Barnaby Joyce, David Warner, and Barbie Dolls

Who are your role models?

Every week there seems to be some media outcry about the fall of a prominent person in our society – be it sports people, politicians, movie stars, musicians. The story comes out of some moral indiscretion, an unacceptable past deed, the consequence of a moment of bad judgement. The mass media, social media, and lunch room conversations take off about how disappointed we all are in [insert name here].

Recent events that come to mind include a politician’s extra marital affair, a whole raft of sexual harassment claims in Hollywood, substance abuse by pop starlets – all leading to media frenzies and public outrage on social media. What is it about these public figures falling from grace that fascinates us?

More than the winner’s podium

I am not a sports fan. I don’t watch it, I don’t even understand a lot of it – at the very basic level. What is a googly, how do you bowl a maiden over, what does it mean to catch a crab, and why would anyone want to fartlek?
But I was recently given cause to question a whole other side of sports I don’t understand – why do we hold sports people to a higher moral standard for simply being good at their chosen sport? As if the ability to hit a ball to the boundary, or crash through a footy tackle makes them some sort of moral crusader.

There are many reasons I’ve been given from the avid sports fans around me; they range from “for the amount of money they’re being paid, we expect better”, to “my kids look up to them as role models, I don’t want my kids thinking that behavior is acceptable”. But none of these give a real reason for why we expect more from these people.

Barbie Dolls

For International Women’s Day 2018, Mattel released a series of Barbie Dolls, depicting women in history that are considered to be inspiring role models for girls.

Barbie is committed to shining a light on empowering role models past and present in an effort to inspire more girls. – Barbie website

There has been much discussion over the last 40 years about what sort of role model Barbie represents to little girls, with everything from unrealistic body images, to questionable lifestyle choices. But it seems now Mattel wants to hold up figures like NASA Mathetician Katherine Johnson, aviator Amelia Earhardt, and even Australia’s own Bindi Irwin as role models for a new generation. Joining them are filmmakers, Olympians, dancers, and artists – all women who have achieved fantastic things for society.

Don’t get me wrong, the things these women have done are truly inspiring, sometimes in the face of opposition, and always in the face of hard work and determination. They certainly paint a picture of the great things that can be achieved, but is holding these women up as role models going to serve us any better than the sports people, politicians, or Hollywood celebrities?

What do you worship

We were made to worship. I think that’s why in a post-Christian society, we crave sports personalities, celebrities, and public figures to put up on our pedestals. But when our worship is misdirected – at fallen earthly things – we only find disappointment and disillusionment.

The old saying “We’re only human” never rang more true. The sentiment behind the saying is that we all make mistakes, we all do wrong things, we all stuff up. Or in the words of Romans 3:23:

all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Again, don’t get me wrong, I’m not making excuses for bad behavior, this in no way pardons the wrongs people do. – but it does shed a light on why looking up to men and women in this wrong way, will always lead to disappointment.

The heart of the matter

In the beginning of the bible, we’re told that man and woman were made in God’s image to live in relationship with him (Genesis 1:27). We’re also told in Genesis 3 that we stuffed up, and the consequence of that stuff up was a sinful nature. Romans 7:18 puts it like this:
For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.

But because God loved us, he sent Jesus.

In Jesus we see the perfect role model.

In 2 Corinthians 5:21 we’re told that Jesus is sinless, yet came to take the punishment of our sin, so that we can be restored to relationship with God.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Again and again in the bible, we see Jesus standing the test of earthly temptation – when taunted by the opposition, he didn’t rise to the taunt and lash out. He quoted scripture, he trusted God. When faced with bodily temptation by the Devil, he doesn’t relent. Jesus again quotes scripture:

“The Scriptures also say, ‘Don’t try to test the Lord your God!’” – Luke 4:12

We see in Jesus a role model who will never let us down with moral failure.

So what do I do with this?

I don’t understand sports – I think we established that early on. But I have people I admire, for different reasons – musicians, actors, artists. I know these people are human, and there are just as many downs as there are ups.

One thing we can do is view celebrities and public figures as what they are – humans, on this side of the garden of Eden; fallen and sinful. This may help us to know they are not infallible, and while they may be talented at whatever chosen field they occupy, they are not immune from sinfulness.

We can see them as Jesus saw them – in need of forgiveness. This may help us kerb our outrage when they inevitably disappoint us.

We can not be afraid to have the conversation with our kids when they are disappointed by their heroes. This may help our kids, and us, to focus a right worship where it belongs – on Jesus, the role model who will never disappoint.

Vicki Meehan
Media Manager, Creek Road Presbyterian Church