not so little amusement. Recently, that has begun to turn into a little fury of my own as ‘evangelicals’ of the middle-class persuasion have taken to distancing themselves from what he has to say on a number of controversial issues.

Just to remind ourselves. Tyson Fury is the Unified Heavyweight Champion of the World. However, in the past fortnight he hasn’t been doing much unifying with his comments on everything from domestic bliss, women, and homosexuality (to name a few). The working class, in the main, love his directness while many—largely among the middle class—wince at his roughness and the even more brutal way he has of putting his point across.

The media have jumped all over him and, of course, the great modern crime of ‘homophobia’ is being trumpeted from every rooftop. Should he be the BBC Sports Personality of the year? Who cares? He certainly doesn’t. Nor, I suspect, do many people from council estates and schemes all over the UK.

So, what is the church to do with Tyson Fury? Is he a champion of the (almost extinct) working-class Christian, or is he a bit of an embarrassment to middle-class evangelicals fighting to be taken seriously in the public arena? What exactly has he done wrong? It appears that this quote from an interview with the Daily Mail (see full transcript here) is what seemed to set the media off:

“There are only three things that need to be accomplished before the Devil comes home. One of them is homosexuality being legal in countries, one of them is abortion and the other is paedophilia.”(Daily Mail)

Christian bloggers, and others, have picked up this quote and used it to beat Tyson over the head for his lack of biblical knowledge (see here for an example of sniffy elitism). Christians have sneered at him for his lack of understanding of biblical background and proper context. Boo Tyson! They hiss. The Bible doesn’t claim these things at all! Don’t worry world. Sensible Christians don’t believe what he’s saying at all. Let’s all distance ourselves from this brutish animal.

But, take a look at Tyson’s quote in its wider, and proper, context:

“Abusing the planet, the wars in the Middle East, the famines, the earthquakes, the natural disasters, all these things are talked about 2,000 years ago before they even happened. Prophesised. So now it is all coming true. It says there will be a time when men lay with men and women lay with women and that’s accepted and it’s only in 1967 when these things were OK: abortions, being homosexual in public. So from 1967 until now. There are only three things that need to be accomplished before the Devil comes home. One of them is homosexuality being legal in countries, one of them is abortion and the other is pedophilia. So who would have thought in the 50s and early 60s that those first two would be legalised. When I say paedophiles can be made legal, that sounds like crazy talk doesn’t it but back in the 50s and early 60s, for them first two to be made legal would have been looked on as a crazy man again. If I would have told you 120 years ago that a thousand tonne aeroplane was going to float through the sky, a piece of steel, ludicrous. When Christopher Columbus said the world was round, he’s an idiot. All these things that happen in the world, wise men already know they are going to happen and they see what they really are. Foolish people follow the system, get caught up in media news, what the government want you to believe and the world and all the higher powers want you to believe and want you to be in the system, want you go down the same path as all the sheep in the cattle market.”(Daily Mail)

What he’s saying is that the Bible warns us against things that were only made legal in this country in recent decades. Granted, he’s no theologian, our Tyson. Nor does he claim to be one. He’s from an Irish travelling family living in the North of England and he has come up the hard way. He was asked a question and he responded to it in an honest and forthright manner. He didn’t prevaricate or hide behind platitudes. He didn’t try to appease his inquisitor. He committed the grievous sin of giving an honest opinion in a world where any strongly held view is tagged with term ‘phobic’.

In fact, when challenged by the Daily Mail correspondent (Oliver Holt) he went even further:

“To be honest, this is a free world we live in and an evil world. For me, people can say ‘oh, you’re against abortions and you’re against pedophilia, you’re against homosexuality, you’re against whatever’ but my faith and my culture is all based on the bible. The bible was written a long time ago, wasn’t it, from the beginning of time until now so if I follow that and that tells me it’s wrong, then it’s wrong for me. That’s just my opinion. How many people have different opinions in this world? (Pointing to a bottle on the table) Every different person has a different opinion of what that bottle really is or what colour is or something. If I say that bottle is clear, there will be someone out there telling me that bottle is green or blue or whatever. That’s just their opinion and my opinion. Well, my opinion is I follow what the Lord says, or try to. And what opinions of people out there who are doing what they are doing, they are following what they want to do. They are living for themselves. I am trying to live for God.” (Daily Mail)

Are we going to hang a man out to dry because his theology is a bit muddled? In fact, the blogger I referred to above took him to task for his poor biblical theology and yet failed to mention at any point how clear, lucid, and biblical Tyson has been on the issues of homosexuality, abortion, and pedophilia generally. That particular blog was liked and reposted numerous times by, largely, middle-class Christians fearful that their worldly friends would think they were somehow ‘like’Tyson Fury, or that they believed what he espoused. But if we are going to distance ourselves from people whose theology is a bit wonky, then we are going to find ourselves alone in a room very quickly. It’s not like he’s Joel Osteen pedalling damnable heresy. He’s a young Christian (months old) saying some very foolish things. Things, I believe, he will come to regret as he matures in his faith and understanding of the Bible. (Let’s pray he comes under the ministry of a good pastor and becomes a member of a Bible-believing church).

Yet how far off is he in his views? What does the Bible actually say about homosexuality?

Leviticus 18:22—“You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.”

Leviticus 20:13—“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”

1 Corinthians 6:9–10—“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Romans 1:26–28—“For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.”

It would seem the Bible is tougher on the issue than Tyson Fury has been. We can understand how this offends the sensibilities of unbelievers. But, evangelical Christians? Give me a break. Now, I’ve talked to middle-class professionals who say that homosexuality is not a sin because it’s a genetic predisposition. Is that right? That’s not what the Bible teaches. Tyson seems to be very clear and very biblical at this point. Evangelicals, then, should be seeking to embrace him and welcome his views as ours too because believing the Bible in its totality to be God-breathed is what it means to be evangelical at its core.

