Let’s get this out of the way. . . right away: I don’t like the Kansas City Chiefs. Perhaps the fact that I’m a Philadelphia Eagles fan has something to do with that. Truth be told, it has everything to do with that. I’ll admit it. . . it’s sour grapes! And if you aren’t aware of the term “sour grapes”, the Internet will tell you that it means “something is worthless or undesirable because they want it themselves but cannot have it.” So, I think about Super Bowls, and I’m guilty as charged!

I mention the Kansas City Chiefs because one of their players, kicker Harrison Butker, is getting kicked all over the place on the Internet for the commencement speech he gave earlier this week at a Catholic liberal arts college, Benedictine College in Kansas. Google “Benedictine College” today and see little about the school itself, and much more about the backlash regarding Butker’s speech. Online petitions are calling for the NFL to take action against Butker, and for the Chiefs to dismiss him from the team. The League itself has put out a statement distancing itself from Butker’s views.

Being a bit of a commencement speech junkie myself, I watched Butker’s speech, as I have watched a variety of others, both this year and in year’s past. I’ve watched it a few times now, and I’ve listened to and watched some of the pushback from those opposed to Butker’s stated embrace of the historic Roman Catholic faith and all that it entails both doctrinally, and in terms of social issues and culture engagement. I have some thoughts, but first let me set the context regarding the cultural landscape in which Butker delivered his twenty-minute address.

Like many of us who embrace the historic doctrines of the faith, we can’t help but notice any efforts we make to speak the truths of God’s Word into the culture – peace-filled, charitable, and gracious as those efforts may be – trigger immediate and harsh pushback from those who would disagree with those truths. Butker, like all of those who endeavor to speak truth, knew for sure that the pushback would be coming. In today’s world, the pushback not only comes when we speak about the historic Christian faith in public, but we increasingly face pushback – sometimes very harsh pushback and even cancellation – when we speak those truths in our churches, our youth groups, and our homes. Change has come so fast and gripped so many that the opposition comes not just from without, but from within.

One helpful way to understand this current cultural context comes from culture-watcher Aaron Renn, who tells us that not only is our culture divided, but even “American evangelicalism” is divided as well. In an article in First Things, Renn tells us that the change has been fast, occurring in just 20-30 short years. He says that the story of American secularization has had three distinct stages.

Up until 1994, our culture was a “Positive World,” one where society has a largely positive view of Christianity. Publicly proclaiming your faith in God was, Renn says, “a status-enhancer.” Up until 1994, “Christian moral norms are the basic moral norms of society and violating them can bring negative consequences.”

By 1994 and up until 2014, Renn says that Christians were living in a “Neutral World.” During this time, Christians lived and moved in a society that had a neutral stance towards Christianity. Christianity was no longer something that brought privileged status, but it wasn’t seen with disfavor either. Christianity was seen as a valid option within a pluralistic society, with Christian moral values retaining a diminished, but still not disfavored status.

Since 2014, we are living in what Renn labels as the “Negative World.” He writes, “Society has come to have a negative view of Christianity. Being known as a Christian is a social negative. . . Christian morality is expressly repudiated and seen as a thread to the public good and the new public moral order. Subscribing to Christian moral views or violating the secular moral order brings negative consequences” . . . and that’s what’s happening in the wake of Harrison Butker’s speech at Benedictine.

I believe there are some important realities to ponder as we listen to Butker’s topic and tone, along with the response to what he said and how he said it.

As I listened to Butker, I thought back to a commencement speech I heard earlier in the week at my own alma mater, Geneva College. A Christian liberal arts school that has remained, unlike many Christian colleges, mission-true, Geneva invited Dr. Rosaria Butterfield to deliver the address. She opened her speech by telling the grads, “It is my joy and delight this morning to welcome you to war.” Knowing Butterfield as I do, her words were not an invitation into what many have labeled “the culture wars.” Rather, she was speaking more directly about the ongoing battle between light and dark, between the Kingdom of God and the principalities and powers associated with the world, the flesh, and the devil. What Butterfield’s audience heard is what we are seeing now in the response to Butker’s speech.

