ABC News! What “cloud of witnesses”?

all_saints011Wasn’t that a remarkably Protestant festival of civil religion today at the U.S. Capitol?

As expected, President Barack Obama delivered a speech — text here — soaked in religious and moral imagery, one that civil-religion scholars will be parsing for days to come. At the heart of this was the completely understandable and, frankly, appropriate linking of this political ritual with the history of the civil rights movement and all of the language and imagery that goes with that.

Did you notice, for example, that Aretha Franklin’s improvisation at the end of “My Country ’Tis of Thee” formed a perfect bridge to the event from the final improvised lines of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s great “I Have A Dream” speech?

While setting aside the final words of the song, she added — among other improvised riffs — these words:

Our fathers’ God, to thee, author of liberty, to thee we sing; long may our land be bright with freedom’s holy light; protect us by thy might … let freedom ring … from the red clay of Georgia, all the way to the Allegheny mountains … Let it ring.

King, of course, flowed from the same patriotic hymn into these lines:

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California. …

Franklin changed the Georgia reference from Stone Mountain to “red clay,” but the link is still there.

There was much to think about during and after the ceremonies and that sound you hear is reporters working on it — including me, for Scripps Howard — right now.

Much of the attention will, of course, be focused on that radical man of evangelical America, the Rev. Rick Warren. His enthusiastic invocation included many lines to discuss and, sure enough, reporters are jumping on them.

ABC News quickly filed a report under the headline: “Embattled Pastor Warren Sets Inclusive Tone at Inaugural — Under Fire for Anti-Gay Views, Pastor Warren Mentions ‘Jesus’ in Obama’s Inaugural Invocation But Avoids Controversy.” Wow. Once again, to what degree is Warren controversial across the nation? That report by Susan Donaldson James begins:

Rick Warren, the evangelical pastor who faced criticism for his anti-gay views in the weeks leading up to the inauguration, today delivered an inclusive but deeply religious invocation that celebrated the first African-American president.

“Today we celebrate the hinge point of history in the inauguration of the first African-American president of the United States, a land of unequal possibility where the son of an African immigrant can rise to highest leadership,” he said.

“Dr. King and his witnesses are shouting in heaven,” said Warren, the Christian pastor who leads the 20,000-member Saddleback Church in California.

Speaking to a nation whose religious face increasingly reflects the map of the world, Warren invoked God to “forgive us if we fight amongst ourselves and when we fail to treat our fellow human beings with the respect they deserve.”

Actually, that part of the story includes a major misquote — if you care about Christian tradition and doctrine. Click here to read the actual Warren prayer.

ABC quotes Warren as saying, “Dr. King and his witnesses are shouting in heaven.”

The civil rights leader is, in heaven, surrounded by people who witnesses HIS deeds? I think not. Here is what Warren actually said, in context:

We are so grateful to live in this land, a land of unequaled possibility, where the son of an African immigrant can rise to the highest level of our leadership. And we know today that Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in heaven.

Clearly, Warren is alluding to a much greater assembly in glory, with reference to Hebrews 12:1:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

ABC News needs to run a correction — quickly.

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Preaching history: One square in the quilt

398px-398px-richardsontrinityboston1

Days like this are a reminder that we still need a healthy press.

New media or old media, historic moments demand local observers to chronicle them- and get reactions.

That’s what Boston Globe religion writer Michael Paulson did when he mapped a medley of sermon themes from regional clergy–on the brink of what he called “an improbable moment in the American story.”

Reading his lede, one gets the sense, as we’ve seen in stories from around the country, of the remarkable significance of this day for African-Americans of faith–

A steady snow was falling over a quiet Sunday morning and the roads were still only semi-plowed, but when the Rev. Jeffrey L. Brown looked out across the wooden pews yesterday morning, he saw faces he hadn’t seen in weeks.

“This is the Sunday before the Tuesday,” he said, the significance of the days needing no explanation.

As he stood at the pulpit of a church built in Cambridge 130 years ago by freed slaves, Brown slowly recalled the long journey of slave ships from Africa, the indignities of servitude on plantations, the lynchings, the segregation and the long struggle for civil rights. He told the Union Baptist congregation that just last week, for the first time since he was a boy, he visited the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, wanting for a minute to bask in the aura of the president who signed the Emancipation Proclamation, to recall the stirring oratory of the preacher who had a dream, and to anticipate the inauguration of the first African-American as president.

