The Rev. Rob Baldwin, pastor, Trinity Episcopal Church, 1011 Vt.:
While the Episcopal Church doesn’t have any restrictions regarding playing sports on Sunday, I can appreciate the desire of people to respect a day dedicated to worship.
In the end, a person’s religion is about the value you place upon it. By that I mean when posed with a difficult choice, and your faith’s teachings dictate one thing while other factors in your life (professional responsibilities, politics, etc.) suggest another, then the decision you make illustrates to God, yourself, and to the world what is truly important to you.
I had a professor who once said that whatever trumps everything else in your life is your religion, even if it has nothing to do with God. Choosing your faith over athletic pursuits, or any other pursuit for that matter, means that your relationship with God is your religion.
— Send email to Rob Baldwin at email@example.com.
Deacon Godsey, pastor of vision implementation at Vintage Church, Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, 1400 Mass.:
The short answer is, no, they shouldn’t if it conflicts with their religious beliefs. To do so would violate one’s conscience, which is rarely (if ever) a good thing.
A necessary follow-up, however, is: does their religion explicitly forbid the athlete from competing in certain circumstances, or is it a matter of personal conviction that may or may not apply to others of the same faith?
Some Christians, for example, choose not to compete on Sundays in light of their beliefs about the “Sabbath” day of rest. In light of that conviction, it’s good for them to abstain from competing in a way that would violate their conscience. The most famous example here is that of British runner Eric Liddell, portrayed in the Oscar-winning film “Chariots of Fire.” (Liddell refused to run his best event at the 1924 Olympics when it was scheduled on a Sunday.)
Other followers of Jesus, like myself, apply the principle of Sabbath differently, and are totally at peace with competing on a Sunday. The obvious example of Tim Tebow comes to mind: if he can’t compete on Sundays, he’s clearly chosen the wrong profession. (Others might think that anyway, but that’s a different issue altogether.)
Muslim athletes deal with this principle as well, in light of the fasting restrictions during the month of Ramadan. Hall of Fame NBA center Hakeem Olajuwon faced this on an annual basis and was able to be true to his faith and to his team, by both fasting and helping his team win NBA championships (ironically, many have noted that his play and statistics improved during that stretch of the season.)
For me, it’s a matter of personal conviction. If your religion allows for it and you’re at peace with it, then I’d say, “Have at it.” If it’s clearly forbidden or you don’t feel at peace with it, then — for what it’s worth — I’d say, “Don’t do it.” Basically: don’t avoid it out of unnecessary false guilt, but don’t engage in it and violate your conscience either.
— Send email to Deacon Godsey at firstname.lastname@example.org.