Search Results for: evangelist

Evangelist cinematheque

Criticizing Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light™, for churning out glurge is now criminally easy, but Paul Cullum betrays an ignorance of flyover country in writing about Thomas Kinkade’s Christmas Cottage (direct to DVD this week). Working from a 16-point memo of Kinkade’s filmmaking tips, Cullum first tries to classify Kinkade as “a postmodern Norman Rockwell for the evangelist set.”

Oh well. Just as Episcopalians must forever live with being called Episcopals, evangelicals perhaps should now call themselves evangelists and call it quits. And since when is there anything postmodern or even Rockwellian about Kinkade? Compared to Kinkade, Rockwell was a master of brutal realism (consider “The Problem We All Live With“).

Before divulging the memo in its stream-of-consciousness glory (Kinkade: “These guidelines are not listed in order of importance, but are dictated off the top of my head”), Cullum finally delivers two worthwhile paragraphs:

To get an expert opinion on Kinkade’s manifesto, I showed it to cinematographer Ellen Kuras, best known for her work with director Spike Lee. She points out that he confuses focal length and depth of field, and questions his overall approach.

“I’ve never seen any of his paintings, but I have to say, he’s very cheesy in his descriptions,” Kuras says. “The whole gauzy, cozy feeling, darkening the edges to make your vision more myopic, I think is about trying to draw the larger metaphor for the way to heaven. But reading all of this, it’s a prescription for a bad ’60s porn movie.”

Do read Kinkade’s memo, which is truly is cringe-inducing. On a casting note, Cullum mentions two of the leads (Marcia Gay Harden and Peter O’Toole) but doesn’t flag two more incongruous appearances: Ed Asner and Chris Elliott.

Yes, Chris Elliott, the droll hipster from The Late Show with David Letterman. This could be just as hathotic as watching Tony Goldwyn in Joshua (2002) as a laid-back Messiah who belongs to a mail-order music club.

We’re approaching Thanksgiving, so surely Scrooge-like lawsuits and creche debates will not be far behind. Happy holidays, everybody!

Warren, an “evangelist” who’s “straying”?

obama and warren 03As the countdown continues until Saturday’s Saddleback Church “Civil Forum on the Presidency,” journalists continue to probe the ministry of Rick “Purpose Driven Pastor” Warren. To no one’s surprise, the big news kid on the preacher’s block has weighed in on his new, improved, nuanced, broader take on the Gospel.

Guess what? The Los Angeles Times struggled to handle the religion and doctrine details in this scene. This is becoming par for the course. Take the lede, for example:

When John McCain and Barack Obama appear on the same stage Saturday at the sprawling religious campus of Orange County’s Saddleback Church, their presence will vividly underline the reach that has made Pastor Rick Warren among the most significant evangelists of his generation.

There is no doubt, of course, that Warren has become one of the most significant “evangelicals” of his generation. However, as the story notes a few sentences later, he is a pastor, an author and a social activist. I do not think that he has ever left his pulpit and traveled around doing the preaching and crusade work of a full-time “evangelist.”

The bottom line: In the rush to pin the “next Billy Graham” label on Warren, it is easy to mess up the details and miss some of the differences between the careers of these very different men.

So Graham was and is an “evangelist” who is also a major “evangelical” leader. Warren may even, from time to time, preach “evangelistic” sermons. But he has never been a professional “evangelist.” Words matter, folks.

Now, let’s move right on to the good stuff. This is politics, of course.

Once again, the emphasis is on Warren’s decision to broaden his ministry and his messages in ways that may help Democrats and hurt Republicans. Check out this very blunt statement:

… Warren’s willingness to soft-pedal political issues once central to U.S. evangelicals, such as opposition to abortion, has opened him to criticism that he has strayed from his calling to spread the Gospel. It’s likely that both fans and critics will be watching closely when Warren plays host to the two presidential contenders at his church complex in Lake Forest, home to 22,000 weekend worshipers.

