persecution in the ball diamond

The next issue of The Lutheran Witness is all about the persecution of Christians: in Africa, France, Russia, Germany.

But it’s also happening here, in America, to us.

Let me tell you about a young man I know, a member of a faithful LCMS congregation.

We’ll call him Sam because he’s a pious guy who would probably brush off his faithful confession like it was no big deal, except for the fact that it is.

Sam is in high school. He’s one of the good guys, a well-liked athlete who loves the outdoors, good books and being Lutheran.

He also leads the team of acolytes at his church, training the other young men and setting an example for what reverence and piety look like in the Divine Service.

He’s in church. He’s in Bible class. He is what it means to be Lutheran.

And because he is Lutheran, and because church matters to him, because he actually believes that Jesus is there for him in real time, flesh and blood on Sunday morning, he sets school and sports and friends aside to be there.

He knows everything else pales in comparison to what his Savior has to give him.

And because he is Lutheran, and because he longs to be where God has promised to be, he made a hard choice that turned out to be not so hard at all.

 

+++

He told his coach during Holy Week that he wouldn’t be able to attend all the scheduled baseball practices, that he would have to leave early to make it to all the services.

And his coach, who really ought to have patted Sam on the back and told him what a wise choice he had made, instead warned him, “Sam, we all have to make decisions in life. We have to decide what our priorities are.”

That is to say, “Sam, church doesn’t matter. Baseball does.”

And yet how did our young LCMS hero respond?

“I know our decisions matter . . . and that is why I’m going to church.”

 

+++

This was Sam’s moment.

This is what he promised in his confirmation vows, that he would suffer all, even the derision of his coach, for the faith.

It’s also when we hearten him, as brothers and sisters in Christ, in the comment section so that he will read this and know that he is not alone.

It’s when we are privileged to see a man with a true Lutheran backbone, with biblical resolve.

This is when we give thanks to God that He steeled Sam to respond exactly as Scripture has taught him and that our young adults really do listen when we actually teach the Small Catechism, Scripture, the liturgy and hymnody.

This is when we see that God’s Word doesn’t return void, that it has an effect, that our Lord uses it to work good for His baptized ones.

But the story doesn’t end there.

 

+++

For Sam’s faithful confession, he was benched for several games. His coach, presumably attempting to teach Sam a lesson, punished him for his faith.

Before Sam chose church over baseball, he played on the varsity team for every varsity game.

After he chose church, he didn’t.

And that’s not even mentioning the fact that for not going to the “not required but strongly encouraged” open gym on Sunday morning, Sam’s play time has been restricted.

 

+++

It should not surprise us that coaches who schedule practice times during church–and parents who let them get away with it–prove that they believe sports matter more than Jesus taking away the sins of the world.

It should not surprise us that people will try to coerce men like Sam into choosing baseball over holy things.

It should not surprise us when the Rev. Alexey Streltsov writes, “If you prefer school, sports, and other activities (which may be perfectly fine in and by themselves) over what is Christian—the Church service, Divine Liturgy, Lord’s Supper—then you have lost your battle already.”

But neither should it surprise us that God is faithful and good.

Or that our young Lutheran hero is proof that the battle is not over.

The next issue of The Lutheran Witness is all about the persecution of Christians: in Africa, France, Russia, Germany.

But it’s also happening here, in America, to us. And learning from Sam’s example, if we are to be ready at all, is a good place to start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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28 thoughts on “persecution in the ball diamond

  1. A brave and faithful confession.

    Each of us is called to stand for the Faith where we are placed. The pressure and suffering in many parts of the world far outpaces that faced by Christians in this nation. But that is beside the point. Each of us is given a cross to bear, and each is called to bear THAT cross faithfully.

    Sam, you have done a good and faithful thing here. Take courage and strength from your brothers and sisters who give their blood for the Faith, but know that each time you stand with Jesus in the face of a challenge, you also stand among those whose martyrdom is to the death.

    Well done, my brother.

    Rev. Steve Bagnall

  2. To any who have come here and feel the weight of the Law bearing down on them for an attitude different than Sam’s, who have chosen the sport, the activity, whatever over and in place of the Divine Service and now are convicted of choosing poorly, go to the Divine Service, for Jesus is there for you to forgive your sins. His invitation, grace, and promise are unwavering. He has overcome the world for you.