“Our forebears suffered and died for this moment,” said Brown, 47, whose own great-great-grandfather emerged from slavery to become a sharecropper in North Carolina.

Out of the congregation came the cry, “Amen!”

It’s also fascinating to watch reporters and editors get more and more creative with the way they use interactive tools to bring readers in, and make them part, of the story –particularly huge stories like this one.

Congratulations to Paulson for making his blog Articles of Faith available as a virtual tapestry for local inauguration-themed prayers and sermons — complete with links and photos.

You can graze for a few minutes on sermons from more than two dozen interfaith sermons–or you can get lost for hours.

If anyone has seen something similar from other areas of the country, please send in links.

Today, journalists all over the country are watching as observers of this uniquely American experience. Faith stories are a crucial part of this ongoing story –and surely, not only in Massachusetts!

Picture of Trinity Church, Copley Square is from Wikimedia Commons

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Obama’s shared morality

obama-flyerOne of the more interesting articles I’ve read on Obama’s religious views — and one that would have been welcome during the campaign — was Eli Saslow’s piece in the Washington Post on Sunday titled “Obama’s Path to Faith Was Eclectic.”

The article has far too many unsourced statements for my taste, but I sympathize with the difficulties of getting people to speak on the record or speak succinctly about the topic.

The reporter basically says that for Obama, religion’s biggest benefits are political. He also says that Obama embodies a syncretized religion that boils all doctrine down to a shared morality:

For the president-elect, religion has always been less about theology than the power God inspires in communities that worship Him, friends and advisers said. It has been more than three months since he sat through a Sunday church service and at least five years since he attended regularly, but during the transition, Obama has spoken to religious leaders almost daily. They said Obama calls to seek advice, but rarely is it spiritual. Instead, he asks how to mobilize faith-based communities behind his administration.

Obama grew up the son of an atheist, spent two formative years in a predominantly Muslim school, worked out of an office in a Catholic rectory, accepted Jesus at a traditionally black church and married the cousin of a Chicago area rabbi. His personal journey to faith is a modern amalgamation that friends expect to be reflected not just at his inauguration but in his governing: Obama will reach out to a diverse set of leaders and try to join them in unconventional ways, unconcerned about their theological and political differences. . . .

Now, as Obama prepares for the presidency, he has called on dozens of religious leaders to transcend their doctrinal or sectarian differences and focus instead on their common morality. It’s that belief in universal truths that is the basis of Obama’s faith, advisers said. He has devoted himself to what he considers God’s truth and thereby internalized the golden rule.

The ultimate civil religion president, perhaps? This story is fascinating but it would be nice to have more than just the narrative provided by the reporter.

It also has some other problems. Check out the lede:

The presidential inauguration ceremony on Tuesday will begin and end with prayers from two men whom Barack Obama considers role models, advisers and dear friends. One, Joseph Lowery, is an 87-year-old black liberal Methodist from the Deep South who spent his career fighting for civil rights. The other, Rick Warren, is a 54-year-old white conservative evangelical from Southern California who fights same-sex unions.

Um, I realize that a certain segment of the population would like to reduce Warren to a man who has done nothing other than fight same-sex unions. In fact, Rick Warren opposes the sanctioning of same-sex marriage, not same-sex unions. There’s a difference. Besides, opposition to same-sex marriage is something he shares with the president-elect. Obama’s stated position is that he opposes same-sex marriage. And most importantly, opposition to same-sex marriage is hardly the defining point of Warren’s ministry.

This isn’t a huge religion point, but there’s also a problem here:

As an undergraduate student at Columbia University, Obama read some basic theological texts and felt drawn to Sunday morning services at predominantly black churches in Harlem. When he interviewed in 1985 for a community-organizing position on the South Side of Chicago that required working with churches, it was religion that persuaded him to take the job.

“That was the one aspect that he was really drawn to and wanted to be a part of,” said Jerry Kellman, who hired Obama for a salary of less than $10,000.

