By / Oct 8

In this episode, Lindsay and Brent discuss a new ruling by a federal judge to block the Texas Heartbeat law, the final vote result by the SBC Executive Committee initiating the independent investigation into sexual abuse, a new request for approval on COVID-19 vaccines for children, news about a last-minute agreement on the debt ceiling from Capitol Hill, and beginning of the Atlanta Braves pursuit of a world championship in the Major League Baseball postseason. They also give a rundown of this week’s ERLC content about the parameters God sets for our lives and why they’re good, the Supreme Court cases we’re watching, and our interview with SBC president Ed Litton. Finally, Lindsay and Brent do their best James Bonds impressions.

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  1. A federal judge blocks SB 8
  2. SBC EC votes to waive attorney-client privilege in sexual abuse investigation
  3. Pfizer and BioNTech seeking FDA emergency use authorization for COVID vaccine for ages 5–11
  4. Nearly 30,000 children were admitted to hospitals with COVID in August
  5.  Agreement to extend the debt limit through early December announced
  6. Baseball playoffs have begun
  7. Facebook: This week’s blackout and The Wall Street Journal report 

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By / Apr 16

In this episode, Josh, Lindsay, and Brent discuss the death of Prince Phillip, Russia, the shooting of Daunte Wright, the court ruling on Down syndome abortion, current FDA recommendations on the J&J vaccine, and the no-hitter thrown by Chicago pitcher. Lindsay gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Chelsea Patterson Sobolik with “Explainer: What you should know about the debate in Congress about the Born-Alive bill,” Andrew Bertodatti and Lamar Hardwick with “How can churches be more inclusive of disabled person?,” and Jill Waggoner with “How learning about trauma changed my life: Learning from The Body Keeps the Score.” Also in this episode, the hosts are joined by Gary Lancaster for his farewell episode. 

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  1. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, dead at 99
  2. US sanctions Russia over hacks
  3. Russian troops massing on Ukrainian border
  4. Officer who fatally shot Daunte Wright charged
  5. Court ruling on Down syndrome abortion law praised
  6. FDA recommends pausing J&J vaccine after 6 reported cases of blood clots
  7. White House says J&J pause will not have “significant impact” on vaccination plan
  8. Duke University to require vaccinations for fall semester
  9. No-hitter thrown by Chicago pitcher
  10. Turner’s cheesy HR makes LA 1st to 10 wins

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By / Apr 2

In this episode, Josh, Lindsay, and Brent discuss declining church membership, the Suez Canal, Pfizer’s vaccine for children, the fourth wave of coronavirus, abortion legislature in Kentucky, Kanakuk Kamps, and Opening Day. Lindsay gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Jason Thacker with “Why reading books you disagree with helps you grow,” Emily Richards with “Why building connection and trust is vital for vulnerable children: The gospel in Show Hope’s Pre+Post Adoption Support,” and Adrian Warnock with “10 things you should know about the Resurrection.” Also in this episode, the hosts are joined by Casey Hough for a conversation about life and ministry. 

About Casey

Casey serves as the Lead Pastor of Copperfield Church in Houston, Texas. Casey actively writes for various evangelical outlets, serving primarily as an Associate Research Fellow and Religious Liberty Channel Editor for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He is a fellow in the St. Peter Fellowship of the Center for Pastor Theologians. In addition to his role at Copperfield, Casey serves as an Assistant Professor of Biblical Interpretation at Luther Rice College and Seminary. In the past, Casey has taught Old Testament, New Testament, Comparative Religions, and Philosophy at a regional junior college in Arkansas. Casey and his wife, Hannah, have three sons and two daughters. You can connect with him on Twitter: @caseybhough or his website. You can subscribe to his newsletter here

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  1. Church members are minority in U.S. for first time, Gallup says
  2. With the Suez Canal Unblocked, the World’s Commerce Resumes Its Course
  3. Pfizer says its COVID-19 vaccine is 100% effective in children ages 12-15
  4. The fourth wave is here
  5. Legislature passes constitutional amendment declaring no right to abortion in KY
  6. Kanakuk Kamps Abuse Reexamined In New Report
  7. America’s pastime returns

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By / Feb 12

In this episode, Josh, Brent, and Lindsay discuss the rundown on the Trump Impeachment trial, COVID-19 infections plummeting, the latest on masks, COVID-19 vaccines, the IMB appointing 30 new missionaries, the results of Super Bowl 2021, and what changes are coming in baseball this year. Lindsay gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including the Policy staff with “Supreme Court strikes down California’s ban on indoor worship,” Alex Ward with “The courage of Ruby Bridges and her family,” Gunner Gunderson with “’He looks like me!’: Demonstrating the possibility of belonging,” Chelsea Patterson Sobolik with “How the Chinese Communist Party is persecuting Uyghur women.” Also in this episode, the hosts are joined by Devin Maddox for a conversation about life and ministry. 

