A provocative new book, “Onward Christian Athletes: Turning Ballparks Into Pulpits and Players Into Preachers” examines how conservative, evangelical Christianity has become increasingly prominent in the professional sports world. The book was written by Tom Krattenmaker, a Portland-based writer specializing in religion in public life and politics and a contributor to USA Today and The Oregonian.
Through detailed research and extensive interviews, Krattenmaker makes a convincing argument that athletes are often encouraged and sometimes pressured to make public statements of faith, thus becoming spokesmen on behalf of conservative Christianity.
Willamette Week reports that the book acknowledges the view held by some that because this evangelizing takes place within sports arenas and stadiums that are often paid for through public financing, perhaps there should be some type of reform that provides separation of sports and religion or at least broadens the religious playing field. However, Krattenmaker asserts that religious speech is not only impossible to police, but that this would ultimately violate the free speech we are guaranteed under the Bill of Rights.
Krattenmaker acknowledges the importance of free religious expression and emphasizes the positive functions of religion in public life, but he is also apprehensive about exclusive theologies that impose political ideologies that may not be representative of the general public.
“It troubles me when you have individuals and organizations operating in sports that promote this exclusive doctrine that essentially says our version of Christianity is right and other people won’t be in good standing with God,” Krattenmaker told The Philadelphia Daily News.
According to Pitch Invasion, Krattenmaker points out that most American sports franchises have team chaplains, and although these chaplains provide beneficial pastoral counseling and attention to any religious needs among team members, in reality most of these chaplains derive from organizations motivated by an evangelical Christianity that is not necessarily representative of players, fans or communities.
Krattenmaker ultimately sees much potential for good in the religion and professional sports relationship. He is not out to condemn religion in sports but instead wants to bring the issue into the spotlight in order to make it more thoughtful, more constructive and more representative of the wider religious community.
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