OK, for years Graham has chosen to avoid making blunt, public statements on abortion and other hot-button issues. He has never backed away from his beliefs, but he has refused to trumpet them in order to hold together broader, ecumenical coalitions that have backed his evangelistic crusades. Graham has taken heat for this, but the overwhelming majority of Christian leaders have not said that this strategy caused him to stray from his “calling to spread the Gospel.”

Warren is now in a similar position. To back its very blunt claim, the Los Angeles Times really needs to nail down some major evangelicals who — on the record — agree with this “straying” label.

I know I am being picky. But these kinds of details are important if a newspaper is going to build a foundation of facts that support statements as sweeping as the crunch paragraphs in this feature story. Check this out:

Many evangelicals believe that Warren’s growing profile, and his willingness to welcome Obama to his pulpit, are evidence that he has emerged as the most pivotal figure in U.S. evangelicalism. The 54-year-old pastor, they say, is emblematic of a new breed of evangelicals who put social justice ahead of partisan politics. Some go so far as to call the plain-talking Warren, a bear of a man who prefers bluejeans to business suits, the Billy Graham of his era.

“He’s a guy whose message has met the right moment,” said Richard Land, a leading authority with the Southern Baptist Convention, the denomination to which Warren’s church belongs. …

But detractors see Warren as a spiritual entrepreneur who has built his religious empire on what they call generic self-help ideas found in “The Purpose Driven Life.”

“For many evangelical leaders, Rick Warren is either a little too naive or a little too shrewd,” said the Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council, a Washington group that works to meld Christian teachings into the debate over public policies.

Note that even Schenck — who is one very candid man — is quoting others, second hand.

rickWhere are the on-the-record quotes? Where’s the beef?

Once again, what this story is trying to describe is a two-sided equation. The most traditional forms of Christian faith through the centuries have proclaimed what, in today’s world, are considered very conservative doctrines on moral and cultural issues. At the same time, there is no question where the saints of the ages stood on issues of social justice, human compassion and carrying for the needy at all stages of life. The question is how traditional believers try to live their lives, as citizens, while keeping both parts of this equation in balance.

As E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post told a Pew Forum audience the other day:

… I believe the Catholic Church’s job is to make every Catholic feel guilty about some public issue. I think when the church is doing its job, it actually makes liberal Catholics think twice about abortion, stem cell research, doctor-assisted suicide. And it makes more-conservative Catholics think twice about their stance on the unfettered market, the poor, the death penalty and a belligerent foreign policy. I think the church will continue to play that role.

The only thing I would question in that statement is the presence of the words “think twice about” — both times.

So read the rest of the Los Angeles Times story, even though there is nothing there that is really news. In fact, all of this is about a tension that is really old. Ancient, even. But you would never know that, just by reading our newspapers at the moment.

Top photos: Yes, we need to run this picture again. Bottom photo: Just another variation on a Warren mug shot, created by critics out in cyberspace.

What kind of ‘evangelist’ is Kennedy?

kennedyI am tempted to think that the word “evangelical” and several words connected to it have become too vague to be of any use to mainstream reporters. I know that’s impossible. There are simply too many people who use “evangelical” as a noun or an adjective these days.

I also have to admit that some of these words have multiple meanings. What’s a reporter to do?

Take the word “evangelist.” For years, people have been applying that word to everyone from Jerry Falwell (a pastor/religious broadcaster/educator) to Pat Robertson (a religious broadcaster/political leader/educator) and a host of other folks. The term “televangelist” was created since there was a real sense in which people were using cameras and cable television the same way that evangelists, for generations, have used pulpits and rally tents.

Then again, the classic, centuries-old definition of “evangelism” and “evangelist” was linked to the work of people who shared their faith and converted other people through face-to-face contact. Saying that someone was “a great evangelist” did not mean they preached evangelistic messages before hundreds or thousands of people.