About Devin

Devin Maddox is the trade books publisher at B&H Publishing Group, and director of the books ministry area at LifeWay. He graduated with a BA in Christian ethics from Union University and an MDiv from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Currently he is completing a PhD in applied theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, focusing his research on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s early life and writing. Devin is married to his college sweetheart, Cara; they have three boys and live in Tennessee. You can connect with Devin on twitter: @devinmaddox

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  1. Rundown of Trump Impeachment Trial
  2. Trump on path to acquittal despite evidence
  3. To heal America’s divide, we must get back to facts
  4. Covid infections are plummeting
  5. The latest on masks
  6. The Covid vaccines have shattered expectations
  7. AstraZeneca Covid-19 Vaccine Effective Against U.K. Variant in Trial
  8. The digital homework divide
  9. Chinese spacecraft enters orbit around Mars
  10. IMB appoints 30 missionaries, celebrates $5 billion in cumulative Lottie gifts
  11. Bucs beat Chiefs in Super Bowl; celebrate with boat parade
  12. Baseball changes for 2021

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By / Oct 23

In this episode, Josh, Lindsay, and Brent discuss the final presidential debate, record early voting counts, Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation, election interference, Pope Francis’s thoughts on marriage, new COVID-19 symptoms, NAMB’s Hispanic church planting emphasis, black holes, and the 2020 World Series. Lindsay also gives a rundown of this week’s ERLC content including Benjamin Quinn with “How does my faith in Jesus connect with my work life? Every kind of work is a sacred calling,” Isaac Whitney with “Why I am thankful for my pastor’s leadership during COVID-19,” and Daryl Crouch with “How do we live for the kingdom in the contentious moment?” Also in this episode, the hosts are joined by Jennifer Marshall Patterson for a conversation about life and ministry. 

About Jennifer

Jennifer Marshall Patterson, director of the Institute for Theology and Public Life at Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., and Senior Visiting Fellow with The Heritage Foundation. 

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  1. Final Presidential Debate: What Time to Watch and Key Issues
  2. Early-voting numbers: U.S. on pace for record early turnout
  3. ACB confirmation baptist press article
  4. The FBI says Iran and Russia have taken ‘specific actions’ to influence US elections
  5. The Good and Bad News About Marriage in the Time of COVID
  6. Baptists respond to pope’s endorsement of same-sex civil unions
  7. Researchers looking into ‘Brain Fog’ being lingering symptom of COVID-19
  8. It’s Time to Talk About Covid-19 and Surfaces Again
  9. New York reports most coronavirus cases since May
  10. NAMB to emphasize Hispanic church planting in 2021
  11. A Black Hole’s Lunch: Stellar Spaghetti
  12. The 2020 World Series

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By / Apr 4

Major League Baseball Opening Day.

Just typing that phrase makes me feel a bit better. I mean it. Mentally and physically better. I cannot sufficiently explain the way the game is good for my soul, but I know that it is. I take pleasure from the game, and I am thankful to God for that pleasure. Opening Day certainly involves optimism as fans attempt to convince themselves that their team has at least a chance this season. Of course, as an Atlanta Braves fan, I know such thoughts are currently an empty sentiment, but I still enjoy the mental dance.

My delight in the game came to me the way it has for many—my dad loved the game, and passed that love down to me one ground ball, fly ball, game of catch and batting practice at a time. Baseball is a communal and conversational sport that cannot be played or practiced for much benefit in isolation. My parents bought a house, in part, because it was next to baseball fields when I was young. I had a makeshift-pitching mound in the backyard where my father catechized me on the finer points of pitching. I played baseball informally and formally, as often as possible, under a sunny Alabama sky.

Baseball is not simply a sport that I enjoy. The game is baked into who I am. What I have learned from the game, and just being around it, affects the way I lead, husband and parent. Now, do not get me wrong, baseball is just a game, but our games can be formative, and none are more so in American history than baseball. It was former Major League Baseball pitcher Jim Bouton who said, “A ballplayer spends a good piece of his life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.” I am creeping close to having lived half a century, and I find myself just as eager and excited for Spring Training and Opening Day as I have ever been.

A shared passion

Growing up, morning breakfast always included checking the Braves box score of last night’s game and family talk of the game to come. My dad would throw with me almost every day the weather permitted, and thankfully in central Alabama that was most days. Now, my wife and I laugh about one of our sons who was homeschooled and wore a full baseball uniform almost every single day for about five straight years. This is the way a passion for baseball, a love for the game, is passed on to the next generation. I know there have been days in my life I have not thought about baseball, but I do not remember them, and I suspect the same will be true for my sons.

