Thursday, February 18, 2010

Question for sports fans: What Would Jesus Cheer?

One of my numerous jobs is as PA announcer for UBC Thunderbirds basketball games (and occasionally hockey and baseball, too). I love the energy at the games, the opportunity to do what's essentially an acting role, and being a recovering broadcaster (25 years in radio and TV), I never met a microphone I didn't like.

If they're within driving distance, fans of the opposing teams often come to the games, and they tend to sit right behind me (which is also close to their players' bench). they add to the atmosphere, but sometimes they can be pretty rude. Thunderbirds fans are no saints, either, but this piece is directed at fans from a Christian university, because, alas, I have to say they're the worst in the league. There is a pre-game announcement I have to make, warning people that profanity and derogatory remarks can be grounds for getting run out of the building. If the fans from this school added foul language to their arsenal, they'd be banned for the season.

And that wouldn't serve the Kingdom, would it? "The Worst Fans In The League" might be a badge of honor for people in, say, Philadelphia, New York or Boston, but when you’re sporting the colors of not just a school but a Christian school, that "badge" reflects your faith walk, too.

The fact is, fans from a Christian school are under scrutiny wherever they go and if they come across more of the world than of Witness, it does the Kingdom a disservice. Do I need to add that it makes a mockery of any post-game prayer circle? We need to remember that we are ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). Think of this: the 12-year-old son of another pastor was at a UBC-TWU tilt with a birthday party, and they picked up the mood from the Spartans’ fans.

Can you imagine the exchange at home?

PARENT: Who told you that was a good cheer?
CHILD: The fans from (insert name of school) were saying it.
PARENT: But they're supposed to be Christians! So that's what they're really like ...

Oh, sure, there’s fleshly delight in a well-constructed insult, but doesn’t God expect us to be a LITTLE bit higher than the flesh?

We need to ask, What would Jesus cheer?

Matthew 5:22 makes it clear that He would never trash-talk the opposition: “whosoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca’ [loose transl.: “Waste of skin”], shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, ‘Thou fool’, shall be in danger of hell fire.” Anyone want to guess what “you suck!” would merit?

Verbally attacking the opposition is pride. You can be proud of your team, but Solomon warns us (Prov. 3:34) “Surely He scorneth the scorners, but giveth grace unto the lowly”. Romans 12:21 gives another insight: “Be not overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” Jerry Savelle puts it succinctly: “If you can’t speak the Word of God, shut up!”

The Old Testament is riddled with references to victory that God gives to those who turn to Him. Go through the Psalms (Ps. 27 is a great example) to see what is written about God giving His followers absolute victory. Even in the apparent trash-talking between David and Goliath in I Samuel 17, David declares that he’ll take down the big guy because God is on his side.

A Christian sports fan should urge his team to excel for God’s glory, and remember that to cheer for the other side to fail is to rejoice in iniquity (I Cor. 13:6); pray for both sides AND THE REFEREES; and also for a chance to witness to fans on the other side.

Any trip to another school is an opportunity to represent Christ, and that includes the way you comport yourselves in the stands. No amount of preaching, praying or handing out of tracts will have any impact if you’re a bunch of jerks once the game starts. As St Francis of Assisi once said, “take each and every opportunity to preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words.”