Is it appropriate for athletes to praise God after victories?
Whether we win or lose, we are all equal in God's eyes
The Rev. Ray Fancher, interim pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 2415 Clinton Parkway: In 325 CE, the emperor Constantine, who had become Christian, decided the whole empire should be Christian. Actually, the emperor decided all his subjects would be baptized or beheaded. And suddenly there was a groundswell of religious fervor until the entire empire was "Christian." Some say the church has never recovered!
In fact, during the mid-1840s a brilliant Danish philosopher articulated the result: the impossibility of being truly Christian in a Christian society. He pointed to the truth that the demands of the Christian life can never be equated with the societal expectations of acceptable behavior.
And certainly athletic events today, a kind of civil religion for many, do carry a huge weight of expectations with regard to acceptable behavior. I have grave concerns when God fits comfortably with our cultural expectations. So I wonder how those who kneel for a prayer of thanks after the winning touchdown understand God. What is the purpose of prayer in that context?
¢ If we believe God is on "our side," does that mean God is not for the opponent?
¢ Is it only after victories and not losses that we praise God?
¢ In that context, is prayer an expression of faith in a God of mystery, or more an expression of the fervor of competition?
¢ Is prayer like a subtle attempt to win the crowd to our religious belief?
I believe God is equally concerned about "winners" and "losers," "our side" and "their side." And, despite the populist message from today's preachers of prosperity, prayer is not a direct line to God by which we achieve our personal victories. God's love creates us all and will not be used to turn one part of God's creation against another.
- Send e-mail to Ray Fancher at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sporting events should take a back seat to other events
The Rev. Ira DeSpain, campus minister, Baker University: I can think of several ways to address this question, so I'll comment briefly from a number of different angles:
1. There is plenty of evidence in both the Old and New Testaments that we are to "always and everywhere give God thanks and praise." So, in that sense, "yes," it is appropriate for athletes to praise God after victories, just as it is appropriate for athletes to praise God after defeats.
That's right! Our lives are to be lived as acts of thanksgiving, so win or lose, what we offer on the field or court of competition is an offering to God. People who are called by God to fields of competition are to use their competitive skills to the best of their ability and then thank God for the chance to do so.
2. I don't think that God intervenes in our games. I don't think one side wins because God likes them better, or because one side is more faithful than the other (if that were the case, then I would feel really sorry for the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Bengals).
So, I believe it would be inappropriate for an athlete to claim God's special intervention in victory any more than I would expect the loser of a competition to blame the loss on God's vengeance. I believe that God smiles like a parent upon us while we play our games. Athletics are about ways for us to re-create our skill, strength and mental toughness.
3. My son has been deployed to Iraq two times, for a total of 14 months. I do not believe that the mind of God can be distracted, but in the big picture, nations at war, the famine in Niger and a host of catastrophic events in the world are in greater need of our prayer than the outcome of a particular two- or three-hour sporting event.
- Sent e-mail to Ira DeSpain at email@example.com.