I’ve been thinking about Fergie the last couple days. By now we’ve surely all heard her rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the NBA All-Star Game. Many of us have probably also been caught up in the social media response to her dubious choice to perform a jazzy take on America’s national anthem. I’m certainly included among them. I’ve shared more than a few laughs at Fergie’s expense as a result of some truly clever meme-makers and remix artists. People are not lacking in creativity in the way they are choosing to lambaste the singer.
Then, last night, I saw two articles in the span of about five minutes that, in tandem, convicted me to my core. The first article contained Fergie’s official response to the social backlash, in which she expressed remorse for making the decisions she did and then—heartbreakingly—reminded us that she “honestly tried my best.” This is, by all accounts, true: no one can deny that Fergie was fully committed to the arrangement she chose to perform and saw it through to its conclusion. I read her words and wondered what it must feel like to be Fergie today. I recently heard an athlete talk about sports being the only job where we allow others to openly and publicly mock one’s performance with the words, “You suck.” Of course, this stretches to any entertainment-based profession: surely visual artists, actors, musicians, dancers, and athletes all subject themselves to public scrutiny. It is, we are told, part of the cost of a shot at widespread recognition and fame.
It goes with the territory.
But does it have to?
Why do we feel the need, as people in a society with literally thousands of choices in our entertainment preferences, to unite in an act of—let’s call it what it is—hatred?
Before I go further, let me clarify—or qualify—this question: I’m not saying we should praise a bad performer with insincere compliments. I’m not saying bad art should go unnoticed or undiscussed. The nature of criticism is not ultimately to tear down individuals, but to praise the ones who are truly great. From the standpoint of music theory, delivery, choice of venue, and a host of other considerations, Fergie’s performance was of a subpar quality. But how we choose to address bad art—in this case, a bad decision by an artist who has been widely honored and recognized by her industry—and promote good art, or more importantly, the ratio between our tearing-down and our building-up, says more about us than we like to admit.
This brings me to the second article that came across my Twitter feed: “Steph Curry Liked a Tweet Mocking Fergie’s Anthem Rendition.” Now, the above headline seems innocuous enough: Stephen Curry, by performing the relatively blasé action of tapping a Twitter-heart, did something many of us have done in response to Fergie’s singing. What makes Curry’s case unique, for one, was that he liked the tweet during halftime of the game in which he was playing. The All-Star game certainly does not carry with it the seriousness of a game that affects a team’s record, but consider the action: Curry, at a time when players are supposed to be receiving adjustments in strategy and game-planning, was surfing Twitter, and at that, deliberately using the platform to find, engage with, and endorse a tweet mocking another professional performer.
What’s worse, though, is represented well in this screengrab. For reference, the screenshot in question makes sure to include Curry’s Twitter bio and the presence of the liked tweet. And it’s here that we see the issue: take a look at the first and last words of Curry’s bio.
Stephen Curry. Believer.
“I’m dying. … Fergie with the worst rendition ever.”
Now, I never like it when Evangelical Christians group up on a Christian celebrity or an evangelical personality to publicly rake them over the coals for a personal mistake. I don’t think that it’s fair to hold celebrities, even if they are Christian believers, to unattainable standards, or standards we are unwilling to measure ourselves against. I mess up on a daily basis such that it would probably offend the world’s Christians, their leaders, and the communion of saints should Twitter become privy. So let’s not go overboard here and scapegoat Steph Curry.
But Curry is wearing his Christianity on his sleeve. He is literally advertising it on his Under Armour clothing line, and it’s important enough to bookend his self-written Twitter biography. When you put yourself forward as an ambassador for Christ, you ask for the scrutiny that comes with that mantle. Curry, in this instance, has tried to align himself with Christ while also aligning himself with mockers and scoffers, and these two things simply aren’t compatible.
Christians believe that Jesus was crucified in the midst of mockers and scoffers, that, in response to their criticism, he remained faithful to his mission, that he accepted the scorn of the world so that the citizens of the world and the children of God could overcome those mocking and scornful voices that face them on a daily basis.
And Steph Curry is not the only one who needs to be reminded of the call and the cost of discipleship.
Those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ have, on a smaller platform than Curry, advertised ourselves as Jesus’ ambassadors. We have—one would hope—weighed the cost of following Jesus. We have seen ourselves in the crowd shouting, “Crucify him!” and decided to side with the man on the cross over against our own proclivities to keep mocking. Steph Curry is not alone in his misstep here; in fact, most of us reading this post are probably guilty of delighting in the denigration of another, regardless of our complicity in the cultural lampooning of Fergie. And we have, quite frankly, opened ourselves up to criticism when we live inconsistently with these values.
It goes with the territory.
As Christians, we believe in the inherent value of the arts, in the power of creativity as a reflection of the creator God and the imago dei that humans bear. The creative person is participating in the creative impulse God has implanted in us to reflect God’s glory. Art, then, is not something about which we should be flippant; indeed, we should champion excellence and devotion to craft. But Christians are also called to a higher way of living, also borne out of the creative impulse: we are called to come alongside God in the activity of building a new creation—a reflection of the new heaven and the new earth to come, a glimpse of a future where there will be no mocking, no scorn, and in which every tear will be wiped away. Our ability to respond to hatred with grace is what should characterize us as believers. I believe we can share our opinions in a manner that is true to both of these beliefs: that art should be excellent, but that grace exists to help us in speaking truth.