Roger Angell has written, “Baseball and memory come together so naturally.” In what other sport are children playing today able to recall the games heroes of the past? I have tried asking kids on a youth basketball team if they knew who Wilt Chamberlain was, only to be met with blank stares. The same was true when I have asked young football players if they knew who Jim Brown was—nothing but silence. But, there is always a kid on a youth baseball team who knows of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth or Willie Mays. Baseball encourages its participants and followers in the discipline of communal memory.

When I meet someone for the first time who loves and knows the game, then they are not entirely a stranger to me because we share a common history and language. One of the amazing things about baseball is its consistency. It is essentially the same game that was played in earlier eras. Unlike most major sports, if you were able to take a couple of fans out of the stands of a major-league baseball park in the 1940’s and transport them to a park this opening day, they would be at home because they would still understand and enjoy the game they were watching.

A lesson in American history

I teach my children American history using baseball as a touchstone. Before the Civil War, baseball was played recreationally in communities. After the Civil War, professional teams started forming. The roaring 20s were the end of the dead ball era, and the Great Depression was the era when Babe Ruth starred and the home run became a significant part of the game. Baseball historian John Thorn contends that the 1940s was baseball’s greatest decade, which was the coming of age for the generation some call the greatest. The 40s produced Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Jackie Robinson. Robinson, along with Branch Rickey helped the growing the Civil Rights Movement by breaking the Major League Baseball color barrier in 1947. The Negro Leagues existed prior to the Civil Rights era and ended a few years before passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Amendment. The 70s and 80s were the era of disco, parachute pants and big hair. The scene was equally bad in baseball with artificial turf, the DH and multi purpose stadiums.

A constant source of encouragement

As this season begins, I have been more discouraged about the American cultural landscape than I have been in a while. The American culture seems to be descending into moral chaos at warp speed. The tone of the current political rhetoric would be considered childish, petty and crass on a fifth grade playground. The modern cultural dialogue also resembles a rival sports team chat room where the goal is to vilify, castigate and humiliate one’s opponents without mercy or reason. Consequently , my soul needs the familiar sights and sounds of spring and Opening Day because, even in the midst of it all, baseball is still baseball. Pitch-by-pitch, out-by-out, inning-by-inning, game-by-game, baseball marches on for a wonderfully rhythmic 162-game season that is built into the very fabric of our lives until the chill of fall.

Though there are plenty of things I am not happy about in the game today—the DH, instant replay and that absurd single-game wildcard that mocks the integrity of the regular season—it is still baseball, and my family is ready for the journey of a new season. My love of the game cannot be separated from other cherished realities in my life: Baseball brings to mind memories of my Mom and Dad and Joe Marshall Field in Montgomery, Ala., where I grew up playing the game. I think of friends like Rusty Cone, who I played the game with from six-years-old through college, and Buddy Boyle, who took batting practice with me in the snow. More recently, I think of my wife Judi, who has grown to love the game, and of course, I think of my eight kids.

I think one of the reasons baseball means so much to me is because it is so rooted in my life; it helps me remember who I am. And I haven’t even paused to point out the way baseball serves as a metaphor for what is of ultimate importance to me, my Christian faith. Words like hope, delight, rhythm, community, passing on to the next generation, rootedness and history are also the language of my faith commitment. I understand the sentiment of theologian Stanley Hauerwas when he writes, “No matter how bad things get, I have always thought, at least we have baseball.” I am confident that some of you will identify with that sentiment as well. Play Ball!

By / Oct 13

You might not remember the Steve Bartman incident that took place on October 14, 2003, at Wrigley Field as the Chicago Cubs took on the Florida Marlins in the National League Championship Series. If you don't, I envy you. Most of my sports memories are wonderful but not this one. This was sports at its absolute worst. I tried to watch the 2011 30 for 30 documentary film produced by ESPN on the incident, but I could not finish it. I turned it off when I began to feel physically ill.

Mark Prior of the Cubs was pitching a 3-hit shutout in the 8th inning. The Cubs led 3-0 with a series lead of three to two. In other words, the Chicago Cubs were five outs away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 1945. One of sports most beloved franchises has not been a champion since 1908. The Cubs moved into the friendly confines of Wrigley Field in 1916 and have a sub .500 winning percentage since that time. Famous Cubs fan, George Will, in his delightful little book about the Cubs, A Nice Little Place on the North Side sums up the life of a Cubs fan as “a lifelong tutorial in deferred gratification.”

