Baptism by football

Jesus-army-baptismHere's a gridiron-and-God story for all of our readers in the beautiful state of Texas who just got home from a high school football game:

The parents of a 16-year-old Kentucky football player who was baptized along with some teammates during a trip organized by their coach said Tuesday they believe their son may have felt some pressure to go through with the ceremony.

Parents said the voluntary trip was organized by Breckinridge County High School football coach Scott Mooney, who is a member of the Baptist church where the revival was held Aug. 26.

Dannie Ammons told The Associated Press he had no idea his son, Robert Coffey, was being taken to a church in another county on a school bus. The teen told them he was going to see a motivational speaker. Eight or nine other players were baptized at Franklin Crossroads Baptist Church, he said.

"There wasn't supposed to be anything religious," said Ammons, who is Catholic.

Robert Coffey said the furor surrounding his visit to the church is "kind of stupid" and that he decided to go through with the baptism because some of his friends were doing it.

That's the story's lede. And it's not difficult to imagine the circumstances under which Robert would have felt this pressure. I can just think back to going to a Miles Ahead crusade led by former footballer Miles McPherson. I was there friends from my church, and I was already a Christian. But when they did the altar call, I felt guilty for not wandering down to re-commit my life.

Or better yet, how about this gem shared with your GetReligionistas by the Divine Ms. MZ's family? You see, her mom was baptized as an infant at a church that became part of the United Church of Christ. And when she was 13, she went with some friends to a Billy Graham revival. They encouraged her to respond to the altar call, and MZ's mama was worried she would only get a ride home if she made "a decision for Jesus."

But what about Robert Coffey? The AP article, which is well-informed and strikes a beautiful balance in reporting on what could be such a knee-jerk story, explains that his father is Catholic and mother Baptist. Robert doesn't seem that into religion, but you know peer pressure. At least it wasn't drugs, right?

The bigger issue here, of course, is not whether Robert felt required to join the 46 other people submerged in water that night. But why the football team was taken to a church revival in the first place. Again, AP reporter Dylan T. Lovan relates the backstory and the fallout in a way that I don't think ABC News could:

The church's pastor, Ron Davis, said Mooney had asked him if he could bring his players. Davis said the baptisms were "spontaneous" and had not been planned by a guest speaker giving a sermon that night.

"There was nobody telling them they had to be baptized that night," said Davis, whose rural church in Hardin County has about 1,000 members. He said the church typically gets parental consent before baptisms, but "I was sure that they were cognizant enough to make that decision," Davis said. He said he wasn't sure if the boys were "16 or 20."

School Superintendent Janet Meeks, also a member of the church, said Tuesday in a statement on behalf of school employees that the coach's use of the school bus after school hours for an outside activity was allowed

And then very late in the story -- not as a cheap grab for a money quote but for the sake of analysis -- Lovan quotes an attorney saying the football trip was illegal and then a school district spokeswoman saying it wasn't such a big deal.

And that's it. A detailed story, a sympathetic central figure and an uncertain conclusion. In other words, a job well done.

PHOTO: A river baptism from Wikipedia

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