Author: Evan Lenow

Christ-follower, husband, father, ethics professor

The Uncertain Future of the Ministerial Housing Allowance

267px-logo_of_the_internal_revenue_service-svgU. S. District Judge Barbara Crabb issued a ruling on October 6 declaring the ministerial housing allowance to be unconstitutional. This was the second time that she has issued such a ruling, the first coming in 2013. The lawsuit was brought by the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) challenging that excluding the housing allowance from taxable income is unfairly biased toward religious leaders.

Judge Crabb ruled in part that the housing allowance exemption “violates the establishment clause because it does not have a secular purpose or effect and because a reasonable observer would view the statute as an endorsement of religion.” This is the same conclusion she reached in 2013 but was overruled by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals on the grounds that FFRF lacked standing to sue since no one affiliated with that foundation had ever filed for a housing allowance exemption from the IRS. During the intervening years at least two employees of FFRF have done just that. Therefore, Judge Crabb essentially invoked her previous ruling since she believed that the FFRF now had standing to bring the lawsuit.

The law in question is 26 U.S. Code § 107, which reads:

In the case of a minister of the gospel, gross income does not include—

(1) the rental value of a home furnished to him as part of his compensation; or

(2) the rental allowance paid to him as part of his compensation, to the extent used by him to rent or provide a home and to the extent such allowance does not exceed the fair rental value of the home, including furnishings and appurtenances such as a garage, plus the cost of utilities.

Of particular importance is the second paragraph which allows ministers to exclude a portion of their income that is used to provide for a home when a church does not provide a parsonage. Prior to 1954, ministers could only exclude from taxable income the fair rental value of a parsonage provided by the church. The Internal Revenue Service code was amended by Congress in 1954 to allow the same exemption for ministers who provided their own housing.

Judge Crabb believes this is an unfair benefit for ministers that does not also apply to non-ministerial employees. She writes, “Ministers receive a unique benefit under § 107 (2); it is not, as defendants suggest, part of a larger effort by Congress to provide assistance to employees with special housing needs. A desire to alleviate financial hardship on taxpayers is a legitimate purpose, but it is not a secular purpose when Congress eliminates the burden for a group made up of solely religious employees but maintains it for nearly everyone else.”

Much of the defendants’ case is built upon the idea that ministers have a unique challenge for housing because they are expected to live in the general vicinity of their churches and be on call at all hours of the day. Similar housing allowance deductions are given to federal employees working overseas and members of the military. Judge Crabb rejected this argument in her decision.

Another element of the defendants’ case addresses the ecclesial differences among denominations. Not all denominations have a practice of providing parsonages, and some do not provide them for theological reasons. Joe Carter offers a good summary of this distinction as he writes, “The parsonage exemption, for instance, provides a preference for institutional churches whose ecclesiastical properties are owned by a central governing body (e.g., Roman Catholic). Smaller, independent, local churches often have less money to provide a parsonage. It also presents a bias in favor of wealthy, established churches over younger congregations and church startups. Many church plants that can’t afford a church building would be unable to afford to buy a parsonage.”[1]

The similar case from 2013 was ultimately overturned by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, but a similar outcome may not happen this time. The case will undoubtedly be appealed to the same appellate court, but the issue of standing will not be in play this time. In an interview with  Baptist Press, Mississippi College law professor Matt Steffey states that the precedent of interpretation of the establishment clause by the Supreme Court may bind lower courts to decide in the same way that Judge Crabb did.[2] This could lead to a showdown at the nation’s highest court.

Why should we care about the future of the ministerial housing allowance? First, many ordained ministers depend upon this tax benefit to make ends meet. When churches are unable to provide adequate income, this tax deduction may make it possible for ministers to stay at a church. In fact, many churches include a housing allowance as part of an overall compensation package.

Second, the focus on the ministerial housing allowance is likely the first step in a larger plan to remove even more significant tax benefits that churches receive. The next set of lawsuits may attempt to overturn property tax exemptions for churches. If churches were not able to claim property tax exemptions, many would have to close their doors rather than pay large tax bills for commercial property.

Third, there is a growing trend to view churches as value-neutral institutions for a community. However, churches have been viewed historically as providing great value to communities. They often meet the needs of the sick and poor without placing a burden upon tax payers. They are organizers for community service to benefit their neighborhoods and cities. They provide a moral foundation for their members that often make them better citizens of the community. Viewing churches as value-neutral is shortchanging the role of churches.