So what does “evangelist” mean to the average person who hears or reads it? I would think that the average person thinks of Billy Graham. But what about the college student sitting in a coffee shop with a friend, sharing her faith during a discussion of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis? Is that person an “evangelist” who is practicing “evangelism”?

With all that in mind, take a look at The Miami Herald‘s coverage of the health-related retirement of the Rev. D. James Kennedy. The early draft was such a mess — technical issues, mainly — that you can no longer get to it. What do I mean? A sample:

Ronald Siegenthaler, December 28 had cardiac arrest, called the executive quite a few ministers. The announcement Jennifer Kennedy Cassidy, daughter. It came from the family, really disabled has no been able to attend chuch services and speak in public. Process of finding athe officers will be in ht analyziang the need s aof the searcha qualifications, skills and gifts, Selecta pulpit search committe from a cross section of memebership.

You get the idea. It’s hard to blame that on reporter Robbyn Mitchell. However, there was some copy above the train wreck that one could read. Note the use of the word “evangelist” in this, starting with the headline: “Evangelist Kennedy retires from Coral Ridge.”

The Rev. D. James Kennedy, an international evangelist who has been absent from the pulpit at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church since December, when he suffered a heart attack, has officially retired.

His daughter, Jennifer Kennedy Cassidy, made the announcement to the congregation Sunday on behalf of her father, said Ronald Sigenthaler, the church’s executive minister. Kennedy led the 10,000-member church in Fort Lauderdale for 48 years, although only 1,700 parishioners were there Sunday to hear his daughter’s announcement.

With Kennedy stepping down, Sigenthaler estimates it may take two years to find a replacement pastor. … Kennedy founded both Coral Ridge Ministries and Evangelism Explosion International.

So he was an evangelist who, as a pastor, led a large church while also starting a parachurch group called Evangelism Explosion (which, by the way, specialized in a face-to-face and small-groups approach to church-based evangelism and growth, not large rallies). Can you see the source of the confusion?

Anyway, the Herald bounced back with a more complete story that avoided the “evangelist” confusion. This story turned Kennedy, for the most part, into a politico selling an “America is a Christian nation” message.

Yes, that was part of his work, too. However, I have always thought that the key to his work was his educated, 1950s, old-Mainline approach to doing church. Thus, we read:

The Rev. D. James Kennedy, who presided over a multimillion-dollar, international evangelical empire but was sidelined from his pulpit at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church when he suffered a heart attack in December, is retiring at age 76, church leaders announced Sunday.

Parishioners said it was hard to imagine the Fort Lauderdale megachurch without its towering leader and founder, whose slate-gray hair, dark robe and commanding voice made a deep impression on churchgoers.

”He had a great voice, a great big deep voice,” said Barbara Collier, one of the original church members, who taught Sunday school and vacation Bible school. “He was such a gracious man, and in his robe he stood so straight and talked so clearly, right to you. And we all loved him.”

But as one of the most influential leaders in the Christian right, Kennedy was also a divisive figure who condemned homosexuality and abortion.

Of course, traditional forms of Christianity have also condemned abortion and sex outside of marriage for 2,000 years, but it certainly is accurate to say that these beliefs are now controversial and divisive.

arielHowever, what is missing from the Herald coverage is any sense of what made this man different from the other members of the Religious Right and why he thrived in a unique environment like South Florida.

We are talking about The Miami Herald, after all. This is home turf.

There really isn’t a hint of why his church grew so much. There is no mention of the intellect — whether you liked him or not, it was there — symbolized by those Presbyterian robes. Also, there is no mention of Evangelism Explosion.

Ironically, you can head over to an anti-Kennedy page at Americans United and learn much more about him, including the fact that he has a doctorate from New York University, which is not your normal fundamentalist hangout spot.

Of course, a reader who knows that region would also know to head over to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel for a story by veteran religion writer James D. Davis. He throws his net very wide in the fact paragraphs and tells us all kinds of things:

Months of rumors ended with a Sunday morning revelation at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church: The ailing Rev. D. James Kennedy is not returning to the helm of the congregation he founded 48 years ago.

