Don Matthews wrote a book titled, Religion in the Old South in which he describes the plight of African American Christians in the 19th century. Many whites were preaching sermons that endorsed the institution of slavery; however, the sermons were generally rejected. Evangelism was emphasized. The aspect of community building, as well as the opportunity for leadership in the church were appealing to African Americans. The book as a whole "offers a full, sympathetic treatment of evangelical Protestantism in the Old South," said one reviewer.
It is interesting to look at the ways in which religion has changed over the years. We might do well to look at how things are now when concerning Religion in the New South. Especially during the month of March, religion in the modern day south can be adequately described with four letters: N-C-A-A.
Being an alumni of the esteemed UNC-Chapel Hill, I fully understand the psychosis that it is to place basketball above all other priorities. When Matt Doherty was the coach of the Tar Heels it was common place to see t-shirts that read "Doherty's Disciples." Now under coach Roy Williams the shirts read, "In Roy we trust." I wouldn't be surprised to see a bumper sticker that reads, "Roy is my co-pilot."
It's enough that we treat our student athletes like demi-Gods providing them with note-takers, personal tutors, the occasional grade adjustment, fancy cars and every other material possession needed to survive the treacherous waters of college. But why must we the people become such raging fanatics (obviously where the term "fan" is derived) who would gladly pay awful amounts of money just to get next year's high-prospect recruit?
A Duke-Carolina basketball ticket will literally sell for over one thousand dollars on Ebay. This ticket will provide a person with a tiny, uncomfortable seat for two hours to watch two rival teams from the stuffy, hot, nose bleed section of the Dean Smith Center. People spend thousands just for a ticket to the Final Four for the chance to say one thing: "I was at that game." I, personally, have had the opportunity to attend three Duke-Carolina games. I traveled with the band to the Sweet-16/Elite-8 and to the Final Four in 2005 to watch the Tar Heels bring home the championship. I've been there, and I've done that.
Take it from someone who has been to it all...there is more to life! What if we began wearing t-shirts that actually read, "Jesus' Disciples"? What if we meant it when we recited, "In God we trust"? Imagine the impact it would make if Christians gave as much money to the poor and hungry as they did to the box office? What if we told others about our favorite savior instead of our favorite player or team? What if we devoted as much energy to reading and knowing the Bible as we do learning game stats and tidbits of basketball history?
Lord, forgive our "basketballatry."
Too many times have I been to a football or basketball game that actually felt like a worship service. We sing hymns with dull faces, but the school fight song after a big score is sung with utmost excitement.
Working at a church in Chapel Hill, in staff meeting, we actually have to plan our events, worship, Bible studies around the campus athletic schedule. This is not because the town will be a mess and over run with people (though it certainly will be). This is because we would have to compete for the attention of our own members. At least during the month of March, this truly is our Religion in the New South.
I'm not saying don't watch basketball, that would just be silly. If the Tar Heels make it to the Final Four I will surely be watching. I would say that as Christians we would do well to check our priorities. If we can determine what makes us such big fans of sports, perhaps we can unlock that part of our hearts that might make us equally or larger fans of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. I'm not saying we need to become over zealous super-Christians either, but might we simply decide to whom are we truly devoted?
Of course, to any sports fan I will sound like a crack-pot Bible thumper. The Christian sports fan would respond, "when it comes down to it, of course my faith is more important." But the truth is, it "comes down to it" every single day when our prayer life lulls, or our Bible collects more dust that in does finger prints. It comes down to it when Jesus is calling us to serve him, and we respectfully ask him to wait until half-time.