As this case progresses through the appeals process, we may see significant changes for ministers and churches.

[1] Joe Carter, “Explainer: Why clergy get tax-free housing,” Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, October 12, 2017.

[2] David Roach, “Clergy housing allowance struck down again,” Baptist Press, October 9, 2017.

Guest Post: Watching the News Without Losing Your Mind (Or Your Faith!)

This is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

A few years ago, I wrote an article about anxiety and the sovereignty of God. At that time, my children were preschool and young elementary age, and I struggled with worry over them. I found that article the other day and read through it, feeling like I was looking through an old family picture album.

The feelings of anxiety were fresh and I quickly remembered the worry I carried over keeping them safe, well-educated, and healthy. The idea that amazed me as I read back through that article was that – as much as things have changed in our lives – many things stay the same.

Yes, my children are older, but I still fight the temptation to become paralyzed in fear over them.  The situations might be different, but my heart at times can be the very same. Today, however, I find the anxiety not only coming from within, but also from around me.

The national news, the local papers, and social media are busting at the seams with shocking stories of pain, hurt, and trepidation for the future. There is a palpable feeling of worry, uneasiness, fear, and general anxiety among people today inside and outside of the Church.  The places that we used to turn to for help with anxiety (friends, church, even entertainment) are now over run themselves with the same anxious content.

What are we, as believers, to do in a world filled with uncertainty and fear?

First, we must remember that God has called us to be different. Christian women must stop falling into the same patterns as those around us. We have what the non-believer does not have. Because of our relationship with Christ and because He has given us His Word, we have the answers! The problem comes when we don’t access the power that we have been given. We turn into the gullible women of 2 Timothy 3 who might learn, but are never able to act on the knowledge of the Truth.

We must act on the wonderful, hopeful, freeing knowledge we have of who God is and how He is at work around us.  For if we do not, we will miss the opportunity to live out our faith, and no unbelieving person will ever want what our testimony of Christ proclaims.  Never forget, friend, that our Lord holds the future and He is still in control. Yet, if we worry just as much as our lost neighbor does, what peace do we have to offer her? It is only when we stand courageously on the truth of God that we can offer hope amid fearful times.

Secondly, we must train our mind and eyes on truth. The diet we feed our minds produces the fruit of our thoughts and emotions. Paul did not give the Philippians specific instructions on what to think on because it made for a pretty plaque on their living room wall. He wrote to them from a prison cell, during a time of disunity and heresy in the church. The Philippian Christians were surrounded by Gentiles in a town with a heightened military presence. I am sure the Christians might have been a bit nervous, so Paul charged them with exactly what to think on to prevent their mind from wandering into the back allies of fear and anxiety (Phil 4:6-8).

Lastly, we must rest in the sovereignty of God. A genre of writings that I find helpful in digesting the events going on in our world is biographies of heroes in the faith. What we are going through as Christian and as American women is not new. There are many who have gone before us and have gone through similar fears and challenges. God could have put us in any time of history, in any country.

But He chose to place us here; in our neighborhoods, in our cities, in our churches. Just like those who have lived through history, I want to be found faithful to fulfill God’s purposes right where He has called me. I can only do this if I release my grip on fear and anxiety and trust God’s plan for my life and the lives of those around me.

Trust His sovereignty in your life. Whatever happens, He has you right where He wants you for his purpose and for His glory. We must live our lives in a way that, no matter what, we can testify to His goodness and power in our lives!

Show Me the Money: Bribery and Scandal Hit NCAA Basketball

636420161513221488-usp-ncaa-basketball-ncaa-tournament-first-round-m-89581795As my Adidas shoes lay on the floor next to my chair, I opened this morning’s Wall Street Journal to find sports news on the front page (not a normal occurrence for the WSJ) about Adidas’ involvement in a scandal with multiple universities. The headline spoke of bribery and kickbacks at major college basketball programs. Coaches have been arrested after a covert FBI investigation.

The WSJ reports:

In one of several alleged schemes outlined Tuesday by federal prosecutors in New York, a top Adidas executive worked with others including a sports agent and a financial adviser to funnel tens of thousands of dollars to the families of high-school recruits to induce them to sign with major-college programs including Louisville. In exchange, they were expected to sign with the agent and adviser and, when they turned pro, choose Adidas as their sponsor, prosecutors say.

Criminal charges against the Adidas executive, James Gatto, and others were unsealed Tuesday as part of a sweeping crackdown on alleged corruption. The case also involved alleged bribes paid to assistant coaches at the University of Arizona, Oklahoma State University, the University of Southern California and the University of South Carolina.