It’s the incredible shrinking salary. Obama claimed it was actually $12,000 dollars plus a car (comparable to mid-$20s in current money) and, as Byron York reported in National Review last summer:

“That was a training salary,” Kellman told me when I asked about the $12,000 salary. “If someone did OK, they’d make more. After three or four months, he was up to $20,000, and after three years he was probably making $35,000 or so.”

Obama certainly wasn’t choosing a a high-paying job but there’s no reason to exaggerate the actual salary.

I also found this paragraph a bit confusing:

Obama could talk capably about some religious theory — he studied the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s faith, Catholic novelist Graham Greene and Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. He never spoke in terms of experiencing an awakening, Kellman said. But what Obama lacked in spiritual nuance he compensated for in his reverence for the church’s import in history.

interfaithIs it really lacking in nuance to not speak in one particular fashion of personal testimony? Some might say the opposite is true. Here the reporter says it again:

A few years later, Obama returned to Chicago from Harvard Law School to be baptized at Trinity United Church of Christ, with a predominantly black congregation on the South Side led by Wright. Obama had come to realize, he wrote in his 2006 book, “The Audacity of Hope,” that the church “had to serve as the center of the community’s political, economic, and social as well as spiritual life.” He described his baptism not as an epiphany but as a conscious choice.

While it’s nice to see Obama’s actual words about the church as political center, and it’s something that helps substantiate the piece, I’m not sure that the options for how you describe baptism are limited to “epiphany” or “conscious choice.” As a Lutheran, we don’t refer to baptism as a thing you choose but neither would we describe it as an epiphany.

Anyway, the article’s discussion of how Obama viewed churches through a political organizing prism is something I would have liked to see during the campaign. Still, as we prepare for his presidency, it’s an interesting angle to see explored. The article is chock full of details, too. It’s clear the reporter put a lot of time and effort into the piece.

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Not your usual sports & God story

ojbriganceAs a culture, we are still in the midst of the great secular holy season called the NFL playoffs. That means GetReligion readers will have to put up with a few more reports about faith and football, as opposed to the civil religion built around faith IN football.

I know that some readers are especially tired of mega-rich superstar athletes praying all the time for God’s blessings or giving thanks for for the power to trample opposing players into the turf. Of course, few players actually say that. Most simply pray for the ability to do their best or give thanks after a game is over.

But the Washington Post recently ran a story that took some of these issues up several notches, all the way to life-and-death status. It focuses on the inspirational role that former NFL special-teams star O.J. Brigance is playing in the lives of players with the underdog Baltimore Ravens. The team’s director of player development is working while in a specially constructed wheelchair as he fights amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

He can no longer walk. He cannot stand freely. His arms do not move. His hands lie twisted and helpless on his lap. Speaking is a chore that requires him to thrust his body forward and thrust the words from his mouth. A great voice that boomed across rooms is now hoarse and shallow. His disease destroys the motor neurons that run between the brain and the rest of the body. Eventually it will kill him. It has no cure.

To those who see Brigance every day it is clear he is dying.

Only he believes he will be the first to survive.

“They say I have two to five years,” Brigance, 39, said as he sat at his desk this week. “Everyone is expecting me to die. I do not answer to that plan. God has given me so much more. I’m going to believe Him now rather than what a doctor is saying. We as individuals believe [doctors] and because we believe them we limit ourselves. With God all things are possible. God, I believe, will cure me.”

People with terminal diseases say things like this, of course, and there are cases — often cancer cases — in which miracles happen, cures that leave doctors puzzled. But in this case, it seems that Brigance is bravely charging ahead in a way that is both sad and inspiring, at the same time.

But this is not the passage that caught my eye.

When you are dealing with Godtalk in sports, it is often hard to separate the faithful believers from people who know how to point toward the heavens, but that’s about it. One thing that reporters and then readers can look for is hard evidence that an athlete has been consistently involved in a religious community, especially if that includes consistent leadership in worship or public service. Think Tony Dungy.

However, there is another trait for which one can look. It’s a matter of theology. Look for signs of repentance. It is one thing to profess faith that one will be healed. It is another thing to look for the hand of God in the suffering itself, to say that one has learned about strength through the experience of weakness.

Thus, read this passage about Brigance and his trials:

There is an arrogance many athletes have when it comes to their fitness. Sitting in his office, Brigance chuckled slightly as he considered this, nodding in agreement. Perhaps more than even facing a prognosis of death, this is the hardest adjustment: Suddenly, he is without the thing that once made him invulnerable.

