Torch Article: Reverendly Yours - Rev. Tom Goldsmith

29 January 2019

When asked to describe the relationship between religion and sports, we might be inclined to draw a blank. I always assumed that God, as a symbol of love and justice, would never favor an individual or team. We are, after all, God’s children; every one of us. Yet some athletes seek a little extra attention by flashing a signal to God with the sign of the cross right before stepping into the batter’s box. It’s as if to say: “Reward your loyal follower with a homerun.” 

Football players also feel uninhibited to show their faith publicly, often crossing themselves after a touch down, indicating they could not have achieved the score without God’s help. Indeed, they were somehow chosen. And in basketball, a long (lucky) shot at a basket that falls in often ends with a sign of the cross as though to say, “Jesus loves me.” 

You would think that with all the tumult in the world today, Jesus and God would have more important events in which to interfere. But on the other hand, perhaps the world is in such a mess today because God prefers to intervene in sporting events. 

We may soon become a lot clearer on whether or not there’s a connection between athletes and the Divine. The Vatican has recently assembled a track team that will compete internationally. The Italian Olympic Committee has agreed to terms for the Holy See to join the International Association of Athletics Association. The Holy See, which always had its own flag, will now be among the delegations at the opening of the Olympic Games. They say there are no atheists in foxholes. Will there be atheists in the Olympics?

It sure gives me second thoughts about liberal theology. I would not feel comfortable competing against athletes who represent the Holy See with its apostolic succession going back to the first century where St. Peter and St. Paul got this papal thing rolling in the first place. It makes athletes on steroids pale in comparison to athletes representing the saints we read about in the Bible. Is it fair?

The 60 athletes representing the Holy See in international competition include priests, nuns, and members of the Swiss Guard, their secret service men who protect the safety of the pope. The team also has a 62-year old professor who works in the Apostolic Library. The head of their sports department, Monsignor Jose Sanchez de Toca y Alameda predicted that his team would make it to the Olympic podium. I am not betting against him. Although I have never seen a nun run track, I assume they have a lot of pent-up energy ready to break loose in the 100-meter race.

Suddenly it feels like there may be an imbalance in competition. It used to be that the best athlete won, but if a 62-year professor wins an Olympic medal, there will be no other accounting for that than divine intervention. Suddenly liberal theology doesn’t feel all that secure. I would not intentionally cheer against the Vatican team, but may have no choice if I want to remain a Unitarian minister. TRG