The pastor, religious broadcaster, conservative activist and evangelical leader has been in and out of hospitals since Dec. 28, when he suffered a brief cardiac arrest. On Sunday, his family and church leaders made it official. …

The announcement, at a joint gathering of all three morning services, ends Kennedy’s multilayered efforts to further his vision of Christianity and social values: education, prayer in schools, opposition to gay rights, and other conservative causes. His influence was felt far beyond church walls, to the halls of power in Washington, D.C., and numerous nations where ordinary people heard his broadcast messages and applied his evangelistic methods. …

Besides the church, Kennedy founded: Knox Seminary; Westminster Academy; Coral Ridge Ministries, a broadcast organization heard in about 200 nations; a chaplaincy to federal workers on Capitol Hill; and Evangelism Explosion, a program to train lay people to spread the gospel. He launched a series of rallies, called Reclaiming America for Christ, that helped train volunteers across the nation to work for conservative aims in their hometowns. He also has written more than 65 books.

That is a lot of material to put into one story. But it is a big story, if you know religion in South Florida. I hope there are follow-up reports about what happens next at this very old-fashioned mainline-esque church.

New, evangelistic atheism in Europe

militant atheismThis week’s long (2,000-plus words) and much-discussed Wall Street Journal feature about the growing militancy of atheists in Europe raises a lot of questions. Sadly, it is available only to subscribers, but let’s not let that little detail keep us from talking about it.

Here’s a snippet:

Mr. Onfray, 48 years old and author of 32 books, stands in the vanguard of a curious and increasingly potent phenomenon in Europe: zealous disbelief in God.

Passive indifference to faith has left Europe’s churches mostly empty. But debate over religion is more intense and strident than it has been in many decades. Religion is re-emerging as a big issue in part because of anxiety over Europe’s growing and restive Muslim populations and a fear that faith is reasserting itself in politics and public policy. That is all adding up to a growing momentum for a combative brand of atheism, one that confronts rather than merely ignores religion.

Karen Armstrong, a former Catholic nun and prominent British author on religion, calls the trend “missionary secularism.” She says it mimics the ardor of Christianity, Islam and Marxism, all of which have at their core an urge to convert nonbelievers to their worldview.

My initial reaction to this piece was to wonder whatever happened to the anything goes attitude of modern secularists. This attitude is nothing new but the fact that it’s growing is interesting. We’ve seen it with Sam Harris. We’ve seen it with Oxford’s Richard Dawkins.

This is yet another sign that religious and anti-religious voices on the left are going to demand, and they deserve, more coverage.

Not content to let this piece just focus on wishy-washy supernatural issues, the author, Andrew Higgins, had to bring it into the real world of “concrete issues.” As a commentator on things related to religion, I resent that, but here’s what he comes up with:

As with many fights involving faith, Europe’s struggle between belief and nonbelief is also a proxy for other, concrete issues that go far beyond the supernatural. In this case, they involve a battle to define the identity of a continent.

Half a century after the 1957 Treaty of Rome laid the foundations for the now 27-nation European Union, Europe has secured peace and prosperity. But it is deeply uncertain about what binds the bloc together beyond mere economic self-interest. Says Ms. Armstrong: “There is a big fight going on to define European civilization.”

In London last month, leading British atheists squared off with defenders of faith in a public debate on the motion, “We’d be better off without religion.” Tickets cost nearly $40 but so many people wanted to attend that the event was moved to a bigger venue with over 2,000 seats. It still sold out. The audience declared the atheists the victors, by a margin of 1,205 to 778, with a few score abstentions.

In Germany, a wealthy furniture manufacturer is funding a “think tank of Enlightenment,” a group of scientists and others committed to debunking religion. It is named after Giordano Bruno, a 16th-century philosopher and cosmologist who was burnt at the stake as a heretic. In Italy, one fervent nonbeliever has gone to the European Court of Human Rights with a claim that the Roman Catholic Church is guilty of fraud: Jesus, he says, never existed.

