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The America of Tim Keller and Jim Brown
By John Wood Jr., National Ambassador, Braver Angels
May 21, 2023

We lost two great, albeit very different, Americans this past Thursday: Bishop Timothy Keller, evangelical pastor and founder of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, and Jim Brown, the NFL legend whose political activism made his a voice to be reckoned with on the national stage.

They would seem to have nothing to do with each other. Yet in each of them I observe a legacy of conscience and independence that bears witness to a deeper understanding of what it is to be an American.

Tim Keller was a voice of conscience in evangelical America, and a man who paid a price for his independence of mind. I knew Tim, though not well. In my exposure to him, I noted the lament with which he looked upon an evangelical movement that he felt had forsaken true Christian charity for political ideology.

The author of The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, and literally dozens of other books, Keller in recent years came under fire by others in the evangelical movement for his criticisms of its embrace of President Trump and a politics he believed were out of step with Christian conscience.

I did not know Jim Brown personally, but I dodiv know that he was an icon in American life. Not unlike his younger peer in national sports, Muhammad Ali, the three-time MVP award winner and Super Bowl champion put his name and voice forward in support of civil rights.

For decades, Brown’s leadership in the Black community has been recognized. But his stature as a civil rights activist and icon did not prevent him from being sharply criticized for public encouraging President Donald Trump.

“I should be criticizing Trump at every level because he does certain things that call for criticism,” Brown said. “But when I look at television I see all these announcers become experts and they’re pointing the fingers and they’re not doing a doggone thing but pointing their fingers, I find myself really pulling for the president.”

Tim Keller and Jim Brown were men with starkly different politics and experiences. They were not afraid to sacrifice their reputations on their side of the political and cultural divide because they were also men of conviction and conscience. They showed an independence of thought that demonstrates something central to the American character - a willingness to defy the expectations of others in order to do what you feel is right.

I doubt Brown and Keller ever met, and it’s likely that no one has ever associated one with the other in print before the day that marked their passing. But it seems proper to me to note that between the two of them, they show us that courage and conscience are virtues that cross the divide.


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