America is a Christian nation. You hear that a lot from pastors, pundits, and politicians, and of course whenever someone tries to build a Mosque. And maybe we are, Wikipedia, which is on the Internet and therefore infallible, puts the percentage of Christians in America at 76%. Over two-thirds of those are Protestant, half of those are Baptist, and the largest denomination of Baptists are the Southern Baptists, who count me among 16.3 million adherents.
16.3 million is certainly a lot of people, in fact it’s almost as many as 17.3 million, which is the number of people who attended an NFL game in 2009. You see the reason so many people in America check ‘Christian’ on these Religious Identification Surveys is because football is usually not one of the choices. Because if we are being honest here, and who isn’t honest on the Internet, America is really a football nation.
If you don’t believe me all you have to do is take a look around you next Sunday as you sit in your pew. Halfway through the sermon men, women, and children will begin nervously glancing at their watches. If the alter call goes long, some will become visibly agitated, while others will just get up and leave. God is eternal, but kickoff is at noon.
There but for the grace of Tebow go I. You see, I adhere to the collegiate sect of the football cult in America. Our services are held on Saturdays, leaving Sundays free for us to worship our God without fear of missing the first quarter. Of course it’s hard for me to worship on Sundays following a tough loss, because I’m either too busy sulking, or because I skipped church altogether to avoid the knowing smirk of rivals fans. And it’s also hard for me to worship on Sundays following a big win too, because instead of meditating on God’s Word I keep reliving the big plays over and over in my mind. And forget singing, my voice was lost by half time the day before. But prayer and song aren’t all there is to a service, I can still worship through giving, but sometimes that’s even hard for me because ticket scalpers are usually not concerned if I’ll have enough money leftover to tithe.
I talk about these things half-jokingly, but I do realize it’s a problem for me and countless others. Last fall I took a pilgrimage to all 12 Southeastern Conference venues, talking to fans of various faiths, trying to learn how they balance their passion for pigskin with their devotion to God. But fanatics are generally not known for their ability to keep things in proper perspective. In fact, most of us identify more strongly with our team than we do our religion, and for churches, this is a problem they’ll need to address sooner than later.
It’s something I’m working on, because football, as great as it is, is only a game. And if I truly believe the things I profess, then I should never let the outcome of a game hinder me from serving my God. I’m working on it, but it’s difficult. American is a football nation. Maybe the next time we take a religion survey we’ll be honest enough to admit it.
So what do you think? Does America’s passion for football pose a serious risk to organized religion, or do you think deep down we know it is only a game?
Chad Gibbs is the author of God & Football: Faith and Fanaticism in the SEC. He found football at the age of eight, found God one year later, and has spent the rest of his life worshiping one of the two. He and his wife currently live in Auburn, Alabama, with their dogs Bob Vance and Harper. Visit his blog at www.chadgibbs.com.