Dawkinssouthpark2This is not the first time the Journal‘s news team has decided that religious issues are less important than the real “concrete issues” with which modern people grapple. Rod Dreher of Beliefnet’s Crunchy Con and The Dallas Morning News caught an instance back in February.

Speaking of Rod, his analysis of this piece is striking. While the Journal hints at the issue — “Europe’s Muslim populace, estimated at between 15 million and 20 million” and “alarm over Islam” acting as the “prime catalyst for much of the polemic” — it’s the undercovered irony in this story:

Europeans, by turning their back on the cult that created their culture, and substituting an ersatz religion of secularism and hedonism, are committing civilizational suicide. Mark Steyn has been beating the drum about demographic disaster in Europe for some time. Writing in the new issue of National Review, he cites this quote about the demographic changes upon us: “The expected global upheaval is without parallel in human history.”

Know who said that? The United Nations. In fact, check out this most recent comprehensive revision of the UN’s demographics forecast. It predicts a demographic catastrophe for Europe in the decades to come. Somebody’s got to stick around to take care of all those old people who decided not to have children, and that somebody is going to be immigrants — most likely Muslims, who have the bad taste (by Euro standards) to believe in God. In his NR column, Steyn takes on those who point out that fertility rates in Muslim Tunisia are falling. In response, Steyn points out that Turkey is rapidly de-secularizing because the Western-oriented Kemalists of the cities have been outbred by the intensely religious Turks of rural Anatolia. …

But who will be left standing to inhabit Europe when that happens? It’s not going to be the people who run the place now. And it’s certainly not going to be the evangelists for atheism.

Perhaps that’s a question worth asking the militant atheists? But note that this is, first and foremost, a valid news story worthy of investigation by journalists.

Meanwhile, on the pop-culture front, what about the beavers in the South Park episode about God, the future and Richard Dawkins? That’s worth at least a mention.

Latest in evangelistic video games

stbbc8So, be honest. Which of the following two news stories scares you the most?

Option (a), or option (b)?

Which story makes you the most depressed about the future of public discourse in our culture? The future of organized and non-organized religion?

OK, I’ll cut to the chase. Which is the bigger news story?

But wait. Is it possible that these two stories are actually the same news story, only looking at fads in different zip codes?

Have a nice day. I need a nap.

An evangelist visits the Naval Academy

usnavalI ran into a minister the other day over at the Naval Academy, a man I’ve known for about 10 years. He was leading a really interesting project, one directly linked to a topic that comes up often on this blog — offensive free speech.

His goal, along with about 50 of his friends, was to do some one-on-one evangelism on the campus, attempting to win friends and influence people. In some cases, he even hoped he could convince people to change their religious beliefs and join his cause.

More than anything else, he hoped to change the hearts and minds of the leaders of the institution so that the leaders could then help change the hearts and generations of midshipmen to come.

It was, pure and simple, a case of religious activists offering a public witness for their faith and their own beliefs, hoping they could win some converts.

At first, academy officials planned to have this evangelist and his followers arrested if they entered the academy grounds and attempted offensive speech with visitors, staff, faculty and the students. After all, the activists were asking for changes in military policies. They were pushing the envelope.

No, this evangelist was not linked to the dangerous work of people like Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell — although he worked for both of those men a decade or so ago.

This was the Rev. Mel White, once an evangelical superstar and now one of the nation’s most articulate gay-rights leaders. He had come to the academy with about 50 other gay-rights activists to try to convince campus leaders to reject the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies that require gays, lesbians and bisexuals to be silent about their beliefs and sexual orientation. This was one of the Equality Ride protests organized by Soulforce, which is based in Lynchburg, Va. The main organizer of this rally was Jacob Reitan.

