Bible and baseball

bible baseballSunday’s Washington Post carried an excellent story on faith in baseball. Drawing largely on the local team, the Washington Nationals, for illustrations, reporter Laura Blumenfeld does a fine job of depicting the current state of faith in the dugout.

What follows is my personal highlight, which also happens to be the lead:

Three hours before the game, in the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse, Ryan Church and Matt Cepicky were razzing each other, laughing and dancing around in their shorts.

A sober voice interrupted, “Chapel, 10:45.”

Church and Cepicky nodded. Another player burped. Another swallowed a light blue pill. Another swatted his bat at a teammate’s bare behind.

“Chapel in thirty minutes,” Jon Moeller said, working his way — locker to locker, broad back to back — around the room, distributing a leaflet: “What God Has Done For You.” Moeller, 36, is the chapel leader for the Nationals baseball team. On Sundays, before they play, they pray.

The story touches on some delicate theological issues but appropriately — for this story — the reporter shies away from delving into the details and talking to experts about whether God favors one side or another in a sporting contest. But the color on the subject is fun:

Which raises a theological question. As outfielder Preston Wilson, 31, who also prays during the national anthem, put it: “If the guy on the other team is a better Christian, is the other team going to win?”

Or, put another way: Do the Boston Red Sox, who have the highest chapel attendance in the major leagues, have an unfair advantage?

“I get a ton of people saying, ‘Hey, Wayne, you gotta pray harder for the Brewers,’” said Wayne Beilgard, chapel leader for the Milwaukee Brewers. “I tell them, ‘God doesn’t choose sides in baseball. God is not a Yankees fan.’”

Yet, there is that temptation. One Sunday, during a Nationals game against the San Diego Padres, chapel leader Moeller and his friend Smitley were making the rounds. The game was not going well. Cepicky shattered a bat, and then hit squarely to the first baseman. In the outfield, Church flailed his arms as a ball rocketed over the wall.

“It’s not the Lord’s day,” Moeller mumbled.

With the leaves starting to change, the air feeling crisp, what better timing for a Sunday religion piece tied in with baseball? It’s filled with Bible verses and analogies, with only Nationals Manager Frank Robinson and hitting coach Tom McCraw voicing dissent for personal reaons.

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  • ECJ

    “God is not a Yankees fan.”

    Well, this goes without saying. God is Holy and Just and Righteous. How could He ever be a Yankees Fan? We should rather think of Middle America. Red state America. Hmmm. Middle America. Red. Like say the … Cardinals.

    Much better choice.


  • Michael

    I thought it was a great piece too. The missing question I had, as someone who writes about employment law and workplace issues, is whether it is appropriate to have such overt epxressions of religion in a workplace. Why do baseball players pray, for instance, but not accountants. Does it have something to do with the racial make-up of baseball, the economic background of the players?

    Most importantly, what if you dissent? What do you do if you don’t want to pray or if you are a member of a minority faith that doesn’t believe in the diety who is the centerpiece of a prayer? How much pressure is placed on players to pray and what happens to those who choose not to?

  • Herb Ely

    I think that Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs sets a good example on the issue of Religion in the workplace. He encourages players to attend chapel and is willing to witness as to how God has helped him in his own life. At the same time, he makes it clear that attending chapel will not automatically lead to more playing time. I’ve explored the question of what sports can teach us about workplace spirituality. Please check the link on my website.

  • Philocrites

    See also Bob Hohler’s August 31 front-page article for the Boston Globe: “Faith Binds Many on Sox.”

  • Michael

    The Washington media is reporting that Jewish leaders are upset about the Nationals’ prayers, quetioning whether there is anti-Semitism is afoot.

  • Mark

    I think this is more red state nonsense. They are always putting God into a box – in this case praying to win a baseball game or a NASCAR race. How about Jesus’ commandments to care for the poor, the sick, and the marginalized? How about preventing the destruction of the environment or unprovoked wars? I guess those matters do not fit into the false, self-centered “prosperity gospel” spreading in the red states.

