Ray 10-10-2012

My Word: Does God choose football’s winners?

robert ray(Orlando Sentinel, October 10, 2012)

By Robert J. Ray

In the little town of Kountze, Texas., the high-school football cheerleaders have been carrying banners bearing biblical messages. The Freedom From Religion Foundation has objected. Now the case is in the courts (“Biblical banners banned under Friday night lights,” Orlando Sentinel, Friday).

The banners bore such motivational slogans as “If God is for us, who can be against us? Romans 8:31.” And “Thanks be to God which gives us Victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Cor 15:57.”

Much as I commend creativity, I think the cheerleaders should dispense with the banners. First, the third commandment (Exodus 20:7) says, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.” While the Ten Commandments come to us via the Hebrew scriptures, almost all religions see them as at least wise admonitions.

I don’t believe the commandment is talking solely about the words that escape our lips when we smash our thumb with a hammer or get splatter-bombed by a bird. Rather, I think the commandment prohibits attaching the name of God to anything that doesn’t deserve such an honor.

I don’t think God should be blamed when their team is having a bad night. Nor should he be credited for their victories.

Second, don’t the banners suggest to the teams that lose that God has abandoned them? Or that they’d better shape up spiritually if they ever hope to win? Or does God just not like them as much?

Third, what about the Jew, Muslim or Hindu who’s playing for Kountze? At every game, the banners claim that the victory has come through Jesus Christ. Yet the better the student plays, the more the credit will go to a religious figure he doesn’t believe in.

Think how a Christian might feel if playing on a predominantly Hindu team where the cheerleaders’ banners all say, “Our victory comes only through Vishnu.”

From a purely religious perspective, I think the cheerleaders’ banners are fraught with far more problems than they’re worth. They should be abandoned voluntarily.

Finally, we have the arguments of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I strongly support the right of free religious expression But the more religious expression becomes intertwined with tax dollars, the more everyone has the right to question its legitimacy.

Robert J. Ray, who lives in Longwood, is a member of the executive committee of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.