Sin-free softball? Not really

Tmatt posted last week on the saga of a lesbian softball coach whose team was kicked out of an adult women's league by a Southern Baptist megachurch. He pointed out that "too many gaps and unanswered questions" characterized the coverage by The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn. If you missed that post, please read it first or this one won't make any sense.

This week, the same newspaper ran a follow-up story based on a video of pastor Steve Gaines discussing the situation at the Bellevue Baptist Church on Sunday.

Here's the top of the report:

Bellevue Baptist Church pastor Steve Gaines told his congregation Sunday that any church leader found in serious sin would have been prohibited from coaching in the church's athletic leagues, just as a woman who acknowledged she is gay.

"You have to have certain standards for leadership," Gaines said in a video posted on the Internet. "Leadership is not a right. Leadership is a privilege."

The pastor's comments came less than a week after The Commercial Appeal reported that a local women's softball team was not allowed to play in Bellevue's league after church officials asked Jana J. Jacobson, the team's representative, if she was gay. Jacobson acknowledged her sexual orientation and was told her team could not play in the league.

Gaines, in a 2 1/2-minute video from a Sunday service, addressed the matter saying the church was not trying to portray their league as perfect. Rather, he said, the decision dealt with the leadership role and the person representing the team.

"We all know that every coach is a sinner, every player is a sinner. We understand all of that," he said. "It's not that we are trying to have a sin-free ball league."

From a theological standpoint, I was struck by the reference in the lede to "serious sin." I wondered if the pastor used that terminology, because it would indicate varying levels of sin -- as opposed to all sin being equal in God's eyes. I went back and listened to the video a second time, and the pastor did not use that adjective. He did, however, give examples of other sins that might cause a coach to lose privileges in the church league:

He noted if another coach was currently an adulterer, cohabiting with someone, hooked on pornography, or participating in "the sin of homosexuality," they would suffer the same fate.

"We cannot, in good conscience, put that person in a leadership position," he said. "So, that's the decision, and why it was made."

Unfortunately, many -- make that most -- of the questions raised in Tmatt's original post remain unanswered. A big reason for that is that the church, for whatever reason, has refused to discuss the situation -- in the original story and the follow-up. While the church's cooperation should not be a prerequisite for fair coverage, it does make the reporter's job much more difficult.

"No comment" may mean that the church does not believe it can receive fair treatment in the media. Or "no comment" may mean that the church believes that it mishandled this matter and does not think it can improve public perception by talking about it. Really, I have no idea what "no comment" means, except that it makes the church look like it has something to hide.

The pastor's statement on the lesbian coach indicates that everyone who coaches in the softball league is a "church leader." If the church were talking, or if the newspaper were enterprising enough to send out a reporter to the women's adult softball league to poke around, it would be interesting to know: How many teams are there? What percentage of players are non-Bellevue members? Are all of the coaches Bellevue members? If not, has anyone checked into the leadership credentials of the other non-member coaches?

Also, I'd be curious to know what the other players and teams think of the lesbian coach's team being prevented from playing. Do other players and teams support the church's stance? Or is there a diversity of opinions? Obviously, there was enough discussion among church members that the pastor felt compelled to address the situation from the pulpit.

Finally, it would be interesting to know: How competitive is this church softball league? And, for that matter, how competitive is the team that drew notice before play started -- and obviously prompted someone to alert church leaders to the coach's sexual orientation? Is there any chance that this snub has as much to do with sports as sex?

I'm just asking. It's too bad the church isn't answering.

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