I had a record number of responses to the last Langstaff Letter, so I wanted to include some of them in this follow-up letter, along with some further observations.
IT’S NOT JUST AMERICA
The trend in society for sport to become a new religion is not just limited to America. It is happening in many other places in the world. Soccer is possibly the biggest of the them all and it has become a religion in many countries, Brazil probably being one of them. Cricket is like a religion in places like Pakistan and Australian Rules Football in places like Melbourne, Australia.
I received a response from Tasmania that spoke of the same situation regarding sport and church in Australia: Loved the article on Sport and Faith. How very true it is that the great stadiums of the world have taken over from the great Cathedrals and Churches. But, seeing how you came to the United States from Australia it should not have been much of a surprise to find sport taking over from faith and worship. In Melbourne, Western Australia, Sydney and Brisbane Australian Football commands an almost mystical membership and witness. People are “born” into it, their preferred clubs being chosen by parents , a bit like Holy Baptism, and then confirmed by a fanatical support for the particular club. Oh, that Churches could command such followings! The USA in my understanding always had a strong religious content in its sports teams. I remember on one occasion when I was in El Paso attending a pre match breakfast with the University of Texas El Paso, and being asked to pray for the team and for a great result. I was quite amazed at the response to my prayers, especially as the team I prayed for suffered a devastating loss. Perhaps that’s a bit of past history although I know many sportspeople who are wonderful converted Christians. I think we are required to support them as much as we can. They give good examples to the young players coming on.
SPORT AND FAMILY LIFE
One reader pointed out the effect sport has had on family life: I remember when sports started moving in on Sunday mornings many years ago. I became angry with that. Families had to start to choose Sunday worship or sports. Faith/worship/identity is about a relationship with Jesus and then with one another. Sports is about relationship/identity too. A sense of belonging…did those who left church/worship and started going to sporting events have a relationship with Jesus?
SPORT AS AN IDOL
One mother honestly reflected about her son and grandchildren: Appreciate your article, Alan. I forwarded it on to my son, who is very involved in hockey with our grandson and volleyball with our granddaughter. Sometimes I think sports is his god, and I hate to have to say that. On the other hand, sports has been the vehicle for him and his wife to be involved and invested in the children. They have learned valuable life skills like teamwork, commitment, winning and losing, etc. I would love to see that level of commitment to The Lord!
By the way, an idol is anything we love more than the Lord. Anything can fall into that category.
AGAINST THE GRAIN STORY FROM AUSTRALIA
In response to my letter I received a newspaper article about a star Rugby League player Will Hopoate, who plays for my old football team ‘The Canterbury Bulldogs,’ who won’t play on Sunday for religious reasons because of his churches belief that Sunday is the Lord’s day. He has the full backing of his coach, teammates and commentators. It will cost him a lot of money. Will is a Morman and his commitment and loyalty to his church is, for many people, amazing. He even took two years off for missionary service, which probably cost him millions.
This reminds me of Eric Lidell, the Olympic runner whose story was told in the movie ‘Chariots of Fire.’ Eric would not run on Sunday and changed his event to run and win the 400 meters race at the 1924 Olympic Games held in Paris.
SPORTS AND MONEY
One other issue brought to my attention is how money has effected sports at every level, including how parents push their children in the hope that they will become future stars. It is inevitable in a free enterprise society that money will become more and more important. One wonders however, where it will all end. It also effect families, as it has become extremely expensive, even prohibitive, for a family to attend a major sporting event; let alone a Super Bowl game. On top of all this is the amount of money that is spent on baseball and football stadiums.
One last intense letter, this one from Florida:Alan – As Christians we can be sports FANS, but what has transpired is the sports communities/team followers have become FANATICS. Not unlike the remnant of charismatic/spirit filled believers that were labeled derogatorily as fanatics – because we loved with TOO much passion. This IS part of the problem, the church has lost its first love. No fire, let alone smoke in the house of the Lord (the theatrical smoke machines now common in contemporary churches does NOT count).
It is now ACCEPTED to be so devoted that grownups dress like pigs (Hogs) in the dog pound, and face paint is sold by the gallon to college kids. NASCAR loyalist ONLY use the same oil as their favorite driver (its obviously better). Coaches are like demogogues with golden parachute contracts that money is dictating on all fronts. Why are we paying sports figures 10 to 20 million per year? They would play the game for $200,000. Oh, I failed to mention (overlooked) cheating in almost EVERY major sport, the records all require asterisks next to most modern records.
We have pushed the limit to full submission martial arts (including women combatants) and our children are constantly feeding on high-tech, hi-def video gaming that pushes the limits on death and mayhem, that our collective conscience is so seared, we see nothing wrong. It IS now most appropriate to be excessively loyal – and it is worse in the South (especially football). Watch which industries line up for virtual reality goggles (following the porn industry).
All these are signs of the end times and reflect in microcosm another significant yet subtle tell-tale sign believers need to recognize for each aspect of this unfolding leads to the greater systemic breakdown of human existence and setup for a far worst result than just being a “Tide” fan.
Another testimony from football involves the highly acclaimed movie ‘Woodlawn.’ In 1973, a spiritual awakening captured the heart of nearly every player on the Woodlawn High School Football Team. Their dedication to love and unity, in a newly desegregated school that was filled with racism, led to the largest high school football game ever played in the torn city of Birmingham-Alabama and the rise of a superstar Tony Nathan. I highly recommend this movie.
THE CHURCH AND SPORTS
With society becoming more and more secular, I am afraid that as far as Sundays (and other days too) are concerned, sport has taken the front position. Sport has taken over the loyalty of so many and the church will need to recognize this and adjust to some extent, without compromising it’s own convictions. Remember the reference in the last Langstaff Letter about the late Catholic Archbishop of New York Cardinal O’Conner, who took on the Little League and Youth Soccer League in New York City (regarding youth sport on Sundays) and lost.
Let me share a personal story. We have a monthly evening service at our church. I had one planned for Sunday evening September 18th and even invited a speaker. This week, I found out that on that night the Minnesota Vikings are playing their home opener against the Green Bay Packers in the first game in the Vikings new billion dollar stadium. So what do we do? We will probably have to adjust the service time to allow people to get home in time to see the game. Once again, culture wins!
Let’s not throw up our hands in desperation, but rather put our efforts to extending the Kingdom and bringing the gospel to a desperate world that needs more than sport. It needs Jesus!