Prosecutors said Adidas paid high-school recruits through third-party intermediaries to attend schools with Adidas shoe contracts. Prosecutors also alleged financial advisers and agents paid bribes to the coaches with hopes of securing college stars as clients after they enter the National Basketball Association.[1]

Every year during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, there are commercials touting the student component of the student-athletes participating in sports programs around the country. Many of these student-athletes are not on scholarships. They are at colleges and universities to get an education. Sports are merely an extracurricular activity. The image the NCAA wants to portray is an idealistic world where students put on the uniform of their educational institution for the love of the game.

Today’s news reveals what most of us already believed to be true. Major college sports programs are big business to many universities and can be the ticket to extravagant wealth for a handful of players, agents, and coaches.

With so much money on the line, some people involved in these sports have ventured far past the line of ethical behavior. ESPN reports that the coaches who were arrested could face up to 80 years in prison if convicted.[2]

What this reveals to me is that sports has become form of idolatry in our society. What else could drive coaches, players, families, and major corporations to participate in criminal behavior? Perhaps it is not the sport itself that is the idol, but the money it could bring. Either way, we are at an unhealthy place in our society.

Just this week I taught my Bible and Moral Issues class on the ethical implications of the Second Commandment. For the most part, we do not find ourselves fashioning graven images to worship in an American context. However, there are plenty of idols that we worship. In this case, money and basketball come to the forefront. Perhaps it is time for us to rethink the role of sports in our society. Particularly in the church, it may be time to focus our time, attention, and money on the things of God. In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. . . . No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. (Matt 6:19-21, 24)

[1] Rebecca Davis O’Brien, Ben Cohen, and Sara Germano, “Bribery, Kickbacks Alleged at Top NCAA Basketball Programs,” The Wall Street Journal, 26 September 2017.

[2] John Gasaway, “What you need to know about the FBI’s NCAA basketball investigation,” ESPN.com, 26 September 2017.

To Marry or Not to Marry: The Question for the Next Generation

Thisft_17-09-14_marriage_halfof week is Unmarried and Single Americans Week (September 17-23), so it seems appropriate to contemplate the changing landscape of marriage in America and its potential impact on our churches.

According to a recent Pew Research Center study, half of all American adults today are married. This number is down from 59% twenty-five years ago and 72% in 1960. In addition, the median age for first marriage in 2016 was 29.5 for men and 27.4 for women. This age has risen 2 years over the past decade and nearly seven years over the last half century.

Pew Research also reports some interesting data regarding the desire to get married on the part of those who are unmarried:

Among adults who have never been married, 58% say they would like to get married someday and 27% are not sure if they want to get married. Still, 14% say they do not want to get married.

Even those who want to get married offer various reasons why they are not yet married. Pew Research notes:

Among adults who have never been married but say they are open to marrying in the future, about six-in-ten (59%) say that a major reason they are not married is that they haven’t found the right person. . . . About four-in-ten never-married adults (41%) who say they may want to marry in the future say that not being financially stable is a major reason they are not currently married, and 28% point to this as a minor reason. Fewer – but still a substantial share – say that a major (24%) or minor (30%) reason they are not married is that they aren’t ready to settle down.

ft_17-09-14_marriage_mostnevermarriedThe growing population of unmarried individuals in the United States has significant implications for the church, and it would behoove us to take note of both the positive and negative impact.

Positive Impact

There are several potential positive benefits that unmarried individuals bring to the life of the church. Here I will highlight two of them.

  1. Unmarried individuals have more time to devote to the work of the Lord. The Apostle Paul gave great encouragement to those who were unmarried in the church at Corinth. He said, “But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord;but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). Paul knew that unmarried individuals could focus more time on serving the Kingdom of God because their attention was not (rightfully) drawn to serve a spouse. Churches should not lose sight of this. There is an entire population of unmarried people in the church who can provide a great work of ministry while undistracted by the concerns of marriage.
  2. Unmarried individuals can move more quickly in fast-paced ministry settings. Both Texas and Florida were recently hit by devastating hurricanes. Calls went out form disaster relief organizations all over the country to provide supplies and volunteers to meet immediate needs. In many cases, unmarried individuals (particularly in my church) were some of the first to volunteer because they are able to act more quickly in these circumstances. Without the obligations of caring for a spouse or children, they can respond and serve when immediate needs arise that demand quick attention. Thus, churches would be well-served to cultivate this ministry mindset among the unmarried believers in their fellowship.