“Who are you?” he asked. “When your physical prowess is taken away, who are you? We build our lives on things that are temporary and when these things are taken away who are you inside? That’s one of the great blessings I’ve had. I can see I’m more than an athlete.”

Wait, there is more.

“One of my favorite quotes came during 9/11: Adversity introduces us to ourselves. You are going to find out what’s inside when you go through adversity. I’ve found some things in myself that I’m not proud of. I’ve been given the opportunity to go through it and become a better man.”

He was asked what those things were. His eyes smiled.

“Do not ask about that,” he said.

“We all put on our masks,” he continued. “And we’re trying to make ourselves a certain way. When all that is taken away, who are you? I’m humbled a lot more. I’m a man who will serve God to the best of my abilities. I control nothing.”

Amen. That is not your usual message from a football story. Read it all.

Photo: From the Baltimore Ravens home page.

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Words from a Christian radical

obama-joseph-lowery-articleIt’s hard to write about a minister without talking about what the man believes, in terms of the Christian faith. At the same time, I imagine that it’s hard for folks at the edgy Style section of the Washington Post to write about faith issues, period, especially when dealing with a Civil Rights Movement giant who is now in the orbit of President-elect Barack Obama.

Still, Krissah Thompson’s news feature on the Rev. Joseph Lowery does give you some sense of the man. But the best anecdote in this story, irony of ironies, actually describes the hole on the story’s soul.

Describing media and public perceptions of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. — with whom he co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957 — Lowery gets rolling on a gospel train and we read:

“They have made Martin a glorified social worker, and they have almost made our young folks believe that all Martin did was go around dreaming,” Lowery says. “He was a nonviolent militant. He was a Christian radical.”

He titled his last sermon of 2008 “The Four Fathers,” and delivered it while sitting on a stool behind the big wooden pulpit at Antioch Baptist Church North, describing how George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, King and Barack Obama have all ushered in new American eras.

“For white folks in the South to vote for a black man as president is drastic. This is revolutionary,” Lowery says. “The Democratic Party can take credit, but the Democrats didn’t do it. God did it. God was in the plan. Nobody else could have gotten these white folks to vote for a Negro named Barack Obama.”

Strong words that would, on several levels, raise eyebrows in many pews and in the power corridors of Washington, D.C.

What does Lowery mean by that? How does his faith in Obama line up with his faith in Jesus Christ? What are the doctrinal differences between this elderly lion of the pulpit and, let’s say, a certain retired preacher from Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago?

Well, you’ll need to read some other story for that information. This story comes close to painting Lowery as a glorified political activist.

However, you will learn, of course, where he stands on the issue that matters most today, which is the Rev. Rick Warren’s beliefs on sexuality. Only, even there this story balks and fails to follow the logic of Lowery’s words to the end. Try to follow this:

Lowery, who supports civil unions, has already spoken out about Obama’s controversial selection of the Rev. Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation, which has been protested by gay rights groups because of disparaging comments Warren has made about gays and his support of the California proposition to ban same-sex marriage.

“I understand the protesters and I disagree vehemently with some of the nasty things Brother Warren said about gay people. I support civil rights for all citizens. I don’t think you can fragment civil rights,” Lowery says. “I have also said to gay groups, ‘If y’all can stop talking about marriage and start talking about civil unions it would change things.’ The concept of marriage is so embedded in my soul as being between a man and a woman.”

Now, there is some evidence that Warren also supports civil unions for gays and lesbians or, at least, is willing to discuss that compromise tactic — with definitions of marriage remaining where they have been for age of ages, amen.

It seems that Lowery, too, wants to avoid that fight. So what, precisely, is the nature of this conflict? So be defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, but it is wrong to publicly defend that? The story does not tell us.

But, I will give the Post credit. This feature story does end with one of the most charming preacher anecdotes I have read in a long, long time. Enjoy.

Lowery has been working his inaugural prayer over in his mind. But he had not yet put pen to paper when he got a call two weeks ago from Obama’s religious affairs director, Joshua DuBois, to tell him he will have two minutes on the inaugural stage.