Another lifelong, diehard Cubs fan is a man named Steve Bartman. I can only imagine the excitement he had in securing a great seat in Section 4, Row 8, Seat 113, right next to the field. He was hoping to see his beloved Cubs clinch a birth in the World Series. Bartman was a 26-year-old Little League baseball coach who lived three miles from Wrigley. He is the kind of fan that wears headphones to listen to the Cubs broadcast while at the park. This was not a social event for him; this was baseball, something he lived daily as he followed his beloved Cubs. There is no way Bartman could have known as he took his seat that his dream come true was about to become a nightmare. Many of the 40,000 fans at Wrigley that night would chant a profanity directed at him. He would be pelted with objects and leave Wrigley surrounded by police officers intent on protecting his life. Why?

Bartman was in the front row down the left field line for the NLCS game when he tried unsuccessfully to make a catch on a foul ball hit in the stands. He did not reach over onto the field of play, and two other fans in the area were also attempting to catch the foul ball hit into the stands (Bartman was closest). Moises Alou, Cubs leftfielder, attempted to make a play on the ball and was unable to do so when the ball contacted Bartman’s hand. What did Bartman do? The same thing countless baseball fans do at every game. His father told the Chicago Sun-Times, “He's a huge Cubs fan. I'm sure I taught him well. I taught him to catch foul balls when they come near him.” Some Cubs fans have explained their historic futility with ridiculous ideas about ‘the goat curse’ or “the black cat curse.” While those notions are silly, on October 14, 2003, there was a young Cubs fan who became the scapegoat for 95 years of baseball misery.

If Alou would have made the catch, which is questionable, the Cubs would have had two outs in the inning and been four outs away from the World Series. What happened on the field after that foul ball is what actually cost the Cubs the game and a trip to the World Series. The Marlins went on to score eight runs and win the game. Cubs pitcher Prior walked Luis Castillo who had hit the foul ball, Alex Gonzalez misplayed a ground ball, Sammy Sosa missed the cut off man on the throw from the outfield, and the Marlins batted around with Castillo ending the inning on a pop-up to second base. The Marlins tied the series and won the next night to clinch a spot in the World Series, which they won against the Yankees.

There is a lot of blame to go around when evaluating this horrific incident, but none of it belongs to Steve Bartman. It is doubtful the fans would have reacted so violently if Alou had not slammed his glove down in frustration and began cursing Bartman and other fans. Alou and Prior vehemently argued the batter should have been out because of fan interference, but umpire Mike Everitt correctly ruled that it was not fan interference because the ball had not broken the plane of the wall separating the field of play from the stands. Inexplicably, Cubs manager Dusty Baker did nothing to calm his team down and focus their concentration back on the game. Baker blamed Bartman after the game. Fox announcer Steve Lyons irresponsibly said with disdain, “I’m surprised someone hasn’t thrown that fan onto the field.”

How did Steve Bartman respond to his vilification? His initial statement about the incident, provided a few hours after, and the only public statement he has ever made, read:

There are few words to describe how awful I feel and what I have experienced within these last twenty-four hours. I am so truly sorry from the bottom of this Cubs fan's broken heart. I ask that Cub fans everywhere redirect the negative energy that has been vented towards my family, my friends and myself into the usual positive support for our beloved team on their way to being National League champs.

In an age of crass materialism and people who are famous for being famous, Steve Bartman has rejected publicity and has refused to profit from the situation. There has never been a reporter who has tracked down anyone who has known Bartman that has ever said a bad word about him. He could have made a fortune off of his notoriety but he has not done so. He has been offered hundreds of thousands of dollars for appearances, autographs, and commercials, but he has turned down every single dime. The gifts that Bartman did receive he donated to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in the name of Ron Santo, former Cubs third baseman and announcer who was afflicted with the disease. One reporter, Wayne Drehs, who actually tracked Bartman down (which has proven virtually impossible) was mesmerized by his kindness, grace, and the fact he talked about the Cubs win on the impromptu day of the interview. Evidently, Steve Bartman is still a diehard Cubs fan—bless those who persecute you.

I do not know if Steve Bartman is a Christian and have heard he is Jewish, but I do know that this Christian pastor is inspired by his grace, mercy and kindness. It is inherent in our fallen nature to turn our guilt into cries of guilty toward others. There was a day when a sinless man’s fate was put before a mob of guilty sinners and they yelled, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” They went on to mock him, ridicule him, spit upon him, and they did not simply threaten to kill him; they crucified him (Mark 15:13-27). Jesus, the sinless Son of God, is the ultimate scapegoat (Lev. 16, 2 Cor. 5:21, Heb. 4:14). The 2015 Chicago Cubs recently beat the Pirates in the silly baseball play-in game (that’s another article) and have the opportunity to compete in the NLCS for the first time since the Bartman incident. We are Braves fans (rough year), but my 15-year-old son JP said, “I’m rooting for the Cubs in the postseason so maybe they will leave Bartman alone.” Bartman should be a hero to Cubs fans, not the villain he has sadly become. I am sure it’s no solace to him, but he is a hero to this Braves fan.

