No rules, just umpires: Earl Weaver, Bobby Cox and the futility of defining ‘evangelical’

Major League Baseball announced a rule change last month. The classic fake-to-third, throw-to-first pick-off move will now officially be considered a balk.

Pitchers can still step off the rubber before faking to third, and base runners can still never, ever be fooled by this futile move.

Baseball often tweaks its rules over the winter, but the league is always careful to announce those rule changes so that everybody knows what the rules are when play begins on Opening Day.

Tony Jones tries to sneak back into Patheos’ evangelical channel.

Imagine what the first month of the season would be like if they didn’t do that — if they just kept changing the rules without ever telling anybody. April baseball would be a confusing spectacle, but I suspect that by mid-May or so the players and teams would have the new rules figured out.

Even when the rulebook can’t be trusted, you can eventually figure out what the rules are by trial and error. Even without a rulebook, you’d still have umpires, and gradually, over time, you could deduce what the rules were based on how the umps called the game and what rules they chose to enforce. You’d have an implicit rulebook, slowly pieced together from witnessing various penalties and punishments.

That’s how evangelicalism works.

And that’s why I never pay much attention to the perennial discussion of how to “define” evangelical or evangelicalism. That discussion doesn’t matter. There is no definition. There is no rulebook, only umpires. Lots of umpires. There’s an ever-changing cast of out-of-shape guys in black pants running out onto the field, calling balls and strikes and expelling players, managers, coaches and other umpires. Nobody hired them. Nobody appointed them. And they can’t seem to agree on the rules because there are no rules except how they decide to call the game.

So when someone says to me that the Bebbington Quadrilateral is a useful tool for describing the emphases of evangelicalism, I smile and nod politely. I agree, Bebbington’s formula is an elegant, insightful construct. But nobody told the umpires about it. And after more than 20 years of getting ejected from games, I can assure you that the umpires don’t give a flying fig about Bebbington.

“Yer outta here!” the umpire yells, and it won’t do any good to point out that your biblicism, crucicentrism, activism and conversionism suggest you’re entitled to stay on the field. Whatever idiosyncratic rulebook the various umpires are using, it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with such definitions. You can be an evangelical according to Bebbington, or according to Barna, or according to Hoyle, but if they say yer out, then yer out.

Rules? Definitions? Community? Membership? Personal testimony, history or choice? It ain’t nothin’ till I calls it, the umpire says. Those don’t matter.

Support marriage equality? Yer outta here! Believe the Earth is 4.5 billion years old? Yer outta here! Support contraception? Yer outta here!

“Contraception? Really? That one’s new,” you mutter to yourself as you head back to the clubhouse.

Come on in, make yourself at home. The place is packed with emergent types, black Protestants who voted the wrong way, mainliners, egalitarians, biologists, biblical studies profs — but there’s still plenty of room. There’s a seat over there in between Brian McLaren and Earl Weaver.

Relax, have a beer, join us. We’re watching the rest of today’s game on the TV. The crowd’s going nuts over a big argument at home plate. A bunch of women bloggers are really giving the umps the what-for. They’ve got their caps on backwards Tommy-Lasorda style so they can get right up in the umps faces. They’re kicking dirt. They’re really good at this, but it can’t last. They’ll be in here with the rest of us soon enough.

Meanwhile, one of those emergent guys is over by his locker, toying with a fake mustache. He’s thinking about pulling a Bobby Valentine and sneaking back into the dugout.

I’m just going to get ready for tomorrow’s game. There’s always another game tomorrow. We’ll see who the next battalion of umpires is and what kind of rules they decide to make up. Maybe I’ll get to stick around for more than an inning or two this time.

 

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Imagine what the first month of the season would be like if they didn’t
    do that — if they just kept changing the rules without ever telling
    anybody

    It’d be Yu-Gi-Oh with bats.

  • SisterCoyote

    Relax, have a beer, join us.

    Have a beer? I’m sorry, Fred, but no real Evangelical partakes in the Devil’s Brew that is alcoholic beverages.

  • Albanaeon

    At the rate things are going, there’s going to be only a few desultory players and a whole bunch of umpires yelling at each other over who ruined the game.

  • D. Potter

    Aaaaaannnd that is why I prefer baseball.

  • Lori

    Sometimes the umpire does have to change a call. Or at least mealy mouth an explanation for one.

    After Rebuke, an Apology for Pastor in Newtown

    By
    MARC SANTORA

    In an unexpected reversal, the head of a conservative national Lutheran
    denomination has apologized after criticizing a pastor in Newtown, Conn., for taking part in an interfaith memorial service.