  3. Sam,

    As our kids’ parents, my wife and I suffer with the temptation to catch the Sunday morning games. Thank you for taking that temptation out of your parents’ hands.

    Dan

  4. Oops. Realized I forgot to sign my post above and all you got was my nom d’plume.

    Again, bravo to Sam for making the right choice even in the midst of unpleasant consequences.

    Rev. Michael Mohr

  5. Sam, you’re obviously a great example of a strong Christian man. Have you considered entering the ministry? Please do. Your ability to lead others in their faith is a calling. May God’s Holy Spirit continue to lead you.

    • Sam, thank you for your example. Perhaps ministry would be an option, but pastors are not the only ones who are examples of faith. It is also important that there are strong examples of faith among the laity.

      • I like both ideas, Sam. I encourage you to consider both. A seminary education is a fantastic thing and being an overseer is a noble task, but there is much that can be said of a faithful and knowledgeable layman with a strong confession. Pastors need those as much as the church needs pastors; as a pastor, I certainly appreciate they laymen who don’t miss a beat in supplementing, complementing, and correcting my teaching–it makes that noble task that I’ve been assigned that much easier and that much more a joy.

        In any event, what I have read of you here reminds me of John was given to write to the church at Smyrna. You might recall part of it from confirmation:
        “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” – Revelation 2:9-10

        Well done, good and faithful servant.

  6. Great story! It is good to see young people with such faith and wisdom. Sam is on his way to being a great husband and father one day, if that is God’s will.

  7. First, kudos to Sam for making the right choice. I have strongly encouraged the young men and women of our youth group in making similar choices, even “going to bat” for them with coaches (and since I’m not just the “pesky preacher trying to get his own way” but I’m typically the guy sitting at the scorer’s bench keeping the book for them, the conversation goes a little deeper and is taken a bit more to heart). And as someone else had mentioned – kudos to Sam’s parents for backing him. I remember the tongue lashing I received from parents when they told me their kids were going to have to miss confirmation instruction on account of their being required to help with some post-season games (not play in post-season, help keep stats and shag balls during warmups), I had the nerve to speak directly with the coach (an associate of mine, whose teams I had volunteered to help in previous seasons), explaining what a HUGE deal it was to miss a week’s worth of classes and asking whether it was really necessary for those players to miss instruction.

    One word of caution, however. Be careful of the logical fallacy of “post hoc ergo propter hoc.” I don’t know all of the ins and outs of this particular situation (and I trust that Adrianne, who knows the situation more intimately, has not committed this error), but I’ve seen similar circumstances in local teams that do not rise to level of “persecution.” Sometimes the consequences of faith (e.g. regularly attending worship/instruction) create a situation that triggers disciplinary action under team rules (e.g. miss a practice, you don’t start the next game). While we would like the practice of faith to take priority and accommodations made, a lack of accommodation is not, of necessity, persecution. Failure to start is often the consequence when a player is absent from practice – for whatever reason. It is not a persecution of faith per se. I once knew a coach that benched a starter for missing practice because the only time his orthodontist had available was during practice time. The coach wasn’t persecuting the kid for having braces. Sure, we would like for coaches not to be the spiritual equivalent of a troglodyte, but we should be careful in our own circumstances before making a persecution claim.

    • I agree with the above poster. When I first started reading this article, I thought it was being set up as a satiric piece. I was surprised when I got to the end and realized that the author is actually comparing the incident she describes to actual persecution with life-or-death consequences in the nations she mentions. It’s not ok to pull out the “persecution card” every time something doesn’t go a Christian’s way. Sometimes we give things up voluntarily for our faith; in Sam’s case, it meant some baseball. That is a far cry from his life.

      • Ruth,
        There are obviously degrees of persecution, but the word is defined as someone being punished for holding a differing religious (or moral, social, etc.) belief. Is this persecution tantamount to what our brothers and sisters in Christ in Syria or Nigeria are experiencing? Perhaps not in this life. But Sam was indeed punished for being a Christian, for holding a different belief than his coach, and the way in which he endured that punishment is worth noting.