By / May 18

Two seasons ago, I took my dad to a Major League Baseball game. My parents had come to town for a visit, and I had two tickets to a game. My dad and I sat in the stands watching the Texas Rangers and talked. We talked about life and baseball—especially where they intersected. It was during that conversation that I learned my grandfather had been offered a contract to play Major League Baseball but opted not to play in order to get a job and support his family. We reminisced about trips to St. Louis to see Ozzie Smith and the Cardinals play. We reflected on my own time as a kid playing baseball while my parents watched from the bleachers. The game of baseball was a bond we shared as father and son.

Today many are wondering about the future of baseball. The participation rate among children is declining. Some blame the slow pace of the game. Others say there are no recognizable superstars compared to basketball and football. But some studies highlight another problem—family structure.

At the beginning of this baseball season, The Washington Post published an article that connected some dots between the declining participation in baseball and the state of the American family. The article reads:

A significant impediment to widening that pipeline to baseball may be the changes that have altered the structure of American families.

In a 15-year study of 10,000 youth baseball players, [David] Ogden [a University of Nebraska researcher] found that the sport is drawing a more affluent, suburban and white base than it once did. In another study he conducted, 95 percent of college baseball players were raised in families with both biological parents at home—at a time when only 46 percent of Americans 18 and younger have grown up in that traditional setting.

“We’re looking at a generation who didn’t play catch with their dads,” Ogden says, “and that’s at the core of the chasm between baseball and African Americans. Kids are just not being socialized into the game.”[1]

There is a key social dynamic at play in American culture that threatens the future of the American pastime. The demise of the family has impacted the number of kids who play the game.

According to David Ogden’s research, only 5 percent of college baseball players come from broken homes despite the fact that more than half of children growing up in the United States live in such homes.

The nature of the game—learning the arts of hitting, throwing, catching, as well as the strategy of the game—requires more than just an occasional practice. It necessitates a strong commitment to the time needed to train a player. That is time usually invested by parents, particularly parents in intact families.

In her book Love and Economics, Jennifer Roback Morse states, “There is no substitute for the family in helping self-centered infants develop into cooperative adults.”[2] It takes great commitment on the part of parents to guide their children from the status of self-centered infant to productive member of society. Morse discusses the roles played by each parent and the economic realities of parenting to demonstrate that the child reared in the married home of his biological parents is best prepared for success in life. In the same way, baseball serves as a metaphor for life as it takes time and commitment to train a player even in the basics of the game. And the results of Ogden’s research demonstrate that those boys reared in intact homes have the best opportunity for reaching higher levels of success in the game.

Lest we think that such a dynamic is exclusive to baseball, earlier this year ESPN released the results of a survey conducted with 128 current and former NFL quarterbacks. Some of those surveyed include Super Bowl winners Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, and Russell Wilson. Among the retired quarterbacks surveyed were Hall of Famers Joe Namath, Bob Griese, and Steve Young.

Some of the questions included in the survey considered typical football-related topics, such as when they first threw a football, if they played in a spread offense in high school, and if they attended an instructional camp to develop skills or be seen by scouts. But the most interesting results were the ones about their families. Nearly 90 percent of the quarterbacks surveyed came from two-parent households.[3]

The common feature between these two articles is the presence of intact families for those succeeding in these male-dominated sports. For these boys, the presence of mom and dad makes a difference for their continued participation and potential success.

When looking at what makes the intact family different from the broken home, it is almost always the presence of a father. Most single-parent households are led by women. These single mothers work hard, often holding multiple jobs to provide for their children. Yet they cannot be both mother and father. This is then reflected in the sports they choose to play. Basketball requires a hoop and a ball. A child can work on the game by himself. Baseball, on the other hand, requires more than one person. In fact, it is advantageous to have a larger number of people if you want to do anything more than play catch.

From an anecdotal perspective, I have taken note of the involvement of fathers in my son’s baseball team. Almost every player has a father or grandfather present at the games, and many even come to practice. There are more than enough dads present to coach the bases, toss the ball to players during warm-ups, and give instructions before a batter steps to the plate. This is different from my experience watching my daughters play soccer and volleyball. The sidelines were dominated by mothers and far fewer fathers were in attendance.

