Harper and Wells Outrun Jones, Give God Glory

THE OTHER RUNNERS: Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells take a victory lap after finishing second and third in the women’s 100-meter hurdles during the London 2012 Olympic Games. (Photo by Image of Sport/Newscom)

When Olympic hurdler Dawn Harper added a silver medal in the 100-meter race to her 2008 gold yesterday, she celebrated like she had won first place again. It was only later that she and her teammate Kellie Wells, who won bronze, expressed their disappointment that media attention has focused so heavily on Lolo Jones, the teammate they both outran and who took fourth place.

In an NBC interview that aired immediately after the race, Harper and Wells both expressed their gratitude to God for having made it to the games and to the medal stand. Last night Wells tweeted, “God has gotten me to this point. he brought me to my coach, my fam, friends, support systems. I am forever astonished by his wonders.”  And, in an undated post published by Athletes in Action, she said, “I’ve been through a lot of stuff in life and could have ended up in terrible places if it wasn’t for God choosing me, and choosing my life, and placing me in a good environment. So I just trust Him, and I love Him. I know I haven’t always been this – I haven’t always been good. Everybody makes mistakes, and everybody sins. But I realize how good God is to me, when He doesn’t really have to be. He set a plan for us, we have a book (the Bible) that tells us exactly how to live, and how life is supposed to be. It’s really hard to follow all the time. But God keeps me when I haven’t kept myself. And that’s an amazing feeling.”

Wells was sexually abused and raped by her stepfather, according to news reports. Then both he and her mother were killed in a car crash. “I know my story is very common to a lot of people, and it’s swept under the rug a lot,” Wells told The Telegraph. “If I can help at least one person and show you don’t have to be a product of your environment, you don’t have to keep secrets, and you don’t have to hide, that would be amazing.”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBmByErgBlY&w=560&h=315]

Harper talked about her faith journey in an interview with Beliefnet blogger Chad Bonham and explained the gospel’s importance in her life in a video produced by Athletes in Action. But when she and Wells were asked by NBC Sports this morning if they were getting enough respect for their accomplishments, Harper said that after her 2008 win over Jones, she felt as if she and her story had been pushed aside in favor of Jones’. “That hurt. It did. It hurt my feelings. But I feel as if I showed I can deal with the pressure, I came back, and I think you kinda got to respect it a little bit now,” she said.

“On the podium tonight, the three girls that earned their spot and they got their medals and they worked hard and did what they needed to do, prevailed. And that’s all that really needs to be said,” added Wells.

Lest one think Harper and Wells are poor winners, ESPN’s Jim Caple said today that it isn’t so and concluded that Harper’s assessment is correct. USA Today, for example, headlined and led its article on yesterday’s race with Jones’ “heartbreak.”

“Despite losing the gold medal to Australia’s Sally Pearson by two-hundredths of a second, Harper was about as happy as an athlete can be after her race. She joked, she laughed, she smiled. She spoke proudly of her performance: ‘I was pretty darn fast today.’ She talked about enjoying the entire Olympic experience rather than focusing so much on the medals that she lost track of everything else. She even talked about throwing a party for her hometown,” said Caple.

Harper told him that her public relations agent advised her not to talk about the preferential media attention given to Jones, but she wanted to “be real” with her fans. “I’ve put so much out there and sacrificed so much, I feel like my life/story has kind of been trampled on for the last four years,” said Harper, who, like Jones, overcame “humble beginnings” and injury to become an Olympian.

However, asked in a pre-race interview with The Washington Post if all the attention focused on Jones’ was frustrating, Harper cited her faith, saying, “At one point, it was. I don’t want to lie and say that it wasn’t. . . . I have dropped to my knees and just prayed about it and said, ‘I know that I’m blessed just to be here.’”

Jones, meanwhile, was dealing not only with her loss, but also with hurt feelings from a scathing New York Times article about her that was published August 4, just days before the race. “They should be supporting our U.S. Olympic athletes and instead they just ripped me to shreds,” Jones told the Today show this morning. “I worked six days a week, every day, for four years for a 12-second race and the fact that they just tore me apart, which is heartbreaking. … I have the American record. I am the American record holder indoors, I have two world indoor titles. Just because I don’t boast about these things, I don’t think I should be ripped apart by media. I laid it out there, fought hard for my country and it’s just a shame that I have to deal with so much backlash when I’m already so brokenhearted as it is.”

