With the Jim Tressel debacle behind us for a few moments, a CNN beliefnet blogger had a take on Evangelism and Sports. He questions whether or not sports and Christianity really do go together as “peanut butter and jelly” as Deon Sanders once put it. He quotes another athlete, former Houston Astros 3rd Basemen Morgan Ensberg: “The entire reason I play baseball is so that I get a chance to speak about Christ.” The question he raises is fairly simple and straightforward: is big time spectator sports really the best venue for the promotion of Christianity.
I can’t say that I totally agree with his take, but I think he does bring up some valid concerns.
1.) The number of Christian athletes who profess Christ, but fall into some serious public sins. Eugene Robinson soliciting a prostitute the night before the Super Bowl is sadly only one example of many. Some folks, for some time, might do better at just (said tongue in cheek of course as all work can still glorify God) being a Christian ball player: not speaker, not writer. Their teammates will know, even if the media doesn’t. And that’s OK. It might not be a bad idea for some players to turn down speaking engagements. Perhaps for a season, perhaps longer. I don’t think its a bad idea to wait some time (and mature) before you publicly promote your faith and join the “circuit.” We’ve seen how easy it is for folks to fall.
2.) Perhaps Christian athletic promoters have borrowed a bit too much for the marketing of this world. If someone is promotable, go and promote them. Make money off them. Or get them in front to tell people about Jesus. Sounds good on the front end, but what about the back side? Perhaps those promoting athletes like publishers need to offer or require more discipleship, accountability, fellowship? Or perhaps those promoting Christian athletes need to be choosier? It’s tough to argue against his penultimate paragraph:
The ability to draw a huge audience does not make a given cultural venue an appropriate platform for promoting Christian faith — not if that venue promotes win-at-all-costs behavior and values that are in such deep tension with the central message of the religious “product” being sold.
3.) Skeptics will be present regardless, and “fallen” Christian athletes probably don’t necessarily hurt the spread of the gospel. While one hostile to Christianity may point to Tressel as an example for why he or she doesn’t believe, or why he or she doesn’t think Christianity belongs in sports, the same person will overlook the Dungy’s and Tebow’s. There will always be “haters,” and people will always blame their lack of belief on something other than their own hardness of heart.
4.) This lad seems optimistic about the future of sports and Christianity, citing Athletes in Action as a positive example that winds of change are blowing.
The new currents are tugging sports ministry toward a model where it’s not about exploiting sports as part of a marketing strategy, but about serving them as a prophetic force for their moral betterment.
I just don’t know what this looks like, but I would definitely be interested in hearing it explained. Maybe I’ll email this lad.
Just how to practice and express one’s Christian faith in sports may not be as simple as I once thought. I appreciate this lad’s thoughts even though I’m still chewing on some of them, and may spit one or two out.