The Washington Post led the rather low-key media stampede that surrounded the event, producing some nice quiet photo opportunities during the misty day before a football weekend on the Annapolis campus. Here is a lengthy chunk of reporter Ray Rivera’s main report:

The protesters wore bright pastel t-shirts printed with the words, “Equality Ride,” which organizers have dubbed the roving protest. The Naval Academy was the second stop in what organizers hope will be a nationwide bus tour to visit college campuses where homosexuality is either prohibited or discouraged.The rally began with a few tense moments. The protesters, mostly students from the Washington area, held hands forming a line along the brick wall outside the academy’s main gate. After a brief news conference, they walked single file through the gate. Reitan was first and, met by two Marine guards, he gave his name and showed his driver’s license. …

(After) a few moments of discussion at the gate today, the guards let Reitan and the rest through. A horde of television cameras and reporters followed close behind. Academy officials insist they did not back down from the arrest threat but that organizers agreed to their terms.

“They came to the gate, they were asked what their intention was and they said they were there as private citizens, and that’s when the decision was made to the let them aboard,” said Cmdr. Rod Gibbons, an academy spokesman.

I ran into White later, while he was working the crowds in the academy visitor’s center and bookstore. He was glad that officials backed down and let people talk. He was very pleased with the heavy media turnout, of course.

At some point, government officials have to realize that people have a right to talk to one another and even to argue and disagree, he said. This doesn’t mean that people — on the right or the left — need to be loud or rude. If you start talking to someone about religion and they don’t want to talk, then you just say, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to bother you” and walk away, said White.

“It’s like all the people who want to censor television,” he said. “You keep trying to tell people like that, ‘Don’t censor us. Just change the channel.’ That’s what this is all about, too. We just want to talk to people and let them know what we think. What’s so scary about that?”

Precisely. The problem, of course, is that one person’s free speech is another’s evangelism or even worse — proselytizing. This is why it’s hard to write speech codes without affecting the left as well as the right.navy chapel int

Rather than talk about something really dangerous — like sex (the Naval Academy) or salvation (the Air Force Academy) — let’s look at another issue. Consider this a parable.

Let’s say some people in authority at a military academy, like teachers or deans, decide to use their clout to change hearts and minds about the environment. Let’s say they show movies about the environment and use standard academy media, bulletin boards and email to publicize the films. Let’s say that, on their own time, they organize meetings — with equal standing to other voluntary assemblies on campus — to discuss environmental issues. Let’s even say that they talk with students about environmental issues and urge students to talk with one another. Perhaps, when students express interest, they even urge students to change their beliefs about environmental issues.

So far so good. Right?

But let’s say that these officials go further and require students to attend these sessions. Let’s say they test students to make sure they have the right beliefs. Let’s say that they even push students to talk during off hours on campus and refuse to back away when students decline to dialogue.

That would be wrong. Right? You bet it would. That kind of behavior is bad — on the left or the right. I would even say it’s wrong in newsrooms.

But what is wrong with talking? What is wrong with free speech and debates about public issues? What’s wrong with people changing their minds on topics, after debates and dialogues in which they are free to take part or to walk away?

I’m glad that White and his associates were allowed to visit the Naval Academy. I don’t think it would have hurt for them to talk to students, if the students had the freedom to walk away. Soulforce teams are planning to visit a number of Christian college campuses later this year. I hope that honest conversations and forums can be held during those visits, without people on either side turning things into tense media events. I hope the press quotes people on both sides accurately.

Free speech is a messy thing and so is religious liberty. But it beats all the other alternatives.

One dictator's journalist is another's evangelist (think about it)

freedom_houseWhile this may seem out of place on a God-beat blog, let me call attention to a new study released by the human-rights think tank Freedom House. It’s called “Freedom of the Press 2004: A Global Survey of Media Independence” and was released to mark the upcoming World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

I bring this up for the following rather obvious reason — free speech is free speech and one dictator’s journalist is often another’s evangelist. And vice versa.