Just to clarify, I am not a Roman Catholic. I am a life-long Protestant. There is much in Catholic theology that I just don’t see as biblical and with which I disagree. Butker spoke to many of those doctrines on which he and I would disagree. But I will without apology say that I am seeing, hearing, and reading some Catholic cultural critique that is some of the most biblically-based, deep, and thoughtful stuff you can find in recent years.

That being said, I came away from Butker’s speech realizing that his main challenge to the graduates was about recovering integrity in the Catholic Church. In addition, he called out leadership and ideologies in the church and the culture that are anything but Christian, instead calling the Catholic Church and the students to be “unapologetically Christian.” He called students to seek out “good and holy leaders.” He called them to be “in but not of the world.” He summoned them to pray and fast for their leaders. He reminded them, in so many words, that we become the company we keep, so choose your friends wisely. He called them to preach hard truths. He reminded them that suffering in this life is only temporary. He called them to disregard the outside noise of life and live into God’s will. And, when he did this, he ran through a litany of traditionally orthodox views on issues , many of them not just policies of the Catholic Church, but the biblically-faithful Protestant church as well. What did he mention? He spoke about sexuality, gender, marriage, abortion, birth-control, cohabitation, fatherhood, motherhood, child-bearing, manhood, womanhood, and the high value of vocational stay-at-home moms. (Contrary to what many are reporting, Butker did not say that women working outside the home is wrong). He told students that “a life without God is not a life at all. . . and the cost of salvation is worth more than any career.” Look back over that list and you’ll see why there’s been so much pushback in this day and age of “the negative world.”

Is there anything which Butker said that we – youth workers, parents, grandparents, pastors – don’t want our kids to hear? I heard a call to Christian discipleship.

I’m going to continue to watch the response to Harrison Butker. He is living out his calling to students to “stop pretending that things we see around us are normal.” His final words were these: “Make no mistake, you’re entering into mission territory in a post-God world. But you were made for this and with God by your side and a constant striving for virtue within your vocation, you too can be a saint. Christ is King to the heights.”

Outside of some theological doctrines over which we would disagree, I find Harrison Butker’s speech refreshing. He has reminded us that we are not our own. . . a message contrary to one I heard in another of this year’s commencement addresses, that “you are a work of your own making.” We find ourselves living in an age that promotes “self-sovereignty,” which is the same thing our first parents chose back in the Garden of Eden, and look at how that all worked out, not only for them, but for us. No, we are called by Jesus to a life of cross-carrying self-denial, which is a calling that leads to true freedom as we live under the sovereignty of God.

It’s my hope that we will raise up a generation of young people who will follow in the footsteps of Christ, who will follow His will and way as put forth in the Scriptures, and who will do so with courage. I caught a glimpse of that courage in Harrison Butker during his 20 minutes at the podium. I’m guessing I’ll see more in the days that follow. I can’t argue at all with these words he spoke to the Benedictine College grads: “If we are going to be men and women for this time in history, we need to stop pretending that the church of nice is a winning proposition. We must always speak out in charity, but never mistake charity for cowardice.”

Finally, I still don’t like the Kansas City Chiefs! 😉

One thought on “What About Harrison Butker?

  1. Thank you Walt! Your analysis of Butker’s address is spot on! My prayer is that this generation will listen to his words and more importantly live into his challenge.
    By the way… I don’t like the Chiefs either. Nor the Eagles for that matter. Actually, given the response of the NFL to Butker’s address and so many other sad responses through the years to everything from the National Anthem to various cultural issues, I’m finished with the NFL in total. Wish they’d stay focussed on sports rather than politics and social commentary. When they do, I’ll be back in the stands cheering on my Vikings!

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