Negative Impact

As with the positive impact, there are potentially several negative consequences of a growing unmarried population in the church, but these two demonstrate some of the issues the church must address.

  1. Cohabitation rates are growing. One reason for a decrease in marriage rates and an increase in the median age of first marriage is that cohabitation rates have increased steadily over the last thirty years. The National Center for Family & Marriage Research (NCFMR) notes, “The percentage of women who have ever cohabited nearly doubled between 1987 and 2013. In 1987, one-third of women (aged 19-44) had ever cohabited, and in 2013, nearly two-thirds (64%) of women had cohabitation experience.” As I noted in a post earlier this year, the church is not immune to the problem of cohabitation. As more people cohabit, churches will be forced to address issues of church membership and discipline in a culture that is more accepting of cohabitation. And it is not simply the young about whom we must be concerned. NCFMR reports that the number of cohabiting older adults tripled between 2000 and 2014. In many cases these cohabiters are widows and widowers who choose to cohabit rather than remarry in order to avoid losing Social Security or pension benefits.
  2. Out-of-wedlock birth rates are growing. Just because people are waiting longer to get married or not marrying at all does not mean that there are no children being born. The National Center for Health Statistics notes that “the percentage of all births to unmarried women was 40.2% in 2014.” This means that 4 out of every 10 children in the United States are born to unwed mothers. CNN states that a third of women who give birth in a given year are not married. These are the children who will be coming through the children and youth ministries of our churches. In many cases, they will not have a father in their lives. Thus, the church will be called upon to fill in the gap for these children who do not have both mother and father.

Conclusion

There is no reason to fear the growing population of unmarried adults in our midst. But we cannot ignore them either. The church needs to minister to them and allow them to minister as a valuable part of the body of believers.

_________________________

U.S. Census Bureau, “Facts for Features: Unmarried and Single Americans Week: Sept. 17-23, 2017,” 14 August 2017.

Kim Parker and Renee Stepler, “As U.S. marriage rate hovers at 50%, education gap in marital status widens,” Pew Research Center, 14 September 2017.

U.S. Census Bureau, “Estimated Median Age at First Marriage, by Sex: 1890 to the Present,” November 2016.

P. Hemez and W. D. Manning, “Over twenty-five years of change in cohabitation experience in the U.S., 1987-2013,” Family Profiles, FP-17-02, National Center for Family & Marriage Research (2017).

P. Hemez and S. L. Brown, “Cohabitation in middle and later life,” Family Profiles, FP-16-20, National Center for Family & Marriage Research (2016).

National Center for Health Statistics, “Births: Final Data for 2014,” National Vital Statistics Reports 64 (2015).

Stephanie Coontz, “How unmarried Americans are changing everything,” CNN.com, 21 September 2017.

Guest Post: A {Real} Solution to a Complaining Heart

This is a guest post from my wife, Melanie. She originally wrote this post for Biblical Woman, the blog site for the Women’s Programs at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. The post originally appeared here.

“What are you writing about, momma?” one of my daughters asked innocently as I began working on this piece.

“Complaining,” I replied.

With a concerned look on her face, she said, “Oh. Are you going to name any names?”

While I initially laughed at her response, it reminded me of the broad scope of this problem throughout God’s people, even in my own household and in my own heart.

Despite the trials going on in our country or the severity of the headlines, we, as Christian Americans, live a relatively easy life, especially compared to our brothers and sisters in Christ who live abroad.

I believe it is this life filled with an abundance of blessings that reveals the sin in our own hearts bubbling up as complaining and grumbling.

To some, complaining might seem as innocent as a group of friends sharing their concerns with each other. However, concerns, not channeled in the right way, lead to the fertile soil of discontentment, where complaining takes root and grows deeper and deeper with time.

Of course, we are supposed to share our burdens with each other, but this command of Scripture is intended to cause us to pray for each other and encourage each other through our concerns and burdens.

On the contrary, complaining actually does the opposite. When complaining is mentioned in Scripture it is usually paired with grumbling and discord.  Therein lies the difference:

Sharing our burdens leads to prayer and encouragement, complaining leads to further grumbling and increased discord within the body of Christ.