What do you think?

Should these Christian women do a better job of publicly supporting each other no matter what draws the media spotlight or is Harper right to complain?

Why Lolo Jones Is for Real

CLEARING LIFE’S HURDLES: Lolo Jones on Aug. 6, 2012, during an Olympic preliminary race for the 100-meter hurdles. She hopes to prove wrong the critics who are asking whether she’s more flash than substance. (Photo: Splash News/Newscom)

On Twitter, Lolo Jones sports a playful sense of humor, making jokes about her love life and Olympic adventures, and sometimes sparking controversy.

Her Twitter following skyrocketed after she talked about her decision to save sex for marriage in a May interview on HBO’s Real Sports, gaining herself about 20,000 more followers in four days. Jones has said her purity commitment is rooted in her Christian faith.

As she competed in the women’s 100-meter hurdles this week, Jones found herself in the spotlight again, and media outlets haven’t forgotten the buzz surrounding her virginity. The New York Times wrote about it this past weekend in a controversial article, provocatively titled “For Lolo Jones, Everything Is Image,” which suggested Jones was playing up her virginity, beauty, and poor upbringing for undeserved media attention. That piece has since come under fire.

But despite doubts that her athletic ability warranted attention, the 30-year-old track star came just shy of a medal on Tuesday, August 7, placing fourth in the 100-meter hurdles. Of course that fourth-place finish held little consolation for Jones, who had come so close to a gold medal four years earlier in Beijing before clipping the second-to-last hurdle and falling out of medal contention. Many viewed London as her chance for redemption — or at least that was the narrative that the media played up. Time magazine, for instance, recently featured her as one of three Olympians on the cover of their Olympics special issue and wrote about her trip-up in “Lolo’s No Choke.”

Unfortunately, Tuesday’s outcome fell short of a storybook ending. “I’ll definitely be reading my Bible and try to grasp the positives and see what God has to teach me from all this,” Jones said after the finals. “That’s the only way I feel I can get rebalanced right now, because I am so broken-hearted.”

Without fail, crude jokes about Jones’s virginity lit up Twitter and other social media following her loss.

Faith in the Public Eye

The New York Times wasn’t the first to criticize Jones for talking about her virginity or using sex appeal. TMZ made fun of her virginity. Others also questioned if her ESPN body issue photo compromised her values. On May 25, Jones tweeted in response:

“go to a museum & look at naked pictures/statues of ppl & its considered art but what I did is not? u see no parts exposed” and later, “Ryan hall is another christian. He’s done missions in africa & posed in latest issue. Shall u judge him as well? John 8:7”

Some suggested she date fellow Christian virgin Tim Tebow, to which Jones had a witty tweet: “Ask Tebow if he wants a glass of milk. If he says yes, ask him if he prefers chocolate. if he says no, then no more Tebow date suggestions.”

Jones is African American, Native American, French and Norwegian.

COLORFUL PERSONALITY: In interviews and on Twitter, Jones has been known to be outspoken and irreverent in her comments, which has sometimes landed her in hot water. (Photo: Walter Bieri/Newscom)

Even before this current New York Times controversy, Jones had been stirring things up in the media while awaiting her race in London. Her recent tweet about the Olympic skeet shooting competition drew criticism in light of the Aurora, Colorado, shooting: “USA Men’s Archery lost the gold medal to Italy but that’s ok, we are Americans… When’s da Gun shooting competition?” Jones later tweeted that she had been referring to Americans’ experience with hunting.

Sometimes Jones tweets about her faith, such as on July 26: “As I arrive in London for the Olympics, I’m overwhelmed with emotions. Thank you Lord for another chance and for holding me as i waited.” She thanked people for praying for her on July 22, but after criticism, clarified that her prayer was “to be an inspiration & to honor God,” not to win a gold medal.

“I never have prayed to win a gold medal at Olympics and never will,” Jones tweeted. “The Lord is my Shepard and I shall not want. May His will be done.”

Bonding Through Struggle

In her Real Sports interview, Jones said saving sex for marriage has been “the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, harder than training for the Olympics.”

