Family Balancing: A New Trend in the Fertility Industry

One of the jobs I held in college was working for a fertilizer and weed control company. It was a family-owned small business with probably 8–10 employees. We met at the owner’s house around 7:00 a.m. to get our trucks and supplies and hit the road to make people’s yards look beautiful. The owner had six daughters who ranged in age from about 2 to 17 at the time. I once asked him what it was like to be the only man in a house with 7 women. His response was classic: “I get to hire all the sons I want and then fire them when I get tired of them.” Even though his response was in jest, it made me work a little harder on the job.

My former boss and other families like his would have been prime candidates for a procedure highlighted in today’s Wall Street Journal—family balancing. Sumathi Reddy reports:

About one out of five couples who come to HRC Fertility, a network of fertility clinics in Southern California, doesn’t need help getting pregnant. Instead, they come for what is called family balancing, or nonmedical sex selection. ‘They usually have one, two or three children of one gender’ and want their next child to be of the other sex, said Daniel Potter, medical director of HRC Fertility, which includes nine clinics.

The testing required to make such selection is called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). PGD is most often used during the in vitro fertilization (IVF) process to test for genetic diseases, but some clinics are now offering the testing in order for families to select the gender of their babies. Essentially, a woman can have IVF and request that the only embryos injected into her uterus be of a certain gender.

Interestingly, this practice of family balancing through PGD is only legal in a few countries, two of which are the U.S. and Mexico. There is also a difference of opinion among professional organizations on the ethical implications of the practice. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine states that fertility practices are under “no ethical obligation to provide or refuse to provide nonmedically indicated methods of sex selection.” However, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists opposes the practice.

As with many aspects of the fertility industry, little thought has been given to the ethical ramifications of such practices. Let us consider two related to sex selection.

First, preferential sex selection for “family balancing” opens the door to eugenics.

The WSJ article notes, “Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at New York University School of Medicine, said family balancing can become a smoke screen for families who want boys. ‘When you are treating the fertile in order to produce something that they prefer as opposed to a disease, I do think you’re really opening the door to a potential slope toward eugenics,’ Dr. Caplan said.”

My family would fall into the category of unbalanced. We have three girls and one boy. We know of other families with even greater imbalance. However, the gift of life is so precious that gender should not matter. I would not trade any one of my girls for another boy even if it meant we had achieved more balance.

Much like the result of the one-child policy in China, sex selection through PGD could end up producing an imbalance in genders for a generation or more. While the article describes the practice of balancing both genders in a family, at least one of the fertility clinics mentioned places no restrictions on sex selection even for the first child. If couples prefer one gender over another, they could select never to have any children of a particular gender.

The practice of eugenics has a long and ugly history (as I noted in a post a few years ago). The net result of American eugenics programs was those deemed undesirable by society were eliminated. What if girls are deemed undesirable because they are weaker? What if boys are deemed undesirable because they are troublesome? The use of preferential sex selection allows families to operate their own small-scale eugenics program.

Second, preferential sex selection for “family balancing” results in the destruction of unwanted children.

In order for PGD-based sex selection to work, IVF must be employed. The IVF process results in multiple fertilized eggs that develop into embryos. Those embryos are then genetically tested for gender and only those of the selected gender would be injected into the uterus. The remaining embryos could be frozen or discarded. If the purpose of sex selection is to provide “balance” to an already “unbalanced” family, then the embryos that do not match the preferred gender would most likely be discarded. In effect, this is the elimination of human life.

Even when they are not discarded, frozen embryo storage has become an ethical dilemma. Most estimates put the number of frozen embryos in the U.S. at over 600,000, although it is uncertain anyone knows the real number. Storage of frozen embryos costs roughly $500–1,000 per year. Many embryos are stored indefinitely or discarded when the responsible party no longer desires to keep them in storage or fails to pay the storage fees.

Since life begins at conception, these unwanted or frozen embryos are children who deserve a chance to live. However, the number of frozen and discarded embryos increases each year, resulting in the destruction of children who are “unwanted.” This is a tragedy that must be addressed. While some have promoted embryo adoption, the better option is probably to reevaluate the whole fertility industry that results in this tragedy.

The saddest line from the article came from the medical director of a fertility clinic in New York. The WSJ reports, “Joel Batzofin, medical director of New York Fertility Services in Manhattan, said about 20% of its patients come for sex selection. Nearly a third of them come from abroad. ‘If people want to avail themselves of the technology, why not?’ Dr. Batzofin said. ‘They’re not hurting anyone. They’re paying for it. [The American Society for Reproductive Medicine] thinks that it’s OK.’”

Technology without a moral compass is dangerous. In the case of “family balancing,” it appears we have crossed the moral line.

_________________________

Sumathi Reddy, “Fertility Clinics Let You Select Your Baby’s Sex,” The Wall Street Journal, 18 August 2015.

Baseball and the State of the American Family

William Baseball*The following is an excerpt from my article published by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission at Canon & Culture.

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.

The rest of my article can be found at Canon & Culture.

Guest Post: Maybe You’re {Not} Supposed to Do It All

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.

“Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.”
~Colossians 4:9

In our culture, moms are called on to do more than they have ever had to do before. While we also have more help with smartphones and fast food and efficient appliances, most moms feel the pressure of being spread too thin. The commitment to raise children, the commitment to our jobs (professional, volunteer, home-based, etc.) the commitment to our marriages, and the commitment to our homes can leave even the most organized woman drowning in over commitment.

At the very end of Colossians, almost as an aside, Paul adds a note to a fellow brother in Christ, Archippus. Paul addresses him by name and says to “take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.” This Archippus is thought to be Philemon’s son that is mentioned in Philemon 2, so it’s likely that he routinely hosted the church in his home and he was more than likely very involved in the church body overall. We are only left to speculate what Paul meant with this challenge to Archippus, but I do believe there are specific things that we, as moms, can glean from a simple statement by Paul.

  1. Take heed or pay attention– I know, as a mom, I can allow myself to be greatly distracted by everything. Without a plan, I can spend my day chasing rabbits or following the demand of the urgent. However, in our schedules, Paul reminds us to pay attention. We have to discipline ourselves to focus on what we are called to do.
  2. To your ministry– What are you called by God to do? We are most effective when we have a clear purpose and a clear goal. Take the time to pray about what God would have you to do. Discuss it with your husband. Without clear purpose, we leave ourselves open to the waves of whatever comes our way.
  3. Which you have received in the Lord- Where did you receive the call to do all the things you are trying to do? Ladies, this one is hard to accept, but it is imperative that we listen to what Paul is trying to say here. We can receive our “duties” from many different places, mainly other people, our kids, or our own selfish aspirations, just to name a few. But if we attempt to put on our plate every job that comes our way from any source, then we will be too tired and too distracted to actually hear what God is calling us to do. Make a list of all the responsibilities you have. Then, beside each responsibility write who gave you that job. If you ultimately did not receive it from the Lord, then, with much prayer and trust, begin working on releasing that job. Fellow mommas, the Lord has called us to great ministries and responsibilities. Only those that we receive from Him have eternal consequences. If God did not call you to a job, the stretch of your influence will be stunted in that position. Release it and take heed to those we have received from Him.
  4. That you may fulfill it – Doesn’t it feel good to complete something? For a mom, it’s a special treat. The only reason I like laundry is because there is a beginning (dirty clothes) and an end (clean clothes). It is a great feeling to see a job to its completion. God desires us to accomplish something, not to work aimlessly chasing everything that comes our way. If we will pay attention to only the ministry that we receive from God, then the feeling of accomplishment is within our grasp. Are you always starting and never completing anything? Maybe you are trying to do more than what the Lord has planned for you right now.

One of the biggest lies our culture tells us is that we can do it all and have it all right now. I know sometimes I listen to this lie and before I even realize it, I am working myself into a frenzy. As moms, the cost is too precious to waste our energy on tasks that are not from the Lord. I encourage you to join me in examining my own life and discipline myself to only heed the ministries that the Lord has given me that I might fulfill them to His glory.

Facilities Policies: Changing Your Church’s Constitution and By-Laws

wedding ringsThis is the fourth installment of a multi-part series addressing why churches need to consider updating their organizational documents. The series is written in conjunction with Waylan Owens. This post is Part 4 and was written by Dr. Owens, originally appearing here. For the first three parts are “There’s No Time Like the Present,” “We Believe…,” and “Wedding Policies.”

Many years ago, I (Waylan) attended my first wedding in a Roman Catholic church. Though not my first visit to a Catholic church, the wedding has lasted in my memory and still forms one of the bases of my experiential understanding of Catholicism.

When I pass by church buildings, I look for a sign. Then I think to myself, “That is a Baptist church” (or a Methodist church or a Catholic church, according to the message on the sign). Now I know that no denomination believes that its buildings are the church. Yet when I see a building or walk inside, I still think to myself, “So this is ‘Such and Such’ Church.”

And I attribute to that church whatever I see happening in and around the buildings. If I know that the Boy Scouts meet in the church buildings, I assume the church endorses the Boy Scouts. If I see the buildings used for the feeding of the homeless, I assume the church is benevolent, even though none of the members might participate in the ministry. If I see a wedding involving a couple of two men or two women, I do not think, “Oh, someone must have borrowed the building.” I think, “This church must approve of homosexual marriage.”

I am not unusual in this regard. This is a normal way of thinking for people, and for most non-members, the buildings of a church are the most consistent witness of the church. Because of this, it is vital for churches both to have policies for the use of its facilities and to be intentional in keeping them.

The Alliance Defending Freedom observes, “Put simply, a church has a right to only allow uses of its facilities that are consistent with its religious beliefs and to deny all other uses.” Notice that the key is that the facilities are used in ways that are consistent with religious beliefs only. ADF continues, “The best way to protect your church is to adopt a facility usage policy that outlines the religious nature of the church buildings and restricts usage of the facility to uses that are consistent with the church’s biblical beliefs.”[1]

To protect their witness and to simplify things, some churches have held to a policy that only church members may use church facilities. However, what happens when a church member, perhaps one on the church’s membership list but who has not attended church in years, decides to use the church facilities for events outside the church’s beliefs or in ways inconsistent with the church’s witness? What if an active member accesses the hall on behalf of someone else, a friend or a relative, who then uses it in such ways? Does every church member agree with every position of the church, or could a member who disagrees on some point knowingly use the facilities in ways of which the church body would not approve?