When God tells us to stop a behavior, He always leads us to fill it with a better action. For example, when Paul says, “Do everything without grumbling and complaining,” it is within the context of us being light to a dark and corrupt world. In Philippians 2:12-17, Paul charges us to do the work God has called us to do. As we do that work – obeying God’s commands in our life – we are showing God’s good pleasure in our lives.

Our obedience to God as we do His will leads us to glorify Him with our lives and actions, which leads to us being a light because the world around us is “crooked and perverse”. This is how we are light among the darkness around us.

However, if we complain and grumble, we cannot fulfill God’s will for our lives in this way. Our light is dulled by our grumbling mouths and we are no longer visible in the darkness around us.

A complaining spirit not only steals our passion to act out God’s will in our life, but it steals our light to the lost world.

I once thought the simple answer to complaining was becoming more thankful. However, in further studying the Philippians passage about grumbling, thankfulness is not mentioned. Don’t get me wrong; We can always be more thankful of the blessings God has bestowed upon us (Phil 4:6-7).

But the remedy to a chronic complainer is understanding God’s will in your life and, through obedience to Him, fulfilling that calling for God’s glory. Like Paul mentions in verse 17, we are all called to be poured out as a drink offering in whatever ministry God has placed us.

Here is a modern day example of Paul’s charge in Philippians 2: A young mom is overwhelmed by her trying daily tasks of taking care of her young children. She begins to complain to her husband or friends about the endless dishes or piles of laundry, the lack of sleep, or the continual messes. She tries to be thankful, but logic makes it difficult to rejoice over another pile of laundry. Paul gives this godly mama the charge to understand that it is “God who works through you to will and do for His good pleasure” and that if we can do the things God has called us to do without grumbling or complaining, then we will be “without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom [we will] shine as lights in the world”.  And finally, “[she can] rejoice in the day of Christ that (she has) not run in vain or labored in vain.”

The real solution to our complaining is a greater understanding of the calling God has on our lives and a deeper knowledge that He is using us to impact His kingdom right where we are. Once, we know that truth in our innermost being, the roots of complaining in our soul will be removed and replaced with the healthy growth of renewed purpose.

Be Vigilant Against Sin: Learning from Freeze’s Fall

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Hugh Freeze (via Wikimedia Commons)

Within a few minutes of each other, a friend got my attention and my dad called me. Both wanted to pass along a piece of breaking news that they thought I would want to know—Hugh Freeze had resigned from Ole Miss. In the phone call with my dad, I found out the initial reports of the reason for his resignation was not a losing record or an ongoing NCAA investigation. Instead the reason for his resignation is what Ross Bjork, the athletic director at Ole Miss, called “a pattern of personal conduct inconsistent with the standard of expectations for the leader of our football team.”[1]

In full disclosure, I’ve never been an Ole Miss football fan. I could have been called a hater at one point. But that changed to a certain degree in 2012 when the University of Mississippi hired Freeze as their head football coach. My history with Coach Freeze goes back to 1992. That year Coach Freeze joined the staff of my high school, Briarcrest Christian School. I was a freshman; he was my geometry teacher.

I never played football for Freeze, but I interacted with him in class and around campus. If you checked my Facebook feed for comments from my high school classmates, the reviews on him would be mixed. My experience was always positive. My experience with all my high school teachers was positive.

What disturbs me today is the line from the athletic director at Ole Miss—his behavior demonstrated a pattern. Bjork describes that pattern as “troubling.”

My attempt here is not to write a vindication of Coach Freeze. I haven’t seen him in person nor talked to him in probably 20 years. I have merely followed his career from a distance after I graduated from high school, yet as one who felt like he had some knowledge of the man. What I want to address is the idea of a pattern of behavior. As a friend of mine mentioned to me after the news broke, our lives demonstrate a pattern of behavior. The question is whether that pattern is destructive. We most likely all have a pattern of sin, we just don’t have the public image of Coach Freeze.

This current situation reminds me of the life of King David. A relative unknown, he won his way into the limelight by defeating Goliath (a.k.a., the Alabama Crimson Tide). Somewhere along the way, the destructive pattern of behavior started. We don’t know when for certain. I doubt his downfall started that fateful evening when his men were at war and he was spying Bathsheba from the roof (2 Samuel 11). David was then confronted with his sin by the prophet Nathan. His consequences were great. Far beyond the loss of a job, David lost his son who was the offspring of his illicit relationship (2 Samuel 12). David’s life was forever changed. His family life was a wreck. He never got to build the temple he longed to provide as a place of worship. There were multiple attempts to usurp his throne.