But outside the spotlight, Jones tells how her Christian faith has sustained her through her struggles, and how her sister Angie Jefferson has encouraged her along the way.

Jones wrote about her older sister in an essay for the O.C. Tanner Inspiration Award, which recognizes a person who has inspired an Olympian to succeed. In it, Jones quoted Romans 9:12, “The older will serve the younger,” and wrote, “Angie is my reminder from God to stop at never.”

Growing up poor, Jones learned how to shoplift TV dinners and make a quick escape if she needed to, according to Time. Her family moved around frequently, and was at one point rendered homeless, living in a Salvation Army church basement.

Money was tight, but Jones has told stories about how her mother and sister helped her succeed. In a Procter & Gamble video series, “Raising an Olympian,” Jones said, “My mom would always try to do by any means necessary to make sure that we had what we needed. I definitely do not think I’d be going for this dream had I not seen her pick herself up so many times and keep fighting for us.”

STOPPING AT NEVER: Jones credits her sister for helping her develop a persevering spirit.

Meanwhile, her sister Angie Jefferson, then a teenager, recognized her talent and bought Jones her first running gear — which Jones said in her essay saved her the embarrassment of wearing old clothes.

When Jones moved across the country to go to Louisiana State University, Jefferson was again there for her sister through visits and tearful phone calls.

“Life was hard because the ghosts of my childhood were still there,” Jones wrote in her essay. “But thankfully, so was [Angie] — constantly reminding me there wasn’t anything I couldn’t overcome and survive with God’s help.”

Now, Jefferson serves as Jones’s manager. She encouraged her when Jones faced spine surgery a year ago. “It’s going to be okay,” Jefferson said, according to Jones’s essay. “I have a peace about Dr. Bray and his ability to help you. We are going to pray for God’s favor and trust God to take care of you.”

Jones wrote that she remembers seeing her sister with her prayer journal before a January 2012 race. It gave her a sense of peace. After Jones’s victory, the sisters hugged and cried together.

“It was a moment that words can’t express, a bond that together, can overcome anything,” Jones wrote.

On Monday, before her qualifying race in London, Jones was seen mouthing Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Even after Tuesday’s disappointing result, one suspects she’ll continue to hold onto that truth.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated to address the results of Jones’s finals race on Tuesday, August 7.

Why Unmarried Christians Are Having Sex

Loving Bravely
8 Ways to Pull Yourself Up When You’re Going through Hell
5 Questions Many Christians Forget to Ask While Dating

Remember the days when Christians used to blush over conversations about sex? Sermons on the Song of Solomon left us avoiding eye contact with our pastors and safe sex talks in public school meant guaranteed giggling after class. I guess we’re all grown up now. The generation of kids who once kissed dating goodbye and held fast to the promise that True Love Waits is no longer hanging its moral hat on the hook of sexual purity.

According to the National Association of Evangelicals, 80 percent of unmarried evangelical Christians between ages 18-29 admit to having had premarital sex, a shocking figure when measured against the number of pledges made in youth ministries and wristbands worn endorsing abstinence around the country throughout the late ’80s and early ’90s. For a generation fed a steady diet of “just wait until you’re married for sex,” why are so many of us losing our virginity before we say “I do”? What is causing the growing chasm between our Christian belief and sexual purity?

I suspect much of our early understanding of sexuality is at fault, being reduced to just saying no instead of developing a holistic view of human sexuality through a person’s entire lifespan, fully integrating it with God’s plan.

Compartmentalizing Sexuality

When I moved to New York City in the years following college, I was devastated to learn how many of my Christian friends were regularly hooking up at bars and sleeping with boyfriends and girlfriends with no plans for marriage. And more than that, they didn’t seem to feel bad about it. The subcultural sentiment was that abstinence is worth preaching through the college years as parental influence wanes and students bumble through the early years of adulthood. But for twenty and thirtysomething Christians, for mature adults who had yet to find the one and had been battling hormones for a decade-plus, waiting was child’s play. Celibacy amongst my Christian peer group was viewed as cute and commendable, but certainly not crucial.