While the research does not provide all the answers, it points to a dynamic between fathers and sons that many believe is key to the future of the game. The article from The Washington Post states, “The commissioner, researchers and coaches all see the transmission of baseball fever relying heavily on the father-son dynamic, whereas other sports are often taught in school or by peers.”[4]

Baseball can serve as an illustration to the truth we find in Scripture—families are the structure God created for the most effective rearing of children. In addition, fathers are especially important to boys.

As fathers, we have a responsibility to teach our sons. We teach them through our words and actions how to love God and be men. Scripture is replete with admonitions to fathers about teaching their sons to follow after God. A constant refrain in the first seven chapters of Proverbs is for a son to hear his father’s instructions. Solomon wrote these words for the benefit of his son.

Fathers cannot teach their sons if they abdicate the responsibilities of fatherhood. A boy growing up without a dad is missing something very important. He is missing the best example of what it means to be a man.

In describing the work of shaping a boy into a man, J. Budziszewski writes, “Unlike the achievement of biological maturity, the achievement of manhood is hard work, labor that requires a firm hand with the desires and devices of the heart. Alas that carving and shaping of these impulses is so unfashionable.”[5] The achievement of manhood is best achieved under the watchful eye of another man—namely, a father.

Baseball gives yet another illustration of the hard work necessary in achieving manhood. The eye must be trained to discern deceptive pitches and forego swinging the bat. The mind must be trained to make split-second decisions and act upon them with conviction. It is intense labor best achieved under the tutelage of a coach.

It should come as no surprise that one of the most well-known passages regarding the instruction of children is directed toward fathers and sons. In Deuteronomy 6, we read:

Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged. . . . These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut 6:1–2, 6–9)

We can learn much about life from baseball. It serves as a commentary on the state of America. Unfortunately, the current state of the game paints a sad picture about the state of American families. The strength of the family is declining along with the popularity of the game. Perhaps we should strive for a revival of the American pastime, but not simply for the sake of baseball. We should pray that it comes as a result of the revival of the intact family.

[1] Marc Fisher, “Baseball is struggling to hook kids—and risks losing fans to other sports,” The Washington Post, 5 April 2015.

[2] Jennifer Roback Morse, Love & Economics: It Takes a Family to Raise a Village (San Marcos: Ruth Institute Books, 2008), 97.

[3] Kevin Seifert, “Quarterback survey: What we learned,” ESPN.com, 5 February 2015.

[4] Fisher, “Baseball is struggling to hook kids.”

[5] J. Budziszewski, On the Meaning of Sex (Wilmington: ISI Books, 2012), 64.

By / Apr 2

Wayne Mitchell was not simply the head baseball coach at Robert E. Lee high school in Montgomery, Ala. He was a local baseball institution. He attended Robert E. Lee high school as a student and excelled on the baseball team. In 1964, Mitchell graduated from Lee and enrolled at Huntington College where he was a star left-handed pitcher. As a freshman, he was 5-0 with a 1.00 ERA, and when he graduated, he held the school record for 20 career victories.

After college, he became an assistant baseball coach at Robert E. Lee high school from 1971-1974. He left to become the head coach at Huntington College from 1975-1978 and then returned to Robert E. Lee as the head baseball coach in 1980. When I was playing Dixie youth baseball for the National League in Montgomery, Ala., I dreamed of wearing that distinctive “L” emblazoned on a fire red baseball cap for Robert E. Lee and playing for Mitchell.

I will never forget the first time I put on that Robert E. Lee high school baseball uniform in 1984.

I did not know it at the time I made the team, but in 1978 Mitchell had been diagnosed with cancer. In January 1986, my senior year, Mitchell began experimental cancer treatments that prevented him from being with the team. Jim Arrington had the unenviable task of filling in for a local baseball coaching legend during that season. Our team prayed for coach at every practice. On two occasions, I visited him in his home with one of my teammates. On those visits he would not talk about himself, but he lit up when he talked about the team.

Mitchell was a Christian, and it was evident in the way he coached baseball and the way he persevered in the face of cancer. He could be stern, like the day he told me to decide whether I wanted to be a rock star or a baseball player, and if it was a baseball player, I should get my hair cut. I heard it as a command, not a request. He was a walking encyclopedia of baseball information and strategy, but it was very evident that coaching high school baseball was far more to him than a way to earn a living. I did not think about it this way at the time, but reflecting back, I think it baseball was his mission field. Now, I am not suggesting he was overtly evangelistic, because he was not, but that he saw coaching baseball as a way he served Christ.

He never made it back to the baseball field, dying shortly after the 1986 baseball season.