In light of all this, what can we learn from David’s life that applies to our own and that of Coach Freeze?

  1. Sin will ultimately come to the light. Nathan delivered a powerful message from the Lord to David. He said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. Indeed you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and under the sun’” (2 Sam 12:11-12). As much as we try to hide our sin, it will eventually come to light. It may not be to the extent that David’s and Freeze’s have been exposed to the sun, but it will happen. And it will be devastating.
  2. Confession is the first step. After being confronted by Nathan, the king confessed his sin. We read, “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord’” (2 Sam 12:13a). This is just the beginning of David’s confession. Psalm 51 gives us a full picture of his confession. Many of the psalms have introductions that gives us the context of their composition. Psalm 51 tells us that it was written after Nathan confronted David with his sin. David asks to be washed, cleansed, and purified from his sin. May we do the same.
  3. Consequences are real. Nathan gave David a picture of his consequences when he said, “The Lord also has taken away your sin; you shall not die. However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die” (2 Sam 12:13b). There are two key consequences to David’s sin. First, his deed has given the enemies of God cause to blaspheme him. We often think private sin only has private consequences. However, sin always extends its tentacles beyond what we think. The pagan nations surrounding Israel must have looked at David’s behavior with a sense of vindication. The righteous king of Israel was no more righteous than they. Second, his sin led to the loss of his child. After the corporate consequence, this was the private consequence. This loss must have stung for the rest of his life. There are no words to describe this tragedy.

I wish the best for Coach Freeze. I wanted to see him succeed in the world of football. More importantly now, I want to see him succeed in life and godliness. I pray this situation reminds us all to be vigilant about identifying and eliminating destructive patterns of behavior in our own lives.

[1] Mark Schlabach, “Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze resigns; escort-service calls cited,” ESPN.com, 21 July 2017.

Taming the Tongue: Parents and Youth Sports

L SoccerHer soccer coach calls her “Big Foot.” She’s probably the smallest player on the team, but don’t tell her. Our youngest daughter has made it her goal in life to ignore her own size and play like the big kids (a.k.a. her older siblings). As a result, she has a “go big or go home” attitude on the field. On a few occasions that has resulted in scoring as many as six goals in a single game. It has also led to at least a couple confrontations on the field from opposing coaches for her unorthodox tactics (hey, the ref never blew a whistle). But most of all, it displays a zeal for the game and pure joy in doing what she loves.

With kids’ sports, especially when they are young, problems don’t generally come from the kids. Sure there might be a foul here or a trip there, but the little ones are in it for the fun. The problems are usually generated by parents, and I have been part of the problem.

In a move to curb some of the problems created by parents at soccer games, the South Carolina Youth Soccer Association is calling for a “Silent September” this fall. CNN reports:

Heckling referees is practically a tradition in any sport, but South Carolina youth soccer officials feel it’s gone too far. Come September, they’re instituting a new rule: “No cheering, no jeering.” Overeager parents will get two warnings. If they don’t pipe down the third time, they’ll be kicked out. The state’s Youth Soccer Association is calling this code of conduct “Silent September.” And it’s cracking down after problems with parents who are verbally, and even physically, aggressive toward referees—some of whom are still kids themselves.[1]

As we signed up a couple of our children for fall soccer over the weekend, I was hit with a twinge of conviction. How do I conduct myself at the games? I am admittedly a very competitive person whose days of playing sports at any level are basically over. I love watching my children play, but I have raised my voice in criticism of officials far too many times. I have thrown my hands up in the air as if the integrity of the game was at risk due to one inconsequential call. I have even tried to shout instructions to my kids from the stands when I am not the coach.

With this next season of sports coming quickly, I want to redouble my efforts to be a supportive, positive parent at the games. Thankfully the Bible has much to say about the use of our tongues—if only we will take it to heart. These admonitions clearly apply to the way we should conduct ourselves at children’s sporting events.

So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. (James 3: 5-10)

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)

A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit. (Proverbs 15:4)

I want to be a parent who encourages, edifies, and inspires with my words. I don’t want to be “that parent” at the game who yells at the officials and demands perfection from everyone at a child’s game. These children are not professionals, nor are the officials. May we as parents not ruin the sport by our words.

Before the start of every game, I hope to join King David in his prayer:

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips. (Psalm 141:3)

[1] Nancy Coleman, “‘No cheering, no jeering’: South Carolina tells overzealous parents at soccer games to zip it,” CNN.com, 7 July 2017.