Freedom of the press and freedom of religion are wedded at the hip. It’s hard to silence the evangelists without silencing other people who want to offer provocative commentary on how people are supposed to live their lives. Think about it. A summary of the findings included this money paragraph:

Of the 193 countries surveyed (including the Israeli-Administered Territories/Palestinian Authority), 73 (38%, representing 17% of the global population) were rated Free, with no significant restrictions on the news media; 49 (25%, 40%) were rated Partly Free and are characterized by some media restrictions; and 71 (37%, 43%) were rated Not Free, with state control or other obstacles to a free press.

Some of the most serious setbacks for press freedoms took place in “countries where democracy is backsliding, such as in Bolivia and Russia, and in older, established democracies, most notably Italy.” And few were surprised that the Middle East-North Africa region once again received the lowest marks — with 90 percent of the region’s countries getting a “Not Free” rating. Only one country — Israel — was rated “Free.”

Freedom House has a long history of old-fashioned liberalism (founded by Eleanor Roosevelt) on these issues and has been at the forefront of efforts to push the U.S. government to do more to protect the freedoms of religious minorities. This has led to some interesting political partnerships in the past decade or so. During Clinton-era debates over China trade policies, it was not unusual to see the likes of Gary Bauer embracing Richard Gere at a protest rally. (The map with this post covers basic political freedoms.)

It may help to keep that in mind when reading some of the more provocative findings in this study. Take, for example, the reference to the changing environment in Iraq:

With the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime in April, hundreds of new publications are covering a wide range of opinions. Iraqis were able to gain unfettered access to the Internet and to uncensored foreign television broadcasts. Nevertheless, a continuing lack of security, the murders of at least 13 journalists, and an ambiguous legal and regulatory media framework kept Iraq in the ranks of the Not Free countries despite its impressive numerical gains, as noted in the survey’s rating system.

La Nación on soccer and Protestantism in Brazil

Sitting in my “guilt file” of stories I should be covering — but have not yet gotten round to doing — is this fascinating piece from the sports section of La Nación, the Argentine daily. (With its larger rival Clarín, the two dailies make up almost half of the Buenos Aires newspaper market — as to their editorial stance, neither supports the government of President Cristina Kirchner).

The article “Historias mínimas sobre la selección de Brasil y la religión: de la peregrinación de Scolari al pastor visionario de Neymar” from the July 7 edition reports on the links between Christian faith and the members of Brazil’s world cup team.

The subtitle sets the theme of the story: “Es el país con mayor cantidad de cristianos del mundo y que atraviesa un fuerte crecimiento de los evangelistas; ¿cómo es la relación de los futbolistas con la Fe?”

[Brazil] has the largest number of Christians of any country in the world and that through a strong growth of evangelists. What is the relationship between soccer players and the faith?

The key sentence in this story: “Soccer and religion are twin pillars of Brazilian life.”

Yet in telling this story, La Nación makes an error found in American newspapers — confusing evangelist with evangelical — and further states Brazil has the largest Christian population in the world. (It does not.)

The article follows a traditional sports-human interest story line. It begins with a description of Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari’s visit to the Church of Our Lady of Caravoggio in Rio Grande do Sul a few days before the start of a World Cup, and notes he had made a similar pilgrimage in 2002 and 2013. The coach is quoted as saying his team counts on hard work and the blessings of faith to see them through to victory.

Also, Pope Francis’ farewell to Brazil following his visit last year is cited to underscore the links between faith and football.

In Brazil, as in other countries, football is a national passion. Well, what does a player when he is called to be part of a team? Must train and train a lot. So it is in our life as disciples of the Lord. St. Paul tells us: “Every athlete exercises all, and they do it to obtain a perishable wreath, but we do it for an imperishable crown” (1 Cor 9:25) Jesus offers us something bigger than the World Cup. He offers us the possibility of a fruitful and happy life, and a future with him without end, eternal life.

The scene shifts to the soccer pitch, where instances of prayer after key plays is recounted closing with a quote from one player following his game winning goal against Colombia: “I’ve been practicing a year at Chelsea. Knew that one day God would bless me.”

[Read more...]


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