Sports and the Gospel
Writing for USA Today, Tom Krattenmaker isn't so sure conservative evangelicalism is all-together good for college and professional sports. While he lauds the civic-mindedness of many high profile Christian athletes, Krattenmaker is concerned with the exclusive claims many outspoken Christian athletes make with respect to salvation. From the column:
But Jesus' representatives in sports aren't just practicing faith. They are also leveraging sports' popularity to promote a message and doctrine that are out of sync with the diverse communities that support franchises, and with the unifying civic role that we expect of our teams. Typifying the exclusive creed taught by many sports-world Christians is the belief statement published by Baseball Chapel, which provides chaplains for all major- and minor-league baseball teams. Non-believers in Jesus, the ministry declares, can look forward to "everlasting punishment separated from God."
Urban Meyer, Tebow's coach at Florida, has praised his quarterback's faith-promoting ways as "good for college football ... good for young people ... good for everything." Such is the rhetoric usually heard from those who defend sports-world Christianity as wholesome and harmless.
But should we be pleased that the civic resource known as "our team" — a resource supported by the diverse whole through our ticket-buying, game-watching and tax-paying — is being leveraged by a one-truth evangelical campaign that has little appreciation for the beliefs of the rest of us?
Having researched and thought about Christianity in sports for the better part of a decade, I am impressed by the good that's done by sports-world Christians. Jesus-professing athletes are among the best citizens in their sector, and they commit good deeds daily in communities across this country.
These sports stars, like all Americans, have a right to express their faith.
Evangelical players and ministry representatives in sports aren't out to harm anyone, of course. On the contrary, they see themselves as fulfilling the Bible's Great Commission ("Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," Matthew 28:19). In this sense, their mission is pure altruism: They seek to share the gift of eternal life.
But there's a shadow side to this. If their take on God and truth and life is the only right one — which their creed boldly states — everyone else is wrong.
Of course, there's the rub. Christian athletes like Tim Tebow actually believe in the exclusivity of the Gospel for salvation. And they want others to embrace Christ as their only hope for forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. For many outspoken Christian athletes life is about far more than sports. And out of love for neighbor and their Savior they risk ridicule and offense in saying so.
Here's how Krattenmaker closes:
Is sports-world evangelicalism really "good for everything"? Certainly a lot, but not everything. Not if you're Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, non-evangelical Protestant, agnostic or anything else outside the conservative evangelical camp.
What do you think? Should high-profile athletes use their platform for the proclamation of the Gospel? What guidelines, if any, should be kept in mind?