Saturday, July 29, 2006
What Would Jesus Do - Bunt or Swing Away?
At Thursday's Braves game, bring a glove - and a Bible?
By Patrik Jonsson | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
ATLANTA – After the final at-bat of Thursday's game between the Atlanta Braves and Florida Marlins, the stadium seats will turn into pews.
That's because it's "Faith Day" at Atlanta's Turner Field. No, the hot-dog vendors won't preach John 3:16. But churchgoing fans - with, promoters hope, their non-Christian friends in tow - will assemble after the game to hear Braves star pitcher John Smoltz share how his life changed by believing in Christ.
Part evangelism, part marketing, all baseball, the Faith Day movement began in baseball's minor leagues after 9/11, capturing the mood of a country that began singing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch. "Faith does coalesce with sports in a more substantial way today than [in the past]," says Andy Overman, a former athlete and minister who teaches classics at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn.
Atlanta may be a natural candidate. Half the team professes Christian faith. It's the buckle of the Bible Belt. And Christian promotions here go back to 1983, when the Atlanta Hawks held "God and Country Night."
I honestly have very little problem with this. I mean, there's already gay nights, "Latin music" nights, Boy Scout nights, what have you. Disney does the same sort of thing. Saying it's "part" marketing is a little disingenuous, since it's clearly ALL marketing, but the right-wing evangelical community seems to have long had a very friendly relationship with every conceivable expression of capitalism, so even that's not any sort of surprise.
Honestly, my only problem is the absolute nerve the Braves, the marketers, and even the otherwise smart Christian Science Monitor have in agreeing to call something "Faith Night" when it is really "Evangelical Protestant Night." This is not a place for a majority of People of Faith. It's not for Jews, it's not for Muslims (can you imagine?), it's not for Hindus, and it's most certainly not for progressive Christians, Unitarians, Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, or (for the most part) Catholics. Or, for that matter, Christian Scientists.
The brand(R) of Christians who have taken control of the meaning of terms "Christian" and "Faith" include the nondenominational but quite conservative suburban megachurch crowd, the Tim LaHaye apocalyptics, the Southern Baptists and other fundamentalist powerbrokers. Conservative Catholics (and Mormons) have made their own Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with these folks, but they're not really part of them. They seem to get to decide, as far as mainstream discourse, that only born-agains, only those who have spoken "the words," are true Christians.
And, sickeningly, the media is more than happy to use the terms "Christian" and "Faith" as shorthand to talk about this very high-profile group. (And when people call out this encroaching rhetorical and political hegemony of the conservatives, they are accused of being "anti-Christian.") I have yet to see any media discussion of this hijacking of terms.
Anyway, as far as the Braves go, it's interesting that their first "Faith" night coincides with what will surely be their first season out of the playoffs in a bazillion years. Perhaps they would have been better off having "Faith" night be an evening of just George Michael songs? I know I'd be a lot more likely to show up.