    The Rev. Matthew C. Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, had sought, and received, an apology from the Newtown pastor,
    the Rev. Rob Morris, for violating the denomination’s prohibition
    against joint worship with people of other faiths. But in the face of
    intense criticism, Mr. Harrison this week apologized himself.

    “I naïvely thought an apology for offense in the church would allow us
    to move quickly beyond internal controversy and toward a less emotional
    process of working through our differences, well out of the public
    spotlight,” Mr. Harrison wrote on the church’s Web site. “That plan failed miserably.”

    The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which is smaller and more
    conservative than the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, bars joint
    worship because of a concern that such services could lend credence to
    faiths it views as false, or could suggest that differences between
    faiths are not important. It drew attention to itself by suspending a Brooklyn pastor, the Rev. David H. Benke, for taking part in an interfaith service after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack; Mr. Benke was later reinstated.

    Mr. Harrison, in his pastoral letter, acknowledged tension within his
    denomination over the subject, saying it has “struggled with this issue
    to the very breaking point.”

    “One view is that by standing side-by-side with non-Christian clergy in
    public religious events, we give the impression that Christ is just one
    path among many,” he wrote. “Others view participation as an opportunity
    to share Christ and to truly love a hurting community, which may not
    happen if we are not participating. We struggle with the tension between
    these two views.”

    In Newtown, the issue was particularly sensitive because a child in Mr.
    Morris’s congregation had been killed in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook
    Elementary School on Dec. 14. Mr. Morris, serving in his first year as
    pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Newtown, gave the
    benediction at a high-profile memorial service held on Dec. 16, which
    was attended by President Obama as well as representatives of many other
    religions.

    Mr. Harrison said he took full “responsibility for this debacle.”

    “I handled it poorly, multiplying the challenges. I increased the pain
    of a hurting community,” he wrote. “I humbly offer my apologies to the
    congregation, Christ the King Lutheran Church, Newtown, Conn.; to Pastor
    Morris; and to the Newtown community.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/13/nyregion/rev-matthew-c-harrison-offers-apology-for-his-rebuke-of-newtown-pastor.html?src=recg

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    About time, I say!

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     I wonder what he now thinks he ought to have done instead.

  • MaryKaye

    I think it was a Buddhist who said to me that anything you were thinking of saying could be judged on three criteria:  is it true? is it kind? is it useful?  Something that fits all three is an excellent thing to say.  The more points it fails on, the more strongly you should consider not saying it.  Something neither true, kind nor useful should not be said.

    By their lights, what Harrison said was true (“we have a church rule against participating in interfaith services.”)  It was certainly not kind when the service in question was one of mourning for murdered children.  Given that this happened before and it was bad for everyone involved that time too, I don’t think it was useful either.  Two of three against is pretty strong evidence that it  shouldn’t be said.  I recommend silence in such situations. 

    I think a *lot* of questions of moral speech come down to “what do you do with statements that fail exactly one of these three?”  Things that are kind and useful but not true:  that’s the big moral question of lying.  Things that are true and useful but not kind:  that’s much of what this blog is criticized for. 

  • Lori

    I would like to think he believes he should have left it alone and that if some folks got their undies in a bunch about it he should have told them that modeling Christ’s love by comforting a stricken community is more important than a (disputed) rule and that they needed to just cool their jets.

    I fear he thinks that he should simply have done more to keep the whole thing in-house so that the Missouri Synod wasn’t publicly embarrassed by showing greater concern for a (disputed) rule than for grieving families.

  • http://leftcheek.blogspot.com Jas-nDye

    Roger Olson can be added to the list of gatekeepers, I suppose. Now I’m not only kicked out of Evangelicalism, but I should stop calling myself a Christian.
    http://leftcheek.blogspot.com/2013/02/liberalchristianity.html

  • Mark Z.

    To be fair, Yu-Gi-Oh would be much more entertaining if everyone had a bat.

  • rrhersh

    “everybody knows what the rules are when play begins on Opening Day.  Imagine what the first month of the season would be like if they didn’t do that…”

    As a point of deeply obscure baseball history, just this happened in 1867.  The rules committee of the National Association of Base Ball Players forwarded its recommendation to the general convention, which approved it.  The revised rules were then forwarded to the printing committee for its annual pamphlet.  Somehow, however, an earlier draft got sent to the printing committee.  Nobody noticed until June.  (In fairness, the season started later then, not really getting going until June.  This makes sense when you are talking about playing mostly in New York and Philadelphia, on fields with questionable drainage.)  So they switched to the final draft version around the beginning of July.  The amusing part is the earlier attempts to explaining the printed version, which is delightfully incoherent.  The most prominent baseball writer of the day was also on the rules committee, and was one of the many who didn’t notice the switch. 

