[This post is courtesy of Phillip Jensen, Dean of St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney.]
Back in 1981, Christian hearts thrilled to see a mainstream popular film treat Christian conscience positively. The film was Chariots of Fire and the Christian conscience was that of Eric Liddell, the man who refused to run in the Olympics on a Sunday. It was just so different to see a man of genuine faith presented in a film as a hero instead of a moral failure or a narrow-minded hypocrite.
Yet there was something odd about the insistence on the Lord’s Day Observance. If we were going to stand for principle somewhere should it really be about not running on a Sunday? It was not like having sport organized for every Sunday in opposition to Church as we have it today. It was the once every four years Olympics drawing people from all over the world to Paris in 1924 for a short period of competition. Is it really forbidden in Scripture to run on a Sunday in such a circumstance?
Still, we loved the fact that he stood up to the authorities and even to the hypocrisy of the weak willed Prince of Wales. Here was a Christian man that even the world admired for his moral courage and his sacrificial willingness to forgo all for his beliefs.
Recently we have seen the same kind of courage displayed by Muslim sportsmen. Fawad Ahmed was not willing to advertise alcohol on his shirt when playing cricket for Australia. The Australian Cricket Board negotiated with its sponsor Carlton United and all agreed that he did not have to bear the brand name of their beer on his shirt.
It would be so easy for such a man to have worked out a way to subtly argue himself into wearing the advertisement. After all he was not required to drink the alcohol. And the words of the advertising logo didn’t say much about drinking alcohol. But he stood by his principles of having nothing to do with alcohol.
It is good to see the generosity of spirit and thoughtfulness of Cricket Australia and the brewery in their agreement to allow a talented cricketer play for Australia without compromising his conscience. His stand is not unique. Hashmin Amla refused to play for South Africa with a beer company advertisement on his shirt.
However, it does raise some quite interesting questions: Why are there so few Christians standing for conscience against the culture? Should Christians object to the advertising regime of gambling and alcohol? What about the raunch culture that sexualizes everything, especially young girls? Should we adapt to our culture to reach the lost or protest against our culture in the name of holiness and the Kingdom of God?
One of the reasons we so rarely hear Christians standing for conscience like this is because, being based on grace rather than law, we have fewer rules or regulations that would place us in a compromised position. As strongly as I am opposed to the alcohol trade advertising at sporting events, I cannot say that alcohol consumption is a sin, or forbidden by my religion. Just the reverse: the Bible teaches that God made wine to gladden the heart of man (Ps 104). It is not so simple for Christians to object to the sponsor’s logo, even though you may find alcohol advertising at sporting events illogical, untruthful, unhelpful and not in the best interests of the community.
Furthermore, Australian culture is based on Christianity and so provides fewer clashes with our conscience. In the past most sport was on Saturday not Sunday and didn’t involve any clash with church involvement. However, as our culture moves away from Christian roots and as our nation embraces multi-culturalism, so the clashes will increase. For the Jewish minority this has meant the construction of the Maccabi games; for the Muslims there are obvious problems now—alcohol, money lending, dress codes, but when will the Christian problems emerge?
For many Christians, the compromises happen long before reaching national selection. The conflict over Sunday sport happens not at selection for the Australian Cricket team, but in the juniors when we can’t play because of the priority of church commitments. Or it happens at the professional level when we don’t want to commit every moment of our lives to play a game.
But the refusal of Muslims to wear sponsors’ logos raises questions about multi-culturalism and the unity of a nation based on materialism. For we have embraced multi-culturalism on the premise that our national culture is commercialism. We allow whatever behaviour people’s culture or individualism wishes to practise provided it’s not criminal or against common commercial practice. We keep redefining what criminal means and how it relates to morality. So the unity of the nation is held together by commerce. That is why if you rent out a property you cannot control what the tenants do in it. Your religious moral principles are overridden by your commitment to the commercial system. What unites our nation is the dollar. We have one commercial system across the states that are federated together.
Professionalism in sport has bigger problems for us than simply a beer logo. That is but the symptom of the problem. Materialism eats at the very heart of the sport itself. What kind of nation has a team, which is named after its sponsors, directed by media companies, and coached by foreigners? It is no longer a national team but the team of a materialist nation more interested in buying victory than playing sport. These are entertainers not sportsmen, creating the fiction of sport but providing a vehicle for drugs, corruption and gambling.
Yet our Muslim friends have pushed the boundary of multi-culturalism a step further by showing not even commerce will hold our society together. There are deeper issues in life than making money. There are people who would prefer not to play for their country than compromise their beliefs.
How sad that it is the Muslim minority that are showing up our culture’s commitment to jingoism and materialism. I wonder if Christians don’t because our conscience was purchased a long time ago.