April 16, 2021

What Constitutes Religious Freedom?

There’s an article today regarding religious freedom in America tangentially while discussing the chaplaincy in Major League Baseball. It’s been known for some time that the easiest way to fight Christianity is to try to marginalize it by saying it’s personal thing that should only be practiced in our homes, and not something you should try to convert people into believing. Here it is again:

Imagine working in an office where volunteer Christian chaplains maintained a steady presence, meeting one-on-one with your co-workers, organizing Bible studies and chapel services on the premises, reaching out – sometimes subtly, sometimes not – to the unconverted with the imperative to accept Jesus. Such is the state of affairs in major league sports, which has become conspicuously religious in this generation.

It is certainly no coincidence that pro athletes often gesture to God during play and frequently credit the Lord for their touchdowns and home runs. These displays go hand in hand with the efforts of the evangelical sports ministries that have been hard at work to Christianize the sports world. The aim: to cater to players’ distinct spiritual needs and, more important, to use the tremendous influence of sports to bring the evangelical Christian message to the public.

So, now they don’t like that influence– it’s not personal enough. People actually believe what they preach and want to share the good news. But since all paths lead to Heaven, we need to be more balanced. Read on:

But to see the sports ministries merely as a resource for athletes would be to miss a major part of their purpose. Since the founding of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes more than a half-century ago, sports world Christianity has been decidedly evangelical, coming straight from the conservative end of the religious and cultural spectrum and dedicated to promoting the faith.

The chaplains are not on hand to support a Jewish player’s Torah study or to counsel a Muslim in his daily prayers to Allah. The ministries’ message is strong and exclusive: Accepting Jesus as your lord and savior is the one and only path to salvation. As Baseball Chapel proclaims on its website, “Our purpose is to glorify Jesus Christ.”

After the recent episode with the Nationals, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, a prominent Orthodox Jewish leader in Washington, complained that the team’s clubhouse was being used to “preach hatred.” That’s probably an exaggeration. In my experience, team chaplains tend to be good-hearted men with genuine concern for the athletes, Christian and non-Christian. Even so, it is undoubtedly true that baseball, like the National Football League and National Basketball Association, has allowed itself to become a prime proselytizing vehicle for the evangelical sports ministries. No similar privilege is enjoyed by other religious movements.

That is inherently problematic for leagues trying to maintain the widest possible appeal. The Ryan Church incident was hardly the first in which a fervent Christian athlete made remarks condemning one group or another. What must baseball’s marketing department think when a Christian player voices his belief in a manner likely to alienate Jews or, for that matter, other Christians or non-believers?

Upon completion of Selig’s review, baseball could conceivably kick out the chaplains, as the Nationals did with Moeller. A better solution? Let them stay, but put them and the players they serve on notice that major league sports do not exist for the chief purpose of promoting Christianity. Tell them that disparaging other religions will not be tolerated. Provide chapel services that are devoted to inclusive prayers respectful of a wider range of religious beliefs. Give representatives of other faith traditions equal access.

Don’t kick out the evangelical chaplains. Just give them some company – and competition.

And if Christianity is the only way, you’re in trouble.

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