Lowery asked first how long Warren would get. DuBois said the opening prayer has also been allotted two minutes. When Lowery hung up the phone and told his secretary, they both burst out laughing.

“Have you ever said a prayer in two minutes?” she asked.

“I’ve never tried,” Lowery said, smiling, “but they can’t turn the mike off on me.”

You see, my father was a preacher. I know where this man is coming from.

Photo: Obama and Lowery on the campaign trail in Georgia.

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Change at Obama’s (old) church

800px-barack_obama_houstonOh the constant joy it must bring to be a religious person associated with President-elect Barack Obama. With Baptist minister Rick Warren being sued by atheists over the use of the Lord’s name in an inauguration prayer, Obama’s old home church appears to be breathing a sigh of relief now that the election is over and Obama has officially moved to Washington, D.C.

On Sunday, The Chicago Tribune published a fairly intimate portrait of a recovering church body that used to be Obama’s spiritual home. After reading the article, one can understand the reason why past presidents such as Ronald Reagan may have avoided attending church while in the presidency.

Trinity United Church of Christ has not been in the news lately, but it was good to see that not all reporters were simply leaving the congregation in seeming shambles in the wake of the scandal that hardly portrayed the institution in a positive light. The Tribune reporters do a solid job explaining that while all the shouting, accusing and assuming was going on during the election, Trinity attempted to continue being a church like any other:

On Sundays, media swarmed the church, pressing members for comment. Protesters parked themselves across the street from the entrance, bludgeoning the faithful with vitriol and insults as they made their way inside.

Security costs for the church skyrocketed to $40,000 weekly, diverting money from missions in Mississippi, New Orleans and nearby Chicago neighborhoods. Church attendance dropped, as more members stayed home to watch worship on the Web. Some expressed doubt about Moss’ leadership. Others, like Obama, struggled with whether they should find a new church.

Now, Moss and the more than 6,500 members of his congregation have emerged from the storm, recounting painful lessons and preparing for the future. They attend church knowing a former Trinity member became the nation’s first African-American president. They now believe the spotlight can be a positive force and are hopeful their faith values might be used to minister to the world. They look to the new year as a chance to redefine Trinity.

Overall I liked the article. However, I wish the reporters had attempted to delve into the theologically-based shifts and struggles that are running through both the United Church of Christ denomination, and in predominantly African-American churches around the country.

Here the article touches on some of those struggles, but there could have been more:

Looking back, Moss knew taking over Trinity from Wright would be tough. Elders questioned where Moss, the 38-year-old “hip-hop pastor,” would lead them. Those doubts grew after snippets of Wright’s sermons surfaced on the Internet in March, sullying Wright’s legacy and disrupting Moss’ already difficult transition. Outside the church, conservative pundits bashed the church’s Black Value System as anti-white and hateful.

“No one has ever been asked to transition through trauma and to lead a church that literally has the focus of the world upon them,” Moss said. “There was nobody to call and say: ‘How did you deal with this?’ We were writing the playbook as we went along.”

When Obama decided to leave Trinity, Moss said he wasn’t surprised. The candidate first expressed his concerns to Moss at an Easter dinner in 2007, shortly after announcing his bid for the presidency and rescinding an invitation for Wright to say a public prayer at the event. Obama did not want to cause trouble for the church and suggested then that a time might come when he would have to leave, Moss said.

More of course could have been said about Moss’s identity as a “hip-hop pastor.” Perhaps the details have been covered in previous articles (I wish newspapers did better jobs of linking to old articles!). Also interesting is that Obama seemed to have predicted some of the troubles that arose during the campaign. One has to wonder though whether Obama knew how significant the issue would be before he launched his campaign.

Image of Barack Obama speaking in Houston, Texas on the eve of the state’s primaries, used under a public domain license.

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The theology of liberation

emancipationproclamationdecSometimes I get the feeling that reporters struggle to cover annual events. This leads to less coverage of the liturgical calendar and its festive celebrations and penitential seasons than to events marked by trend-driven church bodies. You don’t see much coverage of Pentecost, marked annually by millions of American Christians, compared to, say, the sex sermon series being pushed by some pastor in Michigan.

