“Public displays” of faith

“Public displays” of faith January 23, 2013

Mollie Hemingway writes about the way the media addresses the late Stan Musial’s religion.  Most of the obituaries ignored it completely, but she focuses on how it’s handled in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  Here we are told that, yes, Musial was religious, but that he practiced it privately, never pushing it on anybody, and avoiding public displays. But Mollie (I can call her by her first name because I know her) then raises a question that transcends baseball:  What constitutes a public display of faith?

The article surveys Musial’s 72-year marriage, the kindness and respect he showed to others, and all of the other good qualities he was known for.  Then it says this:

“He remained a devout Catholic all his life, but never pushed his spirituality on others. He never crossed himself at home plate or pointed to the heavens after a hit. For all of his harmonica-playing frivolity and social accessibility, he was an intensely private man who held family dear and valued loyalty.”

Comments Mollie, who is both a Cardinals fan and a Lutheran:

I have two thoughts on this. Equating the crossing of one’s self to “pushing” spirituality is questionable, of course. But I always wonder why we say that someone living his life as Musial did is practicing one’s faith privately. To me, it’s a very public display of one’s faith to remain married in a beautiful marriage for 72 years. It’s a public display of one’s faith to treat others with respect. And what could be more public than Musial’s regular attendance at Mass?

via Stan Musial wore his faith on his sleeve.

We tend to neglect the ordinary spirituality of vocation  (marriage and parenthood, how we go about our work, how we treat our neighbors, going to church), even though these are precisely the realms in which we are to live out our faith in love and service to our neighbors!

Indeed, we sometimes neglect them because we are pursuing some other agenda that we think is more “spiritual”!


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  • tODD

    From the article:

    To me, it’s a very public display of one’s faith to remain married in a beautiful marriage for 72 years. It’s a public display of one’s faith to treat others with respect.

    This seems to be an odd usage of the term “display of faith”. Surely, the fact that he was married for a long time, or that he was nice to others, doesn’t actually tell us anything about his faith, or even if he was religious. So what does it mean to call such examples “displays of faith”?

    Anyhow, it seems clear to me that old-school Musial is being constrasted witht the likes of new-school Tebow. And, if I recall correctly, this blog took a somewhat different approach towards “public displays of faith” when it came to the latter athlete.

  • Richard

    No, but it does tell us that Musial was faithful at his vocation as husband. And isn’t being faithful by its very definition a “display of faith”?

  • fjsteve

    tODD, perhaps it was a different approach, for a different situation, but what it inconsistent? From this blog:

    Many Christians are not that demonstrative about our faith, which is certainly legitimate. But is there anything actually wrong with Tebow being so demonstrative about it? And shouldn’t we cut him some slack about it? Yes, we are to beware those who practice their piety before men, but Tebow certainly isn’t doing it to make himself look good–as might happen in another age–since it is only attracting scorn and contempt. Shouldn’t we support him and maybe ourselves be more open about our faith than we are?

    I can see the distinction. I’m not personally into public gestures of faith–which, as you rightly point out, is not necessarily the same as a public display of faith–and I’m also cautious of people who may seem a bit too eager to make public gestures. At the same time, it irritates me when people are ridiculed on television or news media for making such gestures. I don’t think those things are inconsistent.

    On the other hand, maybe I completely misread what you’re trying to say.

  • Gene Veith

    tODD, @1:18 a.m. I don’t remember a particular stance “this blog” took on Tebow. I believe I would have defended him. I don’t object to players crossing themselves, pointing to Heaven, and kneeling. But more significant is how we live out our faith in our vocations. Even non-believers have stations in life, such as marriage, jobs, etc.–such is God’s providential and hidden working in the way He governs His earthly kingdom–and so should be faithful spouses, good workers, etc., but for Christians, these are “callings” to love and service, the fruits of faith.

    I guess what I’m reacting against is the question that I hear a lot, especially in reference in my profession to writers and other artists but also to specific living individuals, “But is he really a Christian?” This said of someone who confesses faith in Christ, goes to church regularly, and had a normal life with family and work, but somehow didn’t have a dramatic enough conversion experience (as if one first had to be a notorious sinner before becoming a Christian), or isn’t vocal about it in a certain prescribed way. I know, of course, that there can be nominal Christians, but they exist even among those who can claim the right brand of a conversion experience. No one can know the heart. But, as far as “public” expressions of faith, yes, I’d say Stan Musial was a Christian.

  • Rich Woelmer

    Mollie Hemmingway’s comments are so true and capture the meaning of Christian vocation in every area of our lives, just as you so eloquently express in “God at Work.” I never realized Musial was a devout Catholic, but suspected he was a man of faith because of the way he conducted himself on and off the field. Could a non-Christian be a decent man in the public eye? Sure, but I knew there had to be a faith foundation for the life he led. I was not surprised at all when I read about his “public expressions of faith.”

  • tODD

    Dr. Veith (@4), I guess I don’t get the point of labeling actions such as are presented here as “displays of faith”. As you note, the exact same things can be done — even to a better degree than one might find done by a Christian — by non-believers. So when we see a faithful husband, it doesn’t tell us anything about his faith.

    I get your point that, for a Christian, such actions are the results of faith, or, rather of God who wills and acts in us. Maybe that’s what’s bothering me.

    What we’re really talking about here is the Law. And through the working of the Law, God gives everyone their food in due season — even for the un-believer.

    But when we talk of “faith”, we don’t mean adherence to the Law. Because, again, un-believers can do that, to some degree, at least outwardly. But faith has to do with the Gospel. And the Gospel isn’t about what we do. Though nor will it fail to result in our — which is to say, God’s — doing things, as our new man naturally acts.

    I certainly share your disdain for the Satan-inspired question, “But is he really a Christian?” It sounds like you hear too much from Evangelicals. Not surprising, given your position.

    Still, I’m equally troubled by people like Rich (@5) who say that “I knew there had to be a faith foundation for the life he led.”

  • helen

    Rich @ 5
    My Norwegian college imported an LCMS trained man as assistant coach, [head coach eventually].
    After he’d been on campus awhile, one of the boys remarked, “You know, nobody uses foul language in the locker room any more. Coach Schweitzer has never said a word about it, but he never talks like that. And now, nobody does.”

    It was a long time ago. I wonder if we are turning out the same kind of men today.