Sunday morning quarterbacking

428px-reitz_baltimore_training_camp Forgive me for being so crass -- but do you think God cares who wins a football game?

Call me a Giants fan, but I have problems with the idea that God can be swayed to take one side over another -- even when the score is tied, with one timeout left.

I suspect that represents the perspective of a number of Baltimore Sun website readers, and their clergy.

But this theologically mainstream understanding is totally unrepresented in a feature posted today in advance of the Ravens-Steelers game tomorrow.

"Pastors plan on keeping Ravens in Prayers, Sermons" retails interviews with a number of local clergy, male and female. The slightly arch tone of the lede suggests that we aren't going to get too deep here:

The Rev. Frank Reid III has a problem: how to dress for tomorrow's service at Bethel AME Church in Baltimore. Should he deliver the sermon wearing his Ravens sweat shirt or the Ray Lewis jersey?

"We've encouraged the congregation to wear purple," Reid said. "And at some point [during the service] I will mention that we want to pray for the team."

Purple passion has reached the pulpit.

All around town, the clergy are throwing their ecumenical weight behind the Ravens, who play Pittsburgh tomorrow night for a spot in the Super Bowl.

Go deeper into the article, and you find some amazing quotes:

"I'll work the Ravens into my sermon, even though there's a lot going on," said the Rev. Kristin Dubsky, assistant pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in the Inner Harbor. "There's the [presidential] inauguration and Martin Luther King Jr. Day - plus, I need to work Jesus in there, too."

The Ravens aren't the only ones in the game needing guidance, Dubsky said.

"We should really pray for the officials on Sunday," she said, mindful of the questionable decision that gave Pittsburgh the winning touchdown in the teams' last meeting. "They better not mess it up like last time."

Rooting for the Ravens is about more than just football, said Dubsky's husband, Michael, who ministers at St. Luke's.

"Here in Hampden, as everywhere, people are hurting, and this team provides a respite, a distraction from the troubles they face on a daily basis," he said. "The Ravens offer a sense of common fellowship with one's neighbors, and that's part of what church is all about.

"Also, the narrative of the Ravens' season is a good illustration of how God still works in amazing ways - and that even when things are dark, there are surprises. The Ravens' turnaround doesn't trump the main [Christian] story line, but it's an example of community and hope."

The Dubsky's offer us wonderful examples of how sports worship, like civil religion, is threaded through American life.

Near the end of the story, there is a quote from Catholic priest Erik Arnold that suggests he hasn't totally succumbed to Raven mania.

"With little kids there, you need to be careful what you say," he said. "You don't want children to come back with, 'Well, we prayed for them to win and they didn't, so what is God doing?'"

You mean that after all of this prayer, they might lose?

Without being too tough on the writer, because this story is clearly meant to entertain, it did leave the impression that clergy sometimes take their football as seriously, or more seriously than their faith.

A few quotes with historical or scholarly perspective on football worship would allow readers to have their cake (Ravens, of course) and eat it, too.

Oddly enough, I didn't find a similar story in the Pittsburgh papers, but I did find plenty of blogosphere material about whether God loves the Steelers, or has turned away from them.

Judging from this story from the online Tribune-Review, Steelers fans are more interested in getting even.

You'd think you were in Philadelphia.

Joe Reitz of the Baltimore Ravens at training camp from Wikimedia Commons

Please respect our Commenting Policy