      • Hi Adriane, thanks for replying.

        That is the technical definition of “persecution,” but you can’t forget about the social and cultural connotations, associations, and usages of the word. Those are as important, or even more, than the dictionary definition, particularly when broadcasting an opinion about it from a public platform. When most people, Christian or not, imagine religious “persecution,” they think of widespread institutionalized oppression of those holding to a particular faith, often with life-altering or life-ending consequences. The use of this word brings that understanding to mind. Even when considering the larger social trend of leagues and high schools holding practices on Sunday mornings, and the consequences missing practices might bring, I still do not think any of that could be termed “persecution.”

        In terms of “degrees of persecution,” I have specific issues with the way you begin and end your article. In short, you don’t note any degree of difference. In fact, you seem to conflate types of persecution and make it sound as if what happened to Sam stands on the same level as the persecution which happens in these other countries. That’s how it reads to me. Maybe I’m analyzing it too deeply, but I think a topic like this needs to be handled with a great deal of nuance, and I felt that was lacking in this blog-post.

        Speaking of nuance, though, pppadre above me does a nice job of making distinctions between what could be termed “persecution” and what Sam and other high school athletes might deal with in terms of team requirements. It might be more constructive to address his post rather than my own, particularly this specific comment:

        “While we would like the practice of faith to take priority and accommodations made, a lack of accommodation is not, of necessity, persecution. Failure to start is often the consequence when a player is absent from practice – for whatever reason. It is not a persecution of faith per se.”

  8. Bravo Sam! I pray daily that my sons and daughters will one day demonstrate their faith as boldly as you.
    Thank you for sharing this story, Adriane.

  9. I would always inform my catechumens at the beginning of each year that if their coaches (or band instructors, or science club leaders, etc etc etc) ever give them grief about their church activity, I would be glad to speak to & remind said coaches/teacher/principal/whoever about the school district’s legal responsibility to not discriminate on the basis of ANY reason – gender, race, CREED, etc.

  10. Praise the Lord for giving Sam a strong faith. Thanks be to God for parents and a church that provide the opportunity for young Christians to grow in their faith. May God touch the lives of many others with the powerful display of Spirit driven faith in this story of persecution and perseverance.

  11. Sam,
    Thank you for making this confession of faith before man. As Jesus says in Matt. 101:32 “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven” and you have shown in your confession during Holy Week who it is your truly fear, love and trust above all things. Know no matter what happens you have a God who is present with you and will strengthen you in all things.

    We pray God’s richest blessing on you as you continue both your high school career and also playing baseball.

  12. Choice comes down to what put my faith in to sustain me for the rest of my life, baseball or Jesus Christ. Sam, you choice wisely

  13. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    Thanks be to God!

  14. Sam,
    I have an eighth grade boy and prayerfully we will be helping him to make some of those same decisions in the next few years. I’ll be bringing him back here to read your story, to read the comments, and to affirm for him what is good and right and what it means to be a child of God. Thank you!

  15. Excellent article. However, I would like to mention something that hasn’t been mentioned here yet. Kudos to the parents for backing their son’s play. I’ve known a few parents who would put sports over church, even if the kid decided differently. Thanks be to God for “Sam” and his family, truly understanding the one thing needful is not sports, or a scholarship, but Jesus Christ crucified.

  16. Sam, thank you. Thank you for your faithful witness that was not seeking earthly status or congratulations. Thank you for sharing your story so that others may see a concrete example that all is not lost in the Church in this time and place. Thank you. Adriane, thank YOU (and whoever else) for telling Sam’s story and all that you do at the LW.

  17. There’s a psalm verse that asks the question, “if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” I think Sam would answer, “Go to the Divine Service.” And that is the answer any faithful Lutheran would also give.

  18. Hang in there, Sam, you’ve made the right choice. Too bad our society is increasingly squeezing God out of the picture – it is to our detriment.

  19. I pray that my children (4, 2 1/2, and 12 weeks) grow up to have such a grounding in the work of our Savior. God’s peace and blessings be with you, Sam, as you continue to model your faith.

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