But I found this story about a service held in black Christian congregations for going on 150 years to be fascinating and fresh. New York Journal News religion reporter Gary Stern has the details:

Tradition holds that on the night of Dec. 31, 1862, Americans of African descent gathered in churches to await the news that President Abraham Lincoln would indeed sign the Emancipation Proclamation.

New Year’s Day came and all slaves in the states of the Confederacy were declared legally free – even if true freedom would require a long wait.

Over the next several decades, many black Americans developed a tradition of returning to church on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day to commemorate the end of slavery. The black Christian tradition held that God, not man, had delivered the slaves to freedom, so church was the right place to remember the pain of bondage and the joy of being free.

The story goes on to explain Watch Night and Freedom’s Eve services that continue to this day. In my experience, these services occasionally take place on New Year’s Day. The article explores whether the election of a black man to be president will add new meaning to the services. Stern looks at local festivities sponsored by the United Black Clergy of Westchester and speaks with the group’s president, Rev W. Darin Moore:

The AME Zion denomination was formed in 1820 – 42 years before emancipation – when black Christians fled the institutional racism of the white Methodist church. The AME Zion Church became known as “the freedom church.”

“The theme of Scripture has always been emancipation and liberation, whether it’s the story of Israel and the exodus from Egypt or the liberation we find in Christ from sin,” Moore told me. “There’s always been a social/political component and a spiritual component. Particularly in the African-American church, there has been an insistence that we not separate the two.

“That’s why this service is so important in our community,” he said. “It looks back and commemorates the liberation from slavery, using the Emancipation Proclamation as a milestone – understanding that there were many complexities to the political motivations for it. But for us, it’s bigger than that, representing a journey to complete human liberation.”

I couldn’t help but read this without remembering the whole Jeremiah Wright debacle. In large part because of the pastor in question but also because of the media’s obsession with politics, the coverage of Wright had so little actual discussion of the spiritual aspects of black liberation theology. There wasn’t much theology in the coverage, to put it mildly.

It’s so nice to see a story that plays liberation theology as it lays, with both political and spiritual aspects. The article also discusses the mega-hot-button issue of the day:

Now Obama’s getting attacked from the left for choosing Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration. Warren is an increasingly famous (and white) megachurch pastor who has focused on fighting worldwide poverty and disease even as he opposes gay marriage and holds mostly conservative theological views.

Baisden said he has no problem with the choice.

“I see it as consistent with President-elect Obama’s efforts to bring us together,” he said. “We have differences in many ways, but these things should be able to pull us together.”

I find the use of the word “even” to be completely unnecessary. I’m aware that many in the mainstream media are under the impression that there is some sort of intrinsic conflict between holding conservative theological views and fighting poverty and disease and yet history doesn’t exactly bear that impression out. Christian charity throughout history has coexisted with a belief in the sanctity of marriage as a heterosexual union. There’s no need to use the word “even” and quite a few arguments against it.

“Even” so, the story is great and ends with a verse from the processional hymn to which the clergy will enter the church for the Emancipation Service, “God Of Our Fathers.” Stern provides an informative, interesting, detailed and newsy account of a long-standing faith tradition.

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‘A Christian and a real straightforward guy’

t1_warner2_si2Sometimes the religious angles in a football story just jump out and grab the sports writer and force them to dig into the topic. For example, see here this excellent profile piece by ESPN.com’s Wayne Drehs on Kurt Warner. This is one of those athletes you simply cannot write about without mentioning his faith:

Warner has one hand on the steering wheel and the other buried in a carton of french fries when the conversation turns to how he’s perceived. He knows what some people think — that he’s a do-no-wrong perfectionist who doesn’t curse, doesn’t drink and lives this straight-laced, holier-than-thou life.

And in a way, he understands. That’s what happens when you talk about Jesus, mention God or explain your selfless ways by professing your faith. That’s what happens when you pass out football cards that in bold, red letters proclaim: “Read The Bible — Attend Church — Pray to God — Tell Others About Jesus.” And that’s what happens when, after winning the Super Bowl MVP award, you stand on the biggest stage of your life and begin a postgame interview by saying, “First things first, I’ve got to thank my Lord and Savior above.”