Seeing coach’s lessons in a new light

To say that I wasn't very reflective as a high school student and athlete would be an understatement. I had always loved baseball, and coach Mitchell knew as much about the game as anyone I had ever met. Three years after graduating high school, I became a Christian while following in Mitchell's footsteps playing baseball at Huntington College. It was then I realized just how much Mitchell had impacted me. It was very common for me to be in a Bible study and link what I was learning to life-lessons Mitchell had taught me on the baseball field. I would hear his voice in my head and began to understand that he had been teaching me more than baseball.

Winning by routine plays

One of his mantras was that baseball games are not won or lost by spectacular plays. According to Mitchell, baseball games were won or lost by routine plays. He would say that everybody loves the home run, the strikeout, the diving catch, but there are plenty of players who can do all of those things and make too many mistakes on routine plays. He drilled into our heads that playing time was dependent upon consistency and making the routine plays.

He also taught us that one of the most beautiful plays in baseball was a sacrifice. I distinctly remember him saying, “If someone hits a home run or makes a diving play, I don't care what you do. But, if someone lays down a sacrifice bunt or hits a sacrifice fly to move a runner over, then you better be out of that dugout cheering them when they return.”

The beauty of sacrifice

Mitchell helped teach me about the beauty of sacrifice on a baseball diamond. I began to understand something of the importance of sacrifice for a cause bigger than the individual before I ever came to saving faith in Christ. When I read that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8), and that Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24), I could not help but think about baseball and about coach Mitchell, and that is still the case. The first time I read about that the great missionary, William Carey who said about his ministry, “I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything,” I remembered coach Mitchell telling us to focus on consistency and making the routine play.

Passing on the legacy

I was probably one of those players that Mitchell assumed he wasn't making much of an impact on at the time. One of the most embarrassing moments of my high school years was the time Mitchell asked me to lead the team in quoting the Lord's Prayer at the end of practice. There was a moment of awkward silence that probably lasted 5 seconds, though it felt like five hours, until I said, “I'm sorry coach, but I don't know it.” He quickly said, “No problem. I will lead us.”

Well, I do know the Lord and his model prayer now. In fact, by a miracle of God’s grace, people now call me pastor and a seminary professor. My love for the game of baseball and the influence of courageous and gracious men who also love the game, like Mitchell, have helped form and shape my life.

I am thankful for the many lessons I have learned over the years on a baseball diamond. No one will ever convince me that baseball is not the greatest game mankind has ever known. I have passed many of those lessons I learned while playing the national pastime down to my three sons as I have tutored them in the great game. My oldest son will be graduating high school this year, twenty-nine years after my last season wearing a Robert E. Lee baseball uniform. I wish he could have met Mitchell. In a sense, he has through what coach taught me, which I have passed on to him.

I am thankful for a great baseball coach who taught me about more than baseball. I think it would please him to know that I am still trying, as a Christian, to consistently make the routine plays, celebrate the beauty of sacrifice, and help my children and others to do the same.

By / Feb 27

Among the ritual sounds of spring, there are none more significant to me than the popping of baseball glove leather and the bat connecting with the ball. Baseball is uniquely a game of particularities, people, and place. At any moment I can think back to my Brevard Avenue backyard pitching to my dad or re-live the thrill of a Friday night game at tiny Joe Marshall field in Montgomery, Alabama.

The familial and cultural rootedness of baseball makes its fans both nostalgic about the game and zealous for its history, heroes, and statistics. The game itself is timeless, not bound by a clock, but the past is always present in baseball. Tragically, some of the greatest players to ever compete in the national pastime were never permitted to put on a Major League baseball uniform. John Henry Lloyd, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Buck Leonard, Ray Dandridge, and Judy Johnson were a few of the players who were never allowed to display that they were the equal or better of Cobb, Ruth, Gehrig, Hornsby, Mathewson, and Groves on the baseball diamond.

The de facto baseball color line began in post-Civil War America. Slavery had been officially outlawed by the 13th Amendment but not much else had changed regarding racist attitudes and practices in our nation. Legislation was powerless in eradicating racial animosity and fear. While the Negro Leagues heroically blossomed in the insidious environment of the Jim Crow segregation era and became a life-giving source of pride in the black community, the sad reality is that racial hatred resulted in some of the game’s immortals being eclipsed in the national consciousness of many Americans.

