Recently, David French published an essay in National Review Online about the recent politicization of sports. He argues that sports is the only “neutral” ground where Americans of all political points of view can come together, set aside their disagreements and bond with one another. Recent protests and boycotts, however, have undermined the effectiveness of sports as a unifying force in our culture, and these developments will only exasperate the division and polarization that are presently the hallmarks of American political and social life.
French has, without question, accurately described what is happening in American sports today. Whether the trend towards the “weaponization” of sports is a good thing, however, is another matter. Some would agree with French’s assessment, contending that this is just one more example of how the leftist counterculture has hijacked American society in order to promote its own wicked agenda. Others would forcefully reject French’s conclusions, arguing that sports provides a platform for advocates of positive social change that cannot be found anywhere else in American society. “After all,” they might say, “justice must be done–regardless of who it offends.”
What caught my attention was French’s assertion that religion is one of the chief forces producing polarization in our society. It seems like we are always being confronted with the painful evidence of this division. Congregations and even whole denominations are tearing themselves apart over issues of political and social import, and both sides of the ideological divide are clamoring to claim Jesus as the patron saint of their cause.
I guess we shouldn’t be surprised by this state of affairs. After all, Jesus told us that division would be the unavoidable result of his ministry (Matthew 10:34-39; Luke 12:49-53). Nevertheless, it is troubling to see those who claim to follow Christ squabbling with one another over issues about which they ought to agree. It is even more troubling to realize that I have been, and will probably continue to be, one of the squabblers.
Jesus’ ministry is so divisive because he always relativizes–and often subverts–the world and its values. The truth is that too many of us are like the people that Jesus warns in Matthew’s version of his saying. Actually, we are worse off than they. It is understandable why someone might love their family more than Jesus, but we love an ideology–and the identity category that forms around it–more than Jesus. To put it another way, our altar has taken on the shape of a donkey or an elephant rather than the form of Christ’s cross.
The only remedy for the division that afflicts the American church is for all of us to subordinate our ideology to our theology. Our witness has already been deeply compromised by our captivity to the powers of our age. It is time to stop the damage and allow Christ to heal our fellowships.
I know that this will not be easily accomplished, and it will entail a good deal of pain for all involved. I have deeply held political convictions, too, and I am always suspicious of those who try to use theological justifications to convince me to relinquish those convictions. Furthermore, I have had difficult conversations with people on issues of political importance, and I have the emotional scars to show for it.
Nevertheless, I know that my spiritual well-being depends on allowing the light of Christ to shine on every area of my life. And so does yours. Becoming a Christian means becoming like Christ, and becoming like Christ entails the stripping away of all that is not of him.