    On a more current note, the actual rules of baseball and the official written rules are two distinct things.  This isn’t peculiar to baseball.  It is true of any complex, developed game.  This is the whole point of the expression “That isn’t cricket.”  A classic example of the difference between the written and the actual rules was back when the National League and American League had different umpire corps, each with their own strike zone.  Another is how a runner from first trying to break up a double play by taking out the fielder can result in an automatic double play, if he strays too far from the baseline.  Runners were doing that for decades without penalty.  Then MLB announced that they were going to enforce the existing rule more strictly.  The thing is, it wasn’t a rule change:  merely an announcement.  This sort of thing happens all the time.

  • http://xulonjam.wordpress.com/ Xulon

    An obvious riff from an article I wrote here  http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/12/27/1174131/-My-So-Called-Christian-Life  

    Recently, what seems to have happened is that Evangelicals looked at
    Fundamentalists and decided one big pile was better that two little
    piles and rather than bring them over here, they would join them over
    there. And now “Evangelical” has the same sneer in the voice and
    legalistic baggage as “Fundamentalist” had in the 70s.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    Mao is a deeply fun card game, but it’s not something you should style a religion on.

    (Though I do confess that the closest I have ever come to experiencing a feeling of blasphemy is when I saw that Wikipedia tried to enumerate the rules of Mao.  Also, for the record, they’re wrong.  The bastards.)

  • ReverendRef

    I’m sorry, Fred, but no real Evangelical partakes in the Devil’s Brew that is alcoholic beverages.

    No, but Episcopalians do.  And if you choose not to, we’re okay with that as well.

  • ReverendRef

    but I suspect that by mid-May or so the players and teams would have the new rules figured out.

    I’m not a big baseball fan, but I can tell you with a fair amount of authority that this is always not the case with high school football coaches, players and/or fans.  This has mostly to do with the fact that everybody watches football on Thursday and Saturday (NCAA) and on Sunday and Monday (NFL) and they all assume at least two things:  1) announcers must be rules experts because of their proclivity to talk about how the officials screwed up; and 2) what happens on TV must be how it happens on Friday night.

    For instance, the NCAA and NFL have rules about when a quarterback can legally throw the ball away (into the ground or into the stands) and not be penalized for it.  There are no such exceptions in the high school rules book.  If a quarterback throws the ball to an area not occupied by a receiver, it’s a foul and we penalize for that act.

    But every year I have to listen to some player, coach or fan scream that that can’t be the case.  And every year I have to explain to said player or coach (I don’t talk to fans) that there is no such exception for intentional grounding.

    So maybe it’s not the umpires who are tossing players out of the game, but maybe it’s certain coaches or players who are trying to play by rules they make up; and they think that if they keep repeating their rules often enough, eventually other coaches and players will believe that that is how the game is supposed to be played, rules be damned.

    **And all of that in order to defend the honorable profession of sports officiating from being compared to the likes of Dobson, Perkins, LaHaye, etc.

  • arcseconds

    I always assumed that ‘that isn’t cricket’ was more to do with the high expectations of sportsmanship and norms of politeness that is traditionally expected of cricket players and umpires.  I suppose you might say that these too are part of the unwritten rules of cricket, and you’d have a point, but in some sense they’re distinct, because it’s possible to win the game (and have the umpire call things in your favour) yet have everyone shaking their heads at how uncriket your behaviour was — because you didn’t shake hands with your opponents enthusiastically enough, or (*gasp*) talked back to the umpire.

    This sort of thing isn’t unknown to other sports, of course, but cricket takes it to an extreme. I can remember talking to an American who, rather than being baffled by the game, had started to develop a bit of a taste for it, noting its similarity to baseball, of which he had a great love.  The one thing he couldn’t get his head around was the talking back to the umpire thing — in his view, this aspect of sports was like a courtroom trial (in an adverserial system), and it was your duty to put your team’s case as strongly as possible.

    Whereas as any cricket enthusiast knows, the great chain of being goes: God, cricket umpires, then the Queen.

  • Dash1

    I would like to believe that he has realized that the fact that there are indeed people in the MS who would get upset by Benke’s or Morris’ attempts to offer Christian consolation and witness is evidence that the folks at the top have been doing a pretty crappy job of pastoring the flock.