The problem in the UK is that ‘evangelicals’ like its Christianity to be nuanced. It likes to swim in the grey and will often prevaricate and faff about when asked for direct answers to direct questions. This is why the church is doing so badly in area like ours. Christians are seen as ‘wet’ and ‘posh’. Whereas we want direct answers to direct questions. Tyson is only doing what he knows to do: answering honestly and directly without thinking of the consequences or the PA nightmare. The church in the UK is far too concerned with its image or how it looks to the outside world. We need more Tyson Fury’s, not less, in our country right now, and less feminised men who daren’t say boo to a goose in case they might offend someone.

The media and the middle classes may shrink from you, Tyson, but we in the schemes (almost to a person) love you. We love your frank directness. You should be applauded for it. In fact, it’s about time that somebody from the Christian community spoke out about these issues in a way that resonates with our culture. When the media want to roll out a spokesperson for our faith, it is usually some sap in a dress, grey beard, and three kilos of gold bling around the neck. They normally don’t have anything more anaemic to say than, ‘the choice of language was unfortunate and reiterate the need for peace and unity etc. etc. ad infinitum.’ Christians should be praying for Tyson, not harping on at him as he deals with a hostile media out to goad him and looking for controversial soundbites in order to sell newspapers.

Of course, Tyson definitely needs to think before he speaks, but he mustn’t stop standing up for Jesus. And Christians mustn’t be apologising for him. He’s a man’s man speaking out for the Lord Jesus Christ the best way he knows how, not some keyboard warrior hiding behind his Macbook pro. I’ve been to conferences in the UK and listened to some of the wettest people on the planet on the stage. People so posh they haven’t just got a plum in their gob, they’ve swallowed the whole orchard! I have to put up with the way they talk. I sometimes wish they would just get to the point and stop fluffing about. But I realise that they are very different to me and I have to live with that because that’s the majority culture I’m forced to adapt to.

I recently watched his interview with the BBC when he tells the reporter to repent of their sins and trust in Jesus. Clear, direct, and biblical. Of course, I can feel the humus brigade diving for cover under their bedside plaques of ‘win them before you mention sin to them’. I’m sure somebody out there has probably blogged on his poor apologetic approach. But, the man comes from travelling people who have a deep suspicion of outsiders and who don’t appreciate their culture being derided by the media as being outdated, old-fashioned, and backward. Let me repeat, the man has not been a Christian very long and I can remember some absolute howlers I made in the early days (and still do today). Unlike me, he has to live his early days in the limelight and his greatest problem, like me, is his quick mouth and wit. It can be funny, but it can be extremely destructive. He’s saying wrong things (particularly about women) but he’s also saying right things (homosexuality, abortion, pedophilia). The media and the world are, of course, deriding him for both. Christians, then, in his defence, should be clear to the watching world about where he is right from a biblical perspective, and not just where he is wrong. Much of what I have read has been concerned only with the latter.

If anything, Tyson’s sin is that he’s been too brutal in expressing his views about a whole host of issues. His attitude concerning women had me wincing, because it came across as arrogant, sexist, and wrong. (But, if he was a black African tribesman espousing similar views about tribal women, I am almost certain we would want to be (missiologically) handling the situation with more tact and care as we interact with this distorted worldview). His choice of language is certainly not biblical, and he needs to be challenged to behave and speak in a manner worthy of the Lord Jesus Christ, whom he professes to serve. But, he knows that himself:

“I take it one hour at a time. I don’t take even day by day. I just take hour by hour. I try and be good for that hour. I used to do a lot of swearing, naturally. It was just like saying hello and goodbye. Swearing to me wasn’t like doing something bad. It was my vocabulary. It was just coming out in sentences. I said to the Lord ‘please help me stop swearing’. I was begging to be helped to stop swearing for so long. I just kept doing it and doing it. Until one day I said ‘right, help me, I am going to do it myself, with your help. Only me can stop me doing all these things.’” (Daily Mail)

Here’s the thing. In my church, I have seen people converted from a number of backgrounds, including travellers. When they first meet Jesus, they are all over the place. They have all sorts of strange, sometimes downright evil views on life and the world. They drink, they swear, they take drugs. They have children all over the place. Now, as a minister of the gospel, I have to challenge them. But if I challenged every single point they got wrong or every single time they swore, then I would have ended up just nagging them constantly. They had to be allowed time to grow and mature. I had to pick my battles. I had to keep patiently walking them through the scriptures, pointing them back to the gospel and modelling godly behaviour to them. They needed to see what a godly husband looked like and how he should talk about his wife. They needed to see how a godly father interacts with his children. They needed to know what a growing disciple of Jesus looks like. These things are alien to them from a biblical perspective. What invariably happens, over time, is those that are truly saved come around. They begin to see their worldview challenged and they begin to see it for what it is. They soften. They change. They repent. They grow in grace. They become more like Jesus.

That’s what we want for Tyson Fury as a new Christian. We need to pray for his soul. At the deepest level this is not about class or culture. This is about the Holy Spirit working in the life of a sinner—in the full glare of the media—and about how the church can gather round one of its own to help him become more like the Saviour he professes to worship.

He has a long way to go. I, like he does now, needed to learn the principle of James 1:19: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”I hope, as more mature Christians, of whatever culture, we spend as much time praying for this man as we do trying to correct his eschatology and poor theology. He needs correction from the Holy Spirit, and he needs the love, discipline, and fellowship of godly Christians.

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