When my 15-year-old son’s travel soccer team had a week-end tournament earlier this summer, we privately clucked our tongues when one of the games was scheduled on Sunday morning. A rare exception, we skipped church so he could play in the tournament. And then it happened: the season schedule for practices and games just came out . . . with practices and games scheduled on every Sunday morning September to February.

For some Christians, this might pose a trivial dilemma — go to a Saturday night service somewhere (our home church does not have such); or, with a sigh, just set aside church for this. For us, though, we’re not open to prioritizing soccer over church; so the dilemma is very real. We’re wrestling with whether our son should quit the team or step up our protest to the coaches and administrators of the league for their scheduling of soccer so inconsiderately over the time traditionally recognized as the time of Christian worship services.

Fortunately (in a way), we are not alone. About half the team’s families have raised a protest to this “anti-Christian” soccer schedule. Of course, I know that our claim to “conviction” on it must ring a bit hollow to secular ears, given that we all let our sons play in the tournament a couple of months back. With much of the “protest” being voiced by email (catch that oxymoron?), everyone can see the qualifying caveat, “The occasional tournament is OK, but every week is unacceptable”. . .  a plaintive compromise. . . .   a “compromise” I, for one, wish I’d never made in the first place.

Trying to be missional adds a further complication.  In this case, the parental instinct to protect and want what’s best for our son — parental demand for justice for our son even (“Why should my child be unfairly discriminated against because of his/our Christian religious values?!”) — threatens to conflict with our aspiration to be winsome toward the coaches and parents who have different or no such religious concerns at all. 

For us, eliminating church attendance to play soccer is not an option.  (So don’t bother making the case that doing so could be “missional.”  It’s not that I haven’t thought of that rationalization, but, sorry, our conscience just won’t buy that one.)  Barring that, here are our options:

Option A: graciously withdraw our son from the team

Option B: band together with other Christian parents to voice a gracious but firm protest to the schedule

Option C: torque up a campaign against this injustice, pointing out that the religious discrimination of this policy essentially penalizes Christian kids for their Christian religious convictions

Option D: bring in the lawyers if need be to make the point

We’ve heard each of these options discussed by the Christian families genuinely concerned for our sons.  Organized sports is a big thing in our culture anyway; too big I know. Throw in the possibility of college scholarships being secured or squandered depending on how this matter is handled and the issue becomes downright volatile. And . . . before you propose too quickly “option A,” above, just think a little about what effect the message of “you can’t play on the team because we’re Christians” could have on a teenage boy, too.

Anyway, there’s the situation.  I’m wide open to counsel on it.  Anybody want to weigh in?

Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum


0 # Greg Porter 2012-09-13 14:11
Great Blog, Dr M! We went through that with each of our kids with youth lax. At one point I spoke to the clergy in our community and they wrote a letter to all the youth sports orgnaizations and schools re keeping Sun am clear. Not much effect, but it felt good to push back against the machine... Sports has become the means of suburban salvation, what Goetz calls, 'Immortality Symbols' in his book, 'Death by Suburb.' It has become, more than any other entity, the idol du jour. The answer is not an easy. Would love to discuss this further! btw, just saw an advertisement for a 4 yr old lax camp. I tweeted back, '4? Really?' (was in a bad mood!) The guy tweeted back, 'Yes. 4. Really.' (I wanted to tweet back (win?) 'Why not 3?' :-) But I decided to lose and let him get the last word, which felt bad then but feels pretty good now. Let's talk!

All the best,
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0 # Philsthrills 2012-09-13 16:50
Wow, that's a tough one. Right now we are faced with a similar situation, as both of our girls will be on the ski team this year. It is different, though, as skiing is an individual sport. It is also different as we could still go to church (missing the early morning) and be there before noon, as most Sundays run until 4:00. Sometimes they will just miss practice, other times they may miss the race. Either way, there is no "team" that will be penalized by their not being there. This allows us to go to church, allow the girls to be on the ski team, and hopefully to be missional at the same time. We will just show up late every Sunday and everyone will know why, and that it was all prearranged. On a positive note, the ski racing season in the mid-atlantic is only eight weeks. ;-) Blessings as you work through this.
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0 # R. Todd Mangum 2012-09-14 07:42
I had not thought of getting clergy of the community involved (as Greg mentions) -- better alternative than lawyers, certainly. :-)

Right now, as a result of parent uproar over the Sunday practice schedule, the coaches and administrators of the league in our case have: 1) reduced the number of Sunday practices; and 2) moved the Sunday practices back to 12:00 noon. We will probably get Jesse to the Sunday practices late (rather than skip altogether). The statement has clearly been made to the league that "Sunday soccer activity is not preferred." Have we done well by God and man in this? . . .
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