Forgiveness is the cornerstone of Christianity and suspended Atlanta Falcon Michael Vick is hoping it will be the saving grace of his football career. When Vick said he "found Jesus" during his mea culpa press conference, he's following in the footsteps of so many celebrities before him. Take into consideration Paris Hilton, the heiress who “found religion" when facing jail time and the possibility of her career being ruined.
Vick, once a star quarterback with the NFL, pleaded guilty to dogfighting charges. The plea came after a week of denials at ever having been involved, or ever having done anything wrong. His cohorts, who wouldn't take the fall alone, forced him down the road seeking redemption. But, is it heartfelt humility … or just a ploy to keep him from losing his career and his stardom?
During his press conference in Richmond, Va., Vick sounded like a man who was truly sorry for what he did. He used the words "ashamed," “immature" and "forgiveness." He says he's found Jesus. According to reports that he's been attending the Deliverance Tabernacle Church for the last two months, the Rev. Steven Terry and about 60 parishioners from the church were bused to Vick's court appearance. They held up signs of support outside the courthouse. Rev. Terry said, "Vick, is our brother — we have forgiven him. God has forgiven him."
Rev. Terry also noted that Vick has made charitable donations to the church, including $10,000 his foundation gave to help trauma recover efforts after the shootings at Virginia Tech. But, very few people outside Vick's inner spiritual circle believe he's truly sorry for what he did and that he's more likely sorry for getting caught.
I am always reminded of the story about the husband and wife going through marriage counseling. The wife complained to the counselor that her husband would only stop his fooling around with other women when she threatened to leave. But, once the threat was no longer there, the husband would eventually go back to his old bad behavior, until the next time she threatened to leave.
The problem with the husband sounds a lot like the problem with Vick. He has only learned to hate the consequences of his behavior, not the behavior itself. Why only now does he realize that dogfighting is wrong? Why would lying now be an indication of immaturity and something to be ashamed of? Why now is he begging for forgiveness? The reason is, because everything Vick holds dear is being threatened because his career, his wealth, his status as a star NFL player ... the things that give him his very identity and self worth are being threatened with destruction. No more crowds cheering, no more endorsements and no more multi-million dollar contracts.
One very good indication that Vick's mea culpa is full of empty promises is that he has been a “man of God” for quite sometime. He did not suddenly “find Jesus.” According to reports in Cybercast News Service, Michael Vick has had at least seven quotations since 1998 where he thanked God or invoked his faith as the reason for his success. In 2005 he responded to criticisms by saying, "I'm trying to be Michael Vick, the quarterback God made me to be." In 2004 he told the Macon Telegraph, "I'm just blessed to be in this position. I wake up every day and I thank God."
In a 2001 interview after he was a first-round draft pick, Vick told ESPN, "The Lord has blessed me. I have to thank Him for all this."
So, Michael Vick is not new to the idea of Jesus. He supposedly knew Jesus when he was committing the crime of dogfighting. He knew Jesus when he was allegedly brutally killing dogs. And, he knew Jesus when he supposedly lied about all those activities. So when Michael Vick said, "I need to redeem myself," what he really could have been saying is, “I need to get myself out of this at all costs.” And, he's using religion to do it. Someone who “knows Jesus” also knows that they cannot redeem themselves, that redemption has been bought at a price, with no human assistance.
Michael Vick is like many athletes and many Christians who have a more material relationship with their creator. It's called the “Good Life Gospel.” It goes something like this: “my success proves that God is blessing me.” Unfortunately, it sets up the precedent that God is a genie that gives good things to those who are righteous, and who does not give good things to those who are evil or unrighteous. But, that scenario fits well in a culture that worships wealth, good looks and stardom.
But the danger here is that God is not being worshiped. It's what we believe God has given us is what’s truly on the receiving end of our praise. It's like saying, “I praise God for my good health and prosperity” … but if your good health and prosperity are taken away, will you still praise God? Is God what you're worshiping, or is it God's gifts?
For athletes, musicians and celebrities their very identity is tied up in what they do. Football is not just what Michael Vick does, it's who he is. And so when that livelihood is threatened, he faces an existential crisis. Who is he if he's not a wealthy football star? None of us wants to be in this position. But, we can be if we let great things become ultimate things; “things,” that if we suddenly lose, we would feel like our lives are not worth living. And “great things” can be relationships, money, power, status or even careers. They're wonderful … but, if they become our reason for living, they are ultimate things that we'll fight hard to keep, and sometimes even break the law to hold on to or protect.
To the true test of whether Michael Vick has truly found Jesus may be if he submits to whatever punishment the judge decrees, and then still can praise the God who gave him his athletic talents. It will certainly give him a new relationship with God. And maybe that is why he says he's "found Jesus."• E-mail Lauren Green
Lauren Green serves as a religion correspondent for the FOX News Channel. Prior to this, Green served as a news anchor for “Fox and Friends,” where she provided daily news updates and covered arts for the network. You can read her complete bio here.
Lauren Green currently serves as Fox News Channel's (FNC) chief religion correspondent based in the New York bureau. She joined FNC in 1996. Her new book is "Lighthouse Faith: God as a Living Reality in a World Immersed in Fog."