Baseball Christianity Interfaith Sports

Pray Ball!

Jesus Doesn’t Come to Bat for Rockies in First Two Games of World Series

After reading the article in Tuesday’s NY Times (“Rockies Place Their Faith in God, and One Another”) about the emphasis the Colorado Rockies baseball team places on Christianity, I couldn’t help but think about the devout Christian pitcher, Eddie Harris, from the movie “Major League.” Harris has a famous line (one of so many in the movie) where he questions Pedro Cerrano’s religious views: “You trying to say Jesus Christ can’t hit a curveball?”

Jesus Baseball - Colorado RockiesThe strong Christian values espoused by the Rockies franchise, according to the Times article, seem to focus more on “character” and less on proselytizing. The role of Christianity in the Colorado Rockies clubhouse was first reported in a May 2006 USA Today article which described the team following a “Christian-based code of conduct” where certain magazines were banned from the locker room. Another article (“The Rockies Pitch Religion”) soon followed in The Nation.

Baseball, our American pastime, has long emphasized Christianity inside the players’ clubhouse. The new issue of Moment Magazine has a long, well-written article exposing the Christian prostelyzation in Major League Baseball.

In “Is the Nation’s Favorite Pastime Pitching Jesus: It’s a Close Call,” Karin Tanabe explains what Washington Post reporter Laura Blumenfeld (daughter of Conservative rabbi David Blumenfeld) witnessed when she was in the Washington Nationals‘ clubhouse and chapel in 2005. The team chaplain, Jon Moeller, answered in the affirmative when a player asked if Jewish people will be doomed because they don’t believe in Jesus. There was a public outcry and the chaplain was eventually fired.

The article quotes my friend and colleague, Rabbi Ari Sunshine, who wrote a letter to Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig following Chaplain Moeller’s comments. Rabbi Sunshine criticized Major League Baseball for only offering Christian worship to baseball personnel. The next day, Selig (who is Jewish) responded that he found Moeller’s comments “disappointing and offensive” and that he will “take steps to insure that much of what you have written is implemented into Major League Baseball.”

Baseball ChapelThe Moment Magazine article traces the history of Baseball Chapel, and Major League Baseball’s focus on Christian salvation, to a Detroit News sportswriter in 1958. Waddy Spoelstra, who covered the Detroit Tigers, was so grateful for his daughter’s miraculous recovery from a sudden brain aneurism that he created Baseball Chapel. Detroit Tigers Hall-of-Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell helped Spoelstra during Baseball Chapel’s early days by organizing chapel services. Harwell is quoted in the Moment Magazine article, saying, “Many made fun of the Christians. But our view is that God wants you to do your best and that you should do it for His glory. A lot of Christian ballplayers recognize that they have a great platform and can influence more people than a preacher can.” Baseball Chapel was also supported by then-Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, a devout Catholic (however, based on his last name I suspect his grandpa or great-grandpa was Jewish… and a Kohen!)

Personally, I think it’s nice that the Colorado Rockies team is prioritizing good, ethical values. It is certainly welcome news with all of the disgraceful antics that occur in professional sports these days. However, Major League Baseball must strive to be more religiously pluralistic. If Baseball Chapel is to continue, there must be opportunities for spiritual leaders from other religions to serve as chaplains of baseball teams as well. [Note to Detroit Tigers organization: Invite me to give a pre-game D’var Torah and I’ll guarantee a win!]

Going into game three of the World Series, it wouldn’t hurt for the Rockies to do some praying… so long as they can choose to whom their prayers are directed.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Christianity Israel Synaplex Zionism

Glenn Plummer in Shul and Zev Chafets on "The Colbert Report"

Pastor Glenn Plummer and Rabbi Jason MillerThis past Friday evening my synagogue hosted Pastor Glenn Plummer (in photo at left) as the keynote speaker for part of our Synaplex Shabbat. Glenn Plummer, a Black Evangelical minister from Detroit, founded the Fellowship of Israel and Black America (FIBA) in February 2006. FIBA is a partnership with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, headed by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein.

It is unfortunate that only 75 people were in attendance because Pastor Plummer was such a charismatic, energetic, and passionate speaker. I found him to be genuine in his love for Israel both in his public lecture as well as in our private conversations. Everyone was truly moved by his message and they haven’t stopped talking about how impressed they were with his presentation. He seriously loves Israel and he loves the Jewish people. Pastor Plummer explains that his commitment to Israel stems from the Torah’s message in Genesis 12:3, specifically that God will bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel.

In what was the most intensely emotional moment of Pastor Plummer’s speech, he thanked all of the Jewish people on behalf of the Black community for the strong support provided by Jews during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. He explained that Black leaders should in turn bless Jewish people today, and supporting Israel is one way to do this.

The evangelical support for Israel is strong and yet we in the Jewish community remain skeptical of it. After listening to Pastor Plummer’s words and conversing with him privately, I have come to the conclusion that we shouldn’t be skeptical of this support any longer. Jews certainly do not have to agree with everything Evangelical Christians believe – and we shouldn’t agree with everything they believe – but their support of Israel is genuine.

Zev Chafetz (in photo at right), a family friend whom I’ve known since I was a little baby, recently published a book about the Christian Evangelical support of Israel called A Match Made in Heaven: American Jews, Christian Zionists, and One Man’s Exploration of the Weird and Wonderful Judeo-Evangelical Alliance. Zev is originally from Pontiac, Michigan and was at one time married to my mother’s best friend. He made aliyah to Israel in the late 1960’s and headed the Israeli Government Press Office under Menachem Begin, but he currently lives and writes in New York.

Last year, I invited Zev to speak at Adat Shalom Synagogue following Shabbat dinner for a Synaplex (“SYNergy”) Shabbat. Close to finishing his book at the time, Zev spoke about his adventures while researching the Evangelical Christian community. I was excited to see Zev on “The Colbert Report” Monday night (video below). It was one of the best interviews I’ve seen Stephen Colbert do, and Zev was both funny and cynical — true to form.

We’re going to be hearing a lot more about the Christian Evangelical support of Israel in the near future. I plan to attend Pastor Plummer’s session on the subject at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington in a couple weeks.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |