I woke up this morning to a slew of text messages from my boyfriend who was giving me a play-by-play of the Seattle-New England football game. I read all of his excited messages as the Patriots intercepted the ball in the last moments of the game and took the victory away from the Seahawks. Even in my sleepy state, I was really excited too. Mostly because I knew my older sister would be ecstatic that her favourite team won the game.
I also woke up and did what I think we all do most mornings (even though we hate to admit it): I scrolled through Facebook. And I knew I’d see some of my friends lamenting over the loss of the Seahawks, and even posting a few undesirable comments about Tom Brady, but also some who were happy about the game. Though I love football, I wasn’t overly invested in last nights game because my favourite team is Greenbay, and they weren’t playing. So you see, I was okay with going to sleep as opposed to staying up until 3 in the morning in my timezone to watch the game. But I still love football, and you can bet that if Greenbay was playing, I would have been up all night.
As I continued to scroll through Facebook I saw a post that I dreaded–one that I knew I could possibly come across the morning after the Superbowl, but the one I hoped I wouldn’t see. It was along the lines of this:
“Christians who watch the Superbowl are partaking in worldliness and I can’t believe they don’t have their priorities straight when there are other Christians in the world who are willing to go to great lengths for their faith, and I think that people who enjoy this sort of thing are just not holy enough.”
Or something like that. It wasn’t likely worded that way, but it was just as harsh. And it wasn’t the only one. A couple of my other contacts on Facebook posted similar things, leaving the rest of us who think of themselves as pretty devoted Christians feeling like dirt; shamed by one single Facebook post.
And I fought very hard against myself not to comment. Not to start an argument. Because this sort of thing really bothers me, and I was tired, and I wanted to set the record straight for the rest of us football-loving-Superbowl-watching Christians. So I decided to say it here, because maybe one little comment just isn’t enough. Maybe this needs to be an open discussion on more than just football and being “of the world”. It’s a conversation about love. And how Christians suck at being loving, which is a much bigger problem then whether or not people watch football.
I’m currently living in a country as a missionary where American football is not a big deal. Superbowl parties aren’t all that common here in Ireland, and you certainly don’t see guys watching games during the week. They might know some of the teams, but that’s about as far as it goes. That doesn’t mean they don’t have their own fair share of fanaticism when it comes to sports. Talk about Gaelic football, rugby, or hurling and you’ve got a pretty heated conversation. Go over the other side of the water and talk to the Brits about Manchester United vs. Chelsea and you’ve got another debate. So many countries South of the equator are bigger into soccer and baseball than we are with our football and hockey. The point is, watching sports and liking a game isn’t inherently evil. To the exclusion of God, sure. Over and above your love for Jesus, sure. But in and of itself–not even close.
In fact, I’m quickly learning that in order to be an affective missionary in my current context, I’m going to have to go where the people are. And where are they often times? The football pitch or at a rugby match. I don’t even know all the rules of rugby or hurling or Gaelic football, but these things are really important to the community I live in. I will never be an effective missionary or Christian in this world if I stand on the sidelines preaching while everyone walks on by. Shouting sanctimonious rants about worldliness is not going to get people to warm to the Christian faith. It’s not even how Jesus would have done things. So maybe I have to get on the rugby bandwagon and rub shoulders with people that I would otherwise have zero chance in reaching. And by the way, being a football fan does not make me any less of a Christian or any less willing to live to the end of myself for the sake of the Kingdom. Not even a little. And you know what else? I bet many of those football players will be counted among the saints as well, so what about that?
So instead of condemning those who are in our faith already for enjoying fellowship together over a football game, get into the community you live in and love on people who don’t know Jesus. Don’t judge them for their likes and dislikes, just love them. Because you might find, like I’ve found, that you actually need to become a fan of some of these sports in order to be where the people are. Because that’s what Jesus was about–going where the people were, even the lowest of the low, and loving them. Christians judge. Jesus didn’t. But he certainly will when the time is right. And as Francis Chan once said, “In the twilight of life, we will be judged on love alone.”
So there. I didn’t watch the Superbowl, but I sure wish I had of. And it wouldn’t have made me any less of a Christian.