  • tmatt


    Where is the reference to praying to win games? I have been covering this issue for 20-plus years and have never heard a single person pray to win a game — not even in a hyper-religious school context.

    Normally, these prayers are for both teams, praying that there will be no injuries, that players will do their best and other rather tame ideas. Prayers for protection are, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, always appropriate.

    Now, the issue of TEAM prayer that is involuntary raises some questions.

  • Stephen A.

    It only took two postings for someone to make the “separation of church and baseball” argument. Incredible.

    As long as this is voluntary, then the prayer is legal. And I highly doubt anything being said is “anti-semitic” but I also expected that tired, predicatable accusation to crop up rather quickly in some news accounts.

    Though I have to say that I do see the fallacy of those who think praying ‘harder’ for one team or another to win – and I’ve heard people say they do just that. It turns God into a wish-granter, or, if you prefer, turns Jesus into a Genie.

  • AlyD

    I’m more intrigued by the chaplain being a Fed.

  • Michael

    And I highly doubt anything being said is “anti-semitic” but I also expected that tired, predicatable accusation to crop up rather quickly in some news accounts.

    On company time, using company resources, a chaplain is telling an employee:

    “I said, like, Jewish people, they don’t believe in Jesus. Does that mean they’re doomed? Jon nodded, like, that’s what it meant. My ex-girlfriend! I was like, man, if they only knew. Other religions don’t know any better. It’s up to us to spread the word.”

  • Scott Roche

    tmatt wrote:
    Where is the reference to praying to win games?

    From the article:
    “First base coach Don Buford closes his eyes during the national anthem and mumbles a quick, “Lord, help us to win.”"

  • Scott Roche

    How is a Chrisitan saying that according to his theology Jews aren’t saved anti-Semitic?

  • Michael

    Saying Jews are “doomed” to Hell because they don’t have a “born again” experience doesn’t sound anti-Semitic to you? Especially when spoken in your workplace, to co-workers, who are encouraged to Evangelize to save your soul from Hell???

  • Scott Roche

    No way to answer that that you’re going to understnad I suppose but no.

  • Stephen A.

    Michael, I do understand that this kind of talk is utterly offensive to universalist liberals.

    But if you voluntarily join into a Christian prayer and/or worship service (especially if you know the pastor takes his Christian soteriology seriously) you can expect to be treated to a *bit* of exclusivity at some point.

    If people are forced to join in, then we have a problem. I don’t see that here.

    On the other hand, a chaplain leading a service in which the participants of different denominations are participating *can* and should take care to be more general in their statements of theology.

    However, they shouldn’t have to water it down so that the Jewish person or the athiest outside the room can NEVER be offended – which is obviously the real goal of the ‘outrage’ here.

  • Michael

    But in a workplace, should my employer permit employees use company resources on company times to have a prayer meeting where they pray to save the souls of Jewish coworkers who are doomed to Hell unless they are converted? And what happens when they leave that prayer meeting and decide to evangelize in the locker room or during practice?

    While workers may have the right to pray in the workplace, employees also have a right to be free from evangelizing and prostyletizing (and arguably, free to not be the subject of prayers discussing I am doomed to Hell unless I have a born again experience).

    The managers and coaches have smartly decided not to become part of religoius activities, which is when the real problems start.

  • Tim

    Now the Nationals have suspended Moeller over his affirmation that Jews are doomed. I just blogged about it here.

  • Tim

    Oops, maybe my coding didn’t work. Here’s where you can find my post:

  • Michael

    And there you have it. Notice the main complainer is not some oversensitive liberal, but the head of DC’s largest Orthodox congregation.

  • Mark

    Mr. Mattingly:

    As to your question, see Scott Roche’s entry above as well as Moeller’s quote, “It’s not the Lord’s day”. Don’t you think this is a case of mixing the profane with the sacred. Aren’t there more important issues to focus on as Christians when invoking the Lord’s grace and protection?

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