Despite the disappointment I felt over my friends’ behavior, there wasn’t much room for judgment. At the core they were simply living out the compartmentalization of sexuality that was also present in my heart. From the day I received my True Love Waits Bible in junior high school, I locked up my sexual desire to be opened only in case of marriage. Like Prisca Bird wrote for the Good Women Project, I wore my virginity as a badge of honor, latching onto “the image of myself as the radical abstinence practitioner” and one who would remain chaste to “fight the good fight.” I was unable to view human sexuality as a gift, holy and blessed by God. By failing to embrace my sexual identity in the midst of tempering my desire, I inadvertently called evil what God had deemed good.

You see, promiscuity and abstinence can be two sides of the same coin. Both can hint at an insufficient understanding of God’s intention for sex, his blessing of it in the context of marriage, and his creation of his people as sexual beings. So preaching only abstinence is not the answer.

Harder Than the Olympics

We need a new conversation around sexuality in the church — one that doesn’t insist on the wait without the while. We need a conversation that acknowledges our sexuality along a continuum and prepares men and women of Christ to engage in their own sexual development, desire, and growth while they move throughout the seasons of life and relationship. It can’t be left at telling 15-year-olds to “just say no.” We need an open discussion around what it looks like to abstain at 33 when marriage is nowhere on the horizon or at 27 when engaged and just days from saying I do.

That’s why it’s helpful to have a new wave of Christians coming forward to reengage the public on the topics of sexuality and faith. This past May, when 29-year-old Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones talked about the difficulty of being a virgin into her late twenties, saying it was the hardest thing she’s ever done in her life — “harder than training for the Olympics” — we could almost hear the shouts of “could the Church get an Amen!” (See the video below.)

Jones’ acknowledgment of the tension of feeling sexual desire while also affirming a commitment to abstinence revealed an important dynamic in the vow of purity: it’s not easy. There will be temptation and desire while waiting. But as believers, we endure the struggle because we know that the testing of our faith always produces perseverance leading to godly character and a hope for the future (James 1:3, Romans 5:4).

Good Enough to Wait For

On the flipside, there can be joyful anticipation while waiting. One of the best examples in recent years of this is bombshell actress Meagan Good, who has long since been a movie vixen playing sexy roles in Jumping the Broom and most recently Think Like A Man. This spring Good, a Christian, publicly shared her commitment to abstain from sex until she wed her Seventh Day Adventist pastor and film executive husband DeVon Franklin. Despite her commitment, for the past year she has been able to exude sex appeal onscreen. Chastity doesn’t have to mean wearing a habit and ignoring our sexual identity. Though we exercise self-control, as responsible adults we are free to tap into our sexuality, own our appeal, and recognize our desire. Good’s story shows us that true love doesn’t wait; it develops.

Christian adults must carry on the conversation of abstinence to the next phase. It’s not just a youth issue. If we could more openly discuss the tingling we feel, the occasional knockout attraction we have to the opposite sex or the times where our sex drives lull, I believe we might find that we’re able to maintain purity much later into adulthood. Because when we don’t talk about it, we allow the normal ebb and flow of sexual desire to become associated with shame and guilt over what we’re experiencing. And since the desire won’t go away, we’re forced to relieve the shame by separating our morality from our behavior.

We’ve got to get talking and see ourselves afresh as sexual beings, moving gradually and prayerfully through stages of sexual expression until marriage where it’s fulfilled. Because “not yet” is much easier to digest than “no.” Our sexuality, today, is an integral part of who God has created us to be, and like all things must be celebrated while also put in submission to Christ.

Loving Bravely
8 Ways to Pull Yourself Up When You’re Going through Hell
5 Questions Many Christians Forget to Ask While Dating

Recommended Resources

For further study and reflection, Chanel suggests these books (and website):

Song of Solomon (live on the wild side and read it using The Message)

Sheet Music: Uncovering the Secrets of Sexual Intimacy in Marriage by Dr. Kevin Leman

Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together by Mark and Grace Driscoll

A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue by Wendy Shalit

Good Women Project (this month is dedicated to the topic of sex)

Editor’s Note: Chanel married her soulmate, Lanre Dokun, last month.

Seven Olympians to Watch

Ever since the news media got wind of the fact that 29-year-old U.S. Olympic team hurdler Lolo Jones is a virgin who doesn’t plan to have sex until she gets married, we’ve been eager to find out more about other Olympians of color who have unique stories of faith and perseverance. Now Colorlines has helped us along by introducing us to some other U.S. athletes who are heading to London for the games July 27-August 12. So, we’re spring-boarding off their post with a roundup of seven Olympians we’ll be watching in London.

