Presbyterians Today

FEB-MAR 2018

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28 FEBRUARY/MARCH 2018 | Pr e s by te r i a n s To d ay Tim Wolfe resign, which he did just two days after they threatened their boycott. Marcia and John also made it known that they favored Northwestern University football players' efforts to form a union, which failed in 2015, when the National Labor Relations Board declined to rule on the question of whether football players on athletic schol- arships are employees under the National Labor Relations Act. The advocating for players' rights created tension and controversy at Purdue. Ultimately John lost his job. It was then the Shoops walked away from big-time coaching. John is now a quarterbacks coach and social studies teacher at A.C. Reynolds High School in Asheville, North Carolina. Marcia is pastor/head of staff at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Asheville. The husband and wife continue to speak about sports reform at churches, on campuses and in communities across the country. The Shoops also co-host a podcast called "Going Deep: Sports in the 21st Century" at Blue Ridge Public Radio, the NPR station in western North Carolina. Marcia also wrote a book, Touchdowns for Jesus and Other Signs of Apocalypse, which offers insights into the intersections of race, gender, higher education, faith and sports. Presbyterians Today caught up with Marcia and asked her about some of her observations when it comes to faith and sports in both the local church and the public arena. PT: How do you react when you hear complaints in churches that sports are cutting into worship time? Shoop: I spoke on this topic recently at a conference at Baylor University, where a diverse group of pastors were talking about how sports were hurting their churches. It's easy to blame society's obsession with sports for encroaching on our Sundays, but churches need to look in the mirror. Why are sports more enticing than church? Is it because sports are exciting, while church is boring to many people? Why do sports have such a visceral and spiri- tual hold on people? What people see as a problem can also be received as a call for faith communities to have more integrity about what we're doing — and why. In worship, we need to focus on what really connects with people's deep needs. Another piece to this question is the absolute monopoly that para- church movements have in sports, through more conservative groups like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. For the most part, progres- sive-minded Christians aren't part of the theological conversation in faith and sports. Why do we shrug our shoulders as if faith and sports have nothing to do with each other? Racialized and economic injustice in sports is worth our attention as people of faith. Instead of complaining about sports and American culture, let's look in the mirror and learn things about ourselves that are difficult — and hard to see. PT: What are some things you have done to raise aware- ness of faith and sports in your congregation? Shoop: John and I have taught a class on my book, Touchdowns for Jesus, at Grace Covenant. The church has also focused in on addressing race and power issues in everything we do. Many sports fans in the con- gregation talk to me regularly about how differently they see things in sports now. PT: What about prayer before games? Shoop: I certainly have done my fair share (laughter). Thinking that God somehow is involved in sports doesn't bother me. I feel like God is involved in everything. Why wouldn't God care about something that we care about so much? But I believe God doesn't decide who's going to win. I don't think God decides who gets cancer either. That's not how I believe God works. For me, the more pressing issue about religion and sports circles is around the cajoling or even forcing players to adopt a certain faith perspective. Things like having team prayers in public universities — and schools have some problematic layers to them as well. Prayer should be a part of a person's life, but for an insti- tution or hierarchy telling someone how they should be a faithful person is a violation of conscience. In the coach-player relationship, the coach has power to make players conform to certain behaviors, rules and regulations. When it comes to faith, I don't think any coach should use their power to enforce conformity, or put his view of God as what's pref- erable, for young men. He is a public employee and he is using his position of power to endorse his faith perspec- tive with people who have less power than him. That's an abuse of power. PT: What is your reaction to former San Francisco quarter- back Colin Kaepernick starting Shoop's book offers insights into the intersections of race, gender, higher education, faith and sports. WIPF AND STOCK PUBLISHERS

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