    But I’m not holding my breath.

  • glendanowakowsk

    “Kind” is a tricky thing, though.  You may do your level best to deliver a true and useful message in a sensitive and diplomatic manner, but there are no guarantees that it will be received that way.

  • http://harmfulguy.livejournal.com/ harmfulguy

     …as long as another Evangelical is watching, anyway.

    Everyone’s heard the one about why you always take two Baptists when you go fishing, right?

  • AnonymousSam

    Likewise, at least one of the Lutherans who dropped by to complain about the recent posts thought that the president’s reprimand was a loving message. I’ve heard people deliver “you’re a sinful creature who disgusts God and you will burn in Hell in eternity as you rightly deserve, and I tell you this because I love you” speeches many, many times.

    Some people have abuse victim versions of what constitutes love. That’s the only explanation I have. It’s abusive theology and the worshipers aren’t allowed to question it, only to assume that, somehow, it’s good that God be so cruel. It seems to fit…

  • Tricksterson

    Anyone else read the title as “No rules just vampires”?

  • Launcifer

    Whereas as any cricket enthusiast knows, the great chain of being goes: God, cricket umpires, then the Queen.

    Nah, the Pythons got it right: W.G.Grace isGod.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Every single duel would end with someone shouting “Not so fast!” and then just beating their opponent to death with a bat.

  • SisterCoyote

     Heh. I have no qualms with beer, nor with those who drink it. But I was raised by Baptist teetotalers, and still feel slightly guilty walking out of a store with a six-pack.

  • http://leftcheek.blogspot.com Jas-nDye

    “One view is that by standing side-by-side with non-Christian clergy in public religious events, we give the impression that Christ is just one 

    path among many,” he wrote. “Others view participation as an opportunity
    to share Christ and to truly love a hurting community, which may not 
    happen if we are not participating. We struggle with the tension between
    these two views.”

    The sad thing is that not too long ago, I would have appreciated such a “tension.” Now I just feel sad. This version of Christ is profoundly insecure.

  • LoneWolf343

     I donno. They gave everyone motorcycles, and that turned out terrible.

  • Mark Z.

    “You see, my bat has a secret ability!” *WHACK*

    Just because it makes me feel good, I’m going to adopt the belief that the original show DID have everyone armed with a bat, and many duels ended with someone getting clubbed in the head, and 4Kids edited all that out.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Kaiba Corporation had a subcompany that made hi-tech bats. That’s what Mokuba was the boss of. 

  • reynard61

    “Rules? Definitions? Community? Membership? Personal testimony, history or choice? It ain’t nothin’ till I calls it, the umpire says. Those don’t matter.

    “Support marriage equality? Yer outta here! Believe the Earth is 4.5 billion years old? Yer outta here! Support contraception? Yer outta here!

    “‘Contraception? Really? That one’s new,’ you mutter to yourself as you head back to the clubhouse.”

    And this is why I’m no longer interested in The Game and would rather play with my Princess Goddess Celestia and Princess Goddess Luna dolls action figures.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    “My bat has a secret ability” Heh. Heh. 
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqIkXA5NR8U

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    Yeah, that reads more like a “I’m sorry you’re upset”, not an “I’m sorry I upset you”. I’m more impressed with “I humbly offer my apologies…” if it’s followed with what they’re apologizingfor.

  • ohiolibrarian

    Problems with this analogy:

    1) I suspect that quite a few of those thrown out of the game will disagree with each other and throw some of THEM out of the clubhouse and there will be kicks all the way down (not you Fred, but plenty of others).

    2) Is this the only game in town? Why stay to be treated as an interloper. Especially randomly and unfairly.

    3)  What about the audience in the stadium? Are they satisfied? How many are heading for the exits? Are they on the side of the ‘umpires’ or the ‘players’?

  • ReverendRef

     And my comment about Episcopalians was more along the lines of poking fun at ourselves.  It seems we hardly have a function where beer, wine, etc aren’t part of the deal.

    I think we’re getting better at that, though.

  • Lunch Meat

    Shameless self-promotion: Inspired by the discussion of this topic in the blogosphere, I’ve started a series of posts on the question of Christian rules and how they’re determined or enforced. Please read and comment if you’re interested! http://hatehurtsusall.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-silence-of-scriptures-part-one.html

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

     Nah, the Pythons got it right: W.G.Grace isGod.

    Nope.  Ditka is god.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     Everyone’s heard the one about why you always take two Baptists when you go fishing, right?

    Because if you only bring one, they’ll drink all your beer?


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