In defiance of the other Major League general managers and owners, Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, thus breaking Major League Baseball’s longstanding color barrier. Rickey would later say, “Of course the Emancipation Proclamation by Lincoln made the southern Negro slave free, but it never did make the white man morally free. He remained a slave to his inheritances. And some are even today” (“One Hundred Percent Wrong Club” banquet, Atlanta, GA, January 20, 1956). Rickey’s courageous act was 17 years before the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

There is no greater proof that the Negro League stars were every bit the equal or superiors of their white Major League counterparts than the success former Negro League players had in Major League baseball after the color barrier was broken. Henry Aaron of the Indianapolis Clowns, Ernie Banks of the Kansas City Monarchs, Roy Campanella of the Baltimore Elite Giants, Jackie Robinson of the Kansas City Monarchs, and Willie Mays of the Birmingham Black Barons all became stars and have been inducted in Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. As a lifelong Atlanta Braves fan, one the most thrilling memories of my childhood came on April 8, 1974 when Henry Aaron hit homerun 715 and listening to Milo Hamilton declare, “There’s a new home run champion of all time, and it’s Henry Aaron!”

Branch Rickey meticulously planned and shaped the master narrative for integrating the national pastime. Rickey explained that he knew he had to find “a man of exceptional courage, and exceptional intelligence, a man of basically fine character.” Rickey said of Jackie Robinson, “God was with me when I picked Jackie. I don’t think any other man could have done what he did those first two or three years.” Rickey believed that integration was God’s will and asserted, “I believe that a man can play baseball as coming to him from a call from God” (“One Hundred Percent Wrong Club”).

After reading Slave and Citizen by Frank Tannenbaum, a professor at Columbia University, Rickey found what he believed was one of the keys to the successful integration of baseball—proximity. He told his assistant Arthur Mann “This is it!” and quoted from Tannenbaum’s book, “Physical proximity, slow cultural intertwining … the slow process of moral identification work their way against all seemingly absolute systems of values and prejudices” (Murray Polner, Branch Rickey: A Biography, 154-155).

In 1956, in a speech to the “One Hundred Percent Wrong Club” in Atlanta, Georgia Rickey explained how proximity worked to integrate baseball. Rickey told a story publically for the first time about sitting with Clay Hopper, Robinson’s first manager with the Montreal Royals, watching a spring training game. Robinson made a play in the field that Rickey described as “one of those tremendous remarkable plays that very few people can make.” Rickey asked Hopper, “Did you ever see a man make a play to beat it?” Rickey explains Hopper’s response,

Now this fellow comes from Greenwood, Mississippi. … He took me and shook me and his face that far from me and he said, “Do you really think that a ‘nigger’ is a human being, Mr. Rickey?”

Rickey did not answer Hopper because as his biographer Lee Lowenfish explains, “There was nothing in Rickey’s formidable arsenal of intellect and vocabulary that could undo in a few words what generations of prejudice had created within the heart and mind” (Branch Rickey: Baseball’s Ferocious Gentleman, 392). Hopper begged Rickey not to put Robinson on his team, and Rickey told Hopper he had no choice in the matter. Rickey explains that proximity accomplished six months later what words could not,

[Hopper] said to me, “I want to take back what I said to you last spring.” He said, “I’m ashamed of it.” “Now,” he said, “you may have plans for him to be on your club,” – and he was, “but,” he said, “if you don’t have plans to have him on the Brooklyn club,” he said, “I would like to have him back in Montreal.” And then he told me that he was not only a great ball player good enough for Brooklyn, but he said that he was a fine gentleman.

Proximity. Proximity, says Tannenbaum, will solve this thing if you can have enough of it (“One Hundred Percent Wrong Club” banquet, Atlanta, GA, January 20, 1956).

Rickey believed in the power of proximity. Put the right man with the right ability and the right character together practicing, traveling, and playing with other men, as an equal, in the pursuit of a goal bigger than any of them individually, and racial animosity would begin to lessen. He believed that shared struggle and living life together would produce empathy for one another. Proximity was an idea that resonated with Rickey because of his Christian conviction about the equality of all of God’s image bearers.

The church of Jesus Christ ought to be the preeminent display of proximity in a fallen world, but sadly, in contemporary America, it is not. Studies reveal that the church in America remains one of the nations most segregated institutions (Scheitle, C., & Dougherty, K. (2010) Race, Diversity, and Membership Duration in Religious Congregations. Sociological Inquiry, 80(3), 405-423). The unity of the church as “one new man” across ethnic and cultural boundaries is a foundational sign of gospel reconciliation (Eph 2:15).

Living and striving together for the kingdom of Christ in local churches as cruciform community, “the household of God,” is how we learn to love and listen to one another (Eph 2:19). We are called to walk in line with the gospel together in local churches that display reconciliation with God by reconciliation with one another. When that happens, the cultural challenges involving race and ethnicity will not be political talking points and abstractions but family conversations.

Proximity, brothers and sisters in Christ, proximity.

Speech by Branch Rickey for the “One Hundred Percent Wrong Club” banquet,
Atlanta, Georgia, January 20, 1956. Broadcast on WERD 860 AM radio.

(Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Branch Rickey Papers)