amid march madness, some christians decry sports worship

amid march madness, some christians decry sports worshipfrom beliefblog: Believe it or not, there are Duke University students who were fired up Friday morning, even though their Blue Devils lost to Arizona Thursday night in the NCAA basketball tournament. They may be a minority, but these students feel like the same passion that goes into cheering on the basketball team should go into worshipping the Lord.

They've been holding outdoor worship services on campus all week and are sponsoring an afternoon-long Christian music concert on Saturday. Think of it as faith-based March Madness, though officially the events are part of Blue Flame Worship Explosion 2011.

"While our whole school is seemingly captivated by basketball, we are proposing an alternative to bring more peace to March," said Regine Jean-Baptiste, one of the organizers of the Duke Christian events, wrote in an e-mail message. “Often times everyone in life gets wrapped up in something ... more than they should ... What we believe is that passion is good ... We just believe that those passions are also ways to enter into relationship with God. And if you don't know how, to begin the relationship starting with the worship of God is not a bad idea.”

Her group, which is not affiliated with any official campus organization, says there's nothing wrong with enthusiasm for hoops - just that such passions make this a good time to explore a deeper relationship with God. Duke's worship explosion comes amid a flurry of discussion in Christian circles about whether sports worship is approaching uncomfortable levels. Some are taking a stand against what they see as a national sports obsession.

That’s … one of the major things I decry in my book,” said Tom Krattenmaker, author of “Onward Christian Athletes,” who's based in Portland, Oregon. “The lack of that sort of prophetic distance from sports or the willingness to critique sports, the lack of setting priorities so that the worship of God is more important than this idolatrous relationship with sports.”

Sports have been an integral part of life for millenia; athletic contests figure into the Bible. Many theologians have examined how sport in their culture relates to values, including religious ones...

Hoffman says it would be naïve to think that the fans that show up for the Final Four in a couple weeks are going solely because they appreciate the skill and athleticism of the teams involved. For some, he says, it’s "sheer tribalism ... Theoretically it’s fun ... but I’m not sure how tribalism would play out in the Scriptures."

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