If God 'favors' one team does He 'disfavor' the other?
WHY BAD THEOLOGY MATTERS.
We now have a son at USC Medical School, so we’re having to get used to some garnet and black in the house, but our color is mostly orange.
My wife’s family has deep ties. A first cousin, Phillip W. Rogers, was a star receiver years ago, and “Wiggie’s” last gridiron record fell only a few seasons back.
Wiggie’s sister, Almeda Rogers Jacks, was just recognized for 40 years of service, retiring as a VP for the university. And Amy and I spent the first five years of our ministerial careers on Tiger Boulevard, working at the First Baptist Church. We’ve never painted any of our cars (or dyed our hair!) orange, but we generally support the guys wearing proper Tiger colors. So, most of our family was tuned-in two Saturday nights back, having had long-ago marked out that evening for a date with Clemson football.
And I’ve been a fan of Dabo Swinney from the beginning, though from a distance. Not being a sports junkie I don’t have a lot to go by, but the coach’s character and integrity come through loud and clear, and you have to love his excitement for the game.
Some of his players are monstrous, 300-pound men, but in view of “three score and ten years” (to quote a little scripture), they’re all still kids. And football, despite the idolatrous time and money we give to it, is after all, just a game. Dabo seems to understand that (the kids and the game), and I appreciate his ability to put things in perspective. About football.
But about theology… Well, that may be another matter!
After Clemson won its 29th consecutive game, against Ohio State, thanks to a lot of help from a game-full of questionable calls that all went Clemson’s way, Dabo ventured out of sport and into theology. I don’t have an issue with someone sharing his faith. We could probably use a little more of it. (It might even be worth trying to make into a career…)
No, sharing faith isn’t problematic. But, bad theology is. In an after-game interview the award-winning coach gave at least partial credit for his team’s record-breaking win-streak, not to good refereeing, and not to an offensive playbook or a good defensive strategy, and not to training and hard-work, and not to world-class athletes and stellar play, and not even to the “luck” my Clinton coaches taught me to trust (“Luck is when skill meets opportunity!”). All of those would have been appropriate. Instead, the coach gave credit for a football victory to “…the favor of God.”
To no one’s surprise, there’s been a lot of talk about this on social media, a lot of critics – and a boatload of the coach’s Evangelical supporters who are defending him against those “godless liberals” who can’t appreciate a man sharing his personal testimony on national TV.
But Evangelicals are the ones who should be the most concerned about such a witness, because they have the most to lose from faith carelessly stated. Bad theology is bad for everyone. It’s especially bad for the Church.
I know I risk joining into the fray, creating more viral anger in a world that doesn’t need any more viral anger – but, we really do need to think about this, because whether you mean it or not, when you literally say God favors your team, you’re also “saying” (with less words but more condemnation), that God literally disfavors the other team. Does God actually pick the winners and losers in kids’ games? And, if so, what all does that imply?
Years ago I met a young woman as I was making a pastoral visit in a Birmingham hospital. When she learned I was a minister, but sensed I was a safe listening ear, her pain just gushed out.
She and her husband had been active in a young couples’ Sunday school class during that stage when everyone else seemed to be getting pregnant. Why-ever the biology worked as it did, however, “the favor of God” would not be hers to share. After hearing one-too-many Sunday school celebrations: “We’re pregnant – God has blessed me with a child!” she finally got the message: God had blessed the other women – but God had cursed her.
Now, no one in that Sunday school class may have believed exactly that; no one said it, literally – but they didn’t have to use words. The logic is crystal clear.
And if God literally “favors” some, cursing others in the process with bitter childlessness (and lost football championships), this was no God this young woman could trust, much less worship. That day in the hospital I was saddened by my encounter with one more (of the far too many) formerly-faithful. Being reminded of “the favor of God” hurt too much, because of all that this implied, so she walked out. It wasn’t bad luck, poor preparation, or a superior opponent that drove her from church, it was faith, carelessly expressed.
What Evangelicals need to understand is that bad theology, faith carelessly expressed, is bad for Evangelicals – and since many people don’t know the difference between an Evangelical and a Mainline Protestant or a Pentecostal or a Roman Catholic, and because most have no that idea progressive Christians even exist – the rest of us are suffering the consequences, too, by association.
It is possible to express one’s faith, to acknowledge God’s presence in all things (“…every perfect gift is from above…,” to quote a little more scripture), without condemning everyone else in the process. But that is not something that can be done without sober theological reflection and careful consideration. This being the case, football coaches might be advised to stick to sports analysis when someone puts a mic in their face after a big win.
There’s just too much to lose otherwise.
(Dr. Russ Dean is a graduate of Clinton High School. He and his wife, Rev. Amy Jacks Dean, also a CHS graduate, are co-pastors of Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte.)