Baylor's Clash of Two Religions: Christianity and Football

News Sentinel, June 11, 2016 | Go to article overview

Baylor's Clash of Two Religions: Christianity and Football


For half a century or more, journalists seeking insights on religion news in America have given a consistent answer to the question, "Who you gonna call?"

The proper response, of course, is "Martin E. Marty."

So it's no surprise that the 88-year-old historian, the author of 60-plus books, has weighed in on the media storm surrounding Baylor University's Christian identity, big-time college football and the painful challenges facing educators wrestling with sexual abuse, alcohol and the law.

The key, according to Marty, is that Baylor is involved in a clash between two religions: Christianity and football.

"But isn't football just football, a branch of athletics, classifiable as entertainment and capitalist enterprise?" he asked in a "Sightings" essay for the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Marty's answer: "No." Anyone with a good world-religions textbook or encyclopedia will recognize the characteristics that define "religious" activities, he said.

Is this activity an "ultimate concern" for those involved? Put a checkmark there.

Does football provide "ceremonial reinforcement," adding a kind of "metaphysical depth" to life? Check and check. Are deep emotions involved in these rites, providing a crucial sense of "communalism" among the faithful? Once again, add two checkmarks.

Now what about football, especially in Texas?

Marty added: "Football, on the collegiate and professional levels -- and, in a world of trickle-down religions, often in high school and little-kid versions -- fits most definitions of religion, some of them vividly, at Super Bowls and Texas high school rites, sacrifices and glorifications, more than they might be visible at the friendly neighborhood church or synagogue or even in 'spiritual but not religious' (and yet 'religious') circles. We do not claim to be particularly original or perceptive in pointing here to the religious dimensions as seen ... at Baylor but almost as dramatically year-round in the higher levels of football authority and engrossments."

Baylor officials are well aware that millions of sports dollars and national prestige are at stake. But at the same time, noted Marty, "Baylor does not hide its official and traditional faith commitment, and puts it to work in many policies, such as compulsory chapel for students for a year or two. Let it be noted . …

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