When Sports and a Personal Relationship with God Don’t Mix


When I was in high school in small town East Texas, there was only one  thing to do on a Friday night during the Fall: high school football. Football in Texas is so big they made a television show about it. Texas high school football is akin to what Basketball is in Kentucky and Kansas, everyone is involved with it and if you arent– you fake it until you make it.

Much of the South is enamored with football; sadly in most areas where football is king, the football program is treated like mini royalty. They are lauded with the most funding, the newest equipment and workout facilities. I am not just talking about college here; this is happening on high school campuses around the country. There is a small town in East Texas in the process of completing a nearly 2 million dollar stadium build. Did I mention that this small town’s football team a couple of years ago went winless? This is the power that football has in Texas and much of the South.

In one school in Alabama, football and religion are supposed to mix, but there is a bit of twist. East Memorial Christian Academy is located in Prattville, Alabama- population 34,000. The school is apart of East Memorial Baptist Church. Recently the newly promoted Athletic Director was fired not because of inappropriate actions, allegations or mismanagement, but because he did not attend the “right” church. According to reports, Scott Phillips the former head football AND basketball coach was relieved of duty because he refused to transfer his family’s membership to East Memorial Baptist. Reportedly there was no provision in his contract regarding this matter.

Phillips tried to work it out by attending an early service at the church of his choosing and then attending East Memorial; after some time it became too difficult and he told the school he couldn’t attend East Memorial on Sunday mornings. This didn’t sit we’ll with the school and they let him go.

Most Christian or Religious schools (for good or for ill) have “statements of faith” that all employees must affirm or suffer the consequences. Generally these statements center around an employee adhering to the school’s stated belief system and theology. This statement is thus seen as the foundation of the school and its instruction. East Memorial does have a statement of belief listed on its website but nowhere on the site does it state that teachers, administration or even athletic directors must attend East Memorial Baptist. Actually I can’t find anything on the schools website that even claims they are affiliated, run, staffed or related to East Memorial Baptist.

What good does it do for the athletic director (and I am assuming other administration) to attend a particular church, especially if this requirement is not enforced or even asked of anyone else? I would think that a church that runs a school would be glad that their teachers attend anywhere on Sunday mornings.

What message did the school think it was sending when it fired the coach? The message that most people got from this situation was difference of theological and religious opinion is not tolerated. School is a place to learn and to have our eyes opened to the possibilities of what lies ahead. Where’s the questioning, the growing, the learning, the challenging of old ideas and constructions? This is not simply limited to the realm of academia but to all facets of theology as well as theological education and formation.

The motto of East Memorial Christian Academy is “shaping the hearts and minds for a lifetime of Christian service.” Perhaps this should be amended to read, “shaping the hearts and minds for a lifetime of Christian service as long as you attended the “right” church and/or have the “right” interpretation of the Scriptures, God and the like.

In my opinion this school failed its students and Coach Phillips. The school was intolerant to difference and the action of the school was nothing more than a status and turf war. It was childish and wrong. A person should be free to worship how they want without interference with their employer. The coach (as far was we know) adhered by the school’s theological belief system and his only ‘crime’ was winning a state championship.

One of the founding principles many Americans hold on to is the freedom of religion. People in this country are allowed to express their faith in a way that they find meaningful and comforting. So for me, come Sunday morning I go to the church of my choosing; I have my own theological understanding of God, Christ, salvation, worship etc. This freedom is also extended to high school athletic directors in Alabama.

The coach and his family have a church family where they are loved and accepted. They found God there and wanted to continue to worship and serve God there. How can that be wrong? Why would someone want to uproot a family for the sake of high school athletics? If the coach had gone to East Memorial Baptist and it was found out that he didn’t agree with a pastor’s teaching or didn’t give enough would he be fired for that too? Apparently the administration of East Memorial Christian Academy have a firm grip on what it means to embody the spirit of grace, welcoming, acceptance and love that Christ commands his followers to do.

Surely God is bigger than one church.

In Christ,

Rev. Evan

EDIT 1- Formatting (8-11-13 @ 807PM)