Lolo Jones

Lolo Jones

Let’s start with Jones, who didn’t make Colorlines list. Although she placed third at the U.S. Olympic trials last month and will compete in London, the pressure from her public declaration may have contributed to a less than stellar performance, The Los Angeles Times reported.  Although “She could have tried to shrug off her obviously slow start and labored effort during the middle of the race … she turned the occasion into a public self-flaying, though it’s unclear if that sprang from a drive for perfection or a response to the pressure that has mushroomed around her because of her good looks, the inspiring story of her impoverished childhood, and her recent remarks in an HBO interview about her faith and her virginity,” the article said. All we know is that Jones is not afraid to let people know what she believes, and we give her props for that.

Allyson Felix

Allyson Felix

Another Christian competing this year is 28-year-old runner Allyson Felix, who tied for third place in the 100 meter dash trials with her training partner Jeneba Tarmoh. Twenty-two year old Tarmoh backed out of a proposed run-off for the Olympic spot, allowing Felix to advance, NBC News reported.  Tarmoh will be an alternate. In a statement, Felix said she wanted to earn her spot in the 100 and was disappointed that the run-off did not take place, but either way she was already set to run her main event, the 200 meter sprint.

Felix won silver medals in 2004 and 2008. In a 2008 article, Yahoo Voices quoted her as saying, “My faith is definitely the most important aspect of my life. … My dad is a pastor and I grew up in a very strong Christian home. Our family was very involved in our church. I’m currently a work in progress, and like everyone else I face struggles every day.”

Lia Neal

Lia Neal

Seventeen-year-old Neal is of African American and Chinese American descent, but only the second Black female to qualify for the U.S. team, according to The New York Times. Her mother told Life and Times that she believes her daughter, who attends Convent of the Sacred Heart school in Manhattan, is “blessed.” After the trials, Mrs. Neal said, “[Lia] wanted to do well and earn her spot. It came true. I just thank God for it.”

Cullen Jones

Cullen Jones

First from the Colorlines list is 28-year-old swimmer Cullen Jones. He “has worked extensively to encourage African-American kids to take up swimming through the ‘Make A Splash initiative, according to Clutch magazine. After qualifying for two individual events, Jones said his plan is “not to let the U.S. down,” The Charlotte Observer reported.

Chaunté Lowe

Chaunté Lowe

For 28-year-old high jumper Chaunté Lowe, juggling a second child with gold-medal dreams is more challenging now that she has a second child, according to The Los Angeles Times. Lowe and her husband Mario have two daughters, aged 14 months and four years.  She told The Times that it was easier to “tag-team” parent with one child than it is with two. Now, she says, “I don’t have that freedom to just move around and train the way that I want to. But I’m a parent first and I have to take care of my responsibilities and when there’s extra time I get to go take care of the other stuff.”

John Orozco

John Orozco

Gymnast John Orozco “has his sights set on achieving Olympic gold and using that platform to give his family a better life,” according to Business Insider. Orozco, who is Peurto Rican, grew up in a tough neighborhood in the Bronx, the article said. When he was ten, he and his brothers were assaulted by a gang of guys as they walked home from church. His mother suffers from lupus and rheumatoid arthritis and, in 2007, his father had a stroke in 2007, BI reported, and he gave up college eligibility to go pro in 2011.

Gabrielle Douglas

Gabrielle Douglas

Sixteen-year-old gymnast Gabrielle Douglas is called “Flying Squirrel” by U.S. women’s national team coordinator Martha Karolyi because of her “height-defying release moves on the uneven bars,” The Los Angeles Times reported. She too has faced family challenges. Her mother, Natalie Hawkins, told The Times that she “almost went into a depression,” when Gabrielle left their home at 14 to train in Iowa with renowned coach Liang Chow. Hawkins said is finalizing her divorce from with Douglas’ father and that the father in the host home where she lives is “an awesome father figure” for her.

Colorlines featured Native American synchronized swimmer Mary Killman today, and  Hawaiian volleyball Tamari Miyashiro and Cuban American gymnast Danell Leyva were also featured in their roundup.

So, which Olympians of color inspire you?