June 20, 1996. That’s the day the football cards that Warner hands out say he was “born again.” Warner grew up in a religious family, but not until he met Brenda in college at the University of Northern Iowa, not until a couple of his Iowa Barnstormers teammates and she started pressing Warner on his beliefs, did he truly dig into the Bible searching for answers. What he discovered was a whole new life.

At other times, the faith angle is there in a news story and the journalist is faced with the seemingly delicate challenge of explaining the athlete or coach’s person’s spiritual beliefs. For example, Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy is nearly impossible to write about without mentioning his faith.

See here how Indianapolis Star columnist Bob Kravitz writes about the high possibility that this Sunday may be the last time Dungy coaches a professional football game in Indianapolis:

Every year for the past few years, he’s done the same thing: He’s walked away from the game at season’s end, let the emotion drain from the process, talked with his family, prayed and ultimately decided to return for one more season. I remain convinced that he was ready to call it quits after last season, but was talked into returning for this season by owner Jim Irsay for the opening of the new stadium.

Dungy, if you haven’t noticed by now, is a different kind of man, and for that, we’re all eternally thankful. As accomplished as he is as a coach, football is not his life, and he does not want football to become a jail of his own construction. He has the financial freedom to pursue other passions, most of which relate to helping less fortunate souls through faith-based initiatives.

It’s hard to find a better pulpit than the one provided for an NFL head coach. But that job takes incredible time and focus. Dungy has mentioned before he wants to work with prison ministries and other areas where he might be able to touch other people’s live in a more profound way.

Those who know Dungy know exactly what Kravitz means when he says that Dungy “is a different kind of man.” For those who aren’t clued in (and if you follow this blog, how could you not be?), see the end of that paragraph and his mention of Dungy’s involvement in helping “less fortunate souls through faith-based initiatives.” Oh, and Dungy seeks a pulpit, but why won’t Kravtiz come out and say that it’s Dungy’s faith that makes him different or that it is his Christian faith?

Perhaps it was for stylistic reasons, and it should be noted that Kravitz is a columnist with a distinct style of writing (but who also often breaks news as every good journalist should).

A final category this post will explore is found here in this excellently written and reported feature in The Baltimore Sun about racism in the NFL in general, and on the racism that existed on the 1958 Baltimore Colts in particular. The article is a must-read (it quotes Mark Bowden’s The Best Game Ever, which my father says is an excellent book) for anyone who appreciates good journalism, sports or American social history in general:

Most of the time, Lyles, Lenny Moore, Milt Davis, Jim Parker, Johnny Sample and Eugene “Big Daddy” Lipscomb weren’t allowed to stay in the same hotels as their white teammates on road trips. They rarely, if ever, socialized with the white players, in part because they couldn’t enter the same restaurants, bars and movie theaters. In Westminster, where the team held its annual training camp, the African-American players encountered so much blatant racism on a daily basis, they decided one year to boycott the welcome banquet being thrown for the Colts by the city.

Tmatt was actually the one who caught this one and in sending the article around, he noted that it is pretty amazing where faith shows up in sports stories. Here it is near the end of the article:

If there was one white player who was truly colorblind, it was wide receiver Raymond Berry. Berry went out of his way to try to help Lyles, driving to his apartment in West Baltimore on the Colts’ days off. For hours at a local park, Berry would show Lyles how to run routes and catch passes.

“He was a Christian and a real straightforward guy,” Lyles said. “He was the only person on the whole team who went out of his way to try and help me.”

“Thank God for Raymond Berry, because he showed us we were a team,” Moore said. “He showed us we were in it together. It was a thing you could hold on to, and we held on to it.”

So many issues are raised by this single quote. Did the reporter and his editors think that the quote simply spoke for itself and that no follow-up was necessary? Is there more to that sentence or subsequent follow-up questions that didn’t make the final cut?

Some of the questions that come to my mind are as follows: were the rest of the players not considered Christians for one reason or another? What does it mean when Lyles says that Berry’s Christian faith and “straightforward” manner relates to his ability to see his teammates without regard to their color?

A reader who submitted the Warner story to us said that it was a good example of the fact that many journalists on the sports beat get religion and that it is “a shame that those on other beats don’t.” He also predicted that we’d only get two comments on this story if we posted on it. Whether that predication is right or wrong, sports continue to be an important area of religion coverage and something we won’t let slide anytime soon.

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