I always had a great time going to college football games. I loved the floods of people all decked out in the same colors, the fight song, the kick-off, the halftime performance, the whole experience. Generally, watching sports has always been a fun way to celebrate and build community.
However, I also have some not-so-good memories. People I respect cursing and being rude to people they love because their team lost. Being flipped off because of the colors I was wearing. Someone trying to refuse me service in a restaurant because I was from a rival school.
Here’s the thing: I expect this kind of behavior from the world, and it’s not my place to judge it. But I do not expect it from the church.
But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips – Colossians 3:8 (NIV)
It seems that in the Christian world, the area of sports and school rivalries sometimes gets a free pass when it comes to those commands. Anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language are just fine if associated with your team or your school pride. In such cases, often no one dares rebuke a brother or sister, and sometimes these sins are even mistaken for upholding some kind of honor.
Harming the Body
Not only do these behaviors hurt our reputation among those we already know, they can destroy potential relationships with people we have just met. While outbursts of anger after or during games may be “excused,” a bitterness remains that carries even into introductions to new people. Many times I have told fellow Christians where I went to school, only to be met with a very heartfelt “Oh, I’m sorry,” an unpleasant facial expression, and a change of subject.
That’s hurtful. What place does an attitude like that have within the body of Christ? Such an attitude says, “Even though you’re my sister, I don’t want to get to know you because you went to a school I don’t like.” It is conveying that the place I got my education is more important than the place I have in the Kingdom of Heaven.
I think all too often we dismiss downright sinful behaviors when it comes to sports and school rivalries by saying “it’s harmless” and “we’re only joking.” But, especially coming from a school that is sometimes considered “too liberal” in my denomination, I often feel ganged up on if I’m at a Christian conference or meeting that’s outside of Austin.
It makes me not even want to say where I went to school. And I know I am not the only one who has ever felt this way; it is not unique to me or to my university. Should I have to be afraid of brothers and sisters making hurtful comments and ostracizing me in such a situation?
Examining Our Hearts
I have to examine my own heart in this matter, because often when someone makes a rude comment about my school, I immediately want to puff up and talk about how great its academics or sports are, or even retort something back about the other person’s school. It is so much easier to meet mocking with mocking than with a gentle response. But I have to remember this: “Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools. – Ecclesiastes 7:9 (ESV)
Yet even though I usually succeed in suppressing the prideful comments that are in my head, my friendship with that person has still been strained before it has even begun. My first impression of them was that they cared more about the fact that I went to a school they didn’t like (and that they made a rude comment about something that is a very important part of who I am) than that we have the same Spirit living inside us.
I’m not saying we can never, ever make jokes or comments about other schools, or that such things are automatically sins. But I think we need to be very careful, especially when that person might be in the minority in the group. I think that rather than erring on the side of slander and malice, it is more fitting for a believer to err on the side of acceptance and love.
I can’t tell you how wonderful and refreshing it is when a believer from a rival school skips the rude comment and instead proceeds to “So what was your major?” or even better, “How is God at work there?” “How did He lead you to that school?” That is what our attitudes should be. Praise the Lord that we belong to a heavenly kingdom that greatly transcends all loyalty we have to any earthly institutions – even universities and football teams.