These questions and others beckon local churches to state clear facilities policies in writing. From our vantage point, we believe facilities policies should focus on, at least, four points:

  1. Church facilities have been dedicated to God and are to be used in concert with, and not outside of, the teachings and truths of His Word and His Great Commission as understood by the church.
  2. Church facilities give witness to the community of the church’s priorities, biblical beliefs, and moral standards, so no activities or use of the facilities should occur that are in any way contrary to the church’s biblical beliefs and standards.
  3. Church facilities are owned by the church and are not public accommodations and, therefore, give no implied right to anyone, including church members, to use except by express permission of the church.
  4. The authority to grant use of the facilities is vested in one group or committee. This group could consist of three to five of the most mature and trustworthy members who agree with and have a history of adhering to the church’s beliefs and moral standards. A church might allow one person to make these decisions, but this is a great responsibility that requires wisdom and accountability to the church. A church might set the congregation as the decision-maker, but this could be quite cumbersome, and it could keep the congregation’s focus off other urgent matters like the Great Commission.

A thorough facilities policy is a practical benefit, but given recent court rulings, a policy might become more of a legal necessity, it seems. We are not attorneys and are not giving legal advice, but one does not require legal training to see one important change in the legal landscape.

At least two Christian businesses, a bakery and a florist, have come under fire, including a court ruling against the bakery, for refusing use their creative talents to help put on gay weddings. (See here and here.) These things are happening first in states with anti-discrimination laws based upon sex or gender, and though such laws often have exclusions for churches, these efforts by homosexual advocacy groups are likely not to remain confined. Churches could fall under this sort of attack, especially if the church gives permission for use of its facilities in ways that are deemed to be arbitrary. And though the church might win, lawsuits can be costly in many ways. Many churches receive requests for the use of their facilities, and we believe the best way to protect the church’s witness is to enforce consistently a clear policy that is in line with its belief statements.

[1] ADF provides helpful information and a sample facilities use policy: http://www.speakupmovement.org/church/content/userfiles/Resources/ThreePoliciesAllChurchesShouldHave.pdf

_________________________

Disclaimer: This series of posts is not intended to provide legal advice regarding church law, membership issues, or lawsuits. While the posts have implications for potential legal matters, we suggest you consult an attorney for answers to any legal questions related to the subject matter of these posts.

Wedding Policies: Changing Your Church Constitution and By-Laws

wedding ringsThis is the third installment of a multi-part series addressing why churches need to consider updating their organizational documents. The series is written in conjunction with Waylan Owens. This post is Part 3 and was written by Dr. Owens, originally appearing here. For the first two parts are “There’s No Time Like the Present” and “We Believe…

Churches long have understood that not everything that is legal is acceptable in Scriptures or in the church. (e.g., see Exodus 20:7-12; Ephesians 4:25-31) Though adultery is legal in America today, few churches openly tolerate it among its membership.

American legislation long since left the Ten Commandments behind. Of the ten, one is selectively enforced—bearing false witness—and only two are normally illegal—stealing and murder.

The time has passed in which the church could assume that everyone in a community would understand, much less accept, its standards. The time is now for churches to spell out their beliefs and how those beliefs apply to the life and standards of the church clearly in by-laws and policies. And establishing current policies on weddings and wedding-related events is an important place to start.

Five Areas

In its wedding policies, we believe each church should speak to, at least, the following five areas:

  1. Biblical and Theological Understanding of Marriage
  2. Biblically Valid Marriage/Wedding
  3. Member/Minister Participation in Weddings
  4. Use of Church Facilities for Weddings and Wedding Receptions
  5. Church Discipline

In this series, the second post laid foundations for areas 1 and 2. This post will address areas 2 and 3, and subsequent posts will provide help with areas 4 and 5.

Two Keys

Upon two keys hinge the entire wedding policies of the church. The first key is to what degree pastors, employees, and members of a church may participate in weddings, particularly in weddings the church considers to be outside the realm of biblically valid marriage. The second key is to what degree church facilities may be used to host or in connection with weddings. In this post, we will focus upon the first key.

Churches generally have given pastors great latitude in deciding which weddings to perform and under what circumstances. While that has worked well in the past, we believe that this is becoming a dangerous practice for churches for at least two reasons. First, the church should protect the pastor who should not be left out on an island of shifting cultural and legal sands. Having clear statements and standards tightly affixed to God’s Word allows the church to take pressure off and to stand beside the pastor. Second, as churches come under review of the courts, inconsistency in the treatment of requests might make it more difficult for churches to defend denials.

Worship Services

Weddings, for Christians, are worship services. Even for the non-Christian, a wedding in the church has all the earmarks of a worship service: prayer, Scripture, music, sermon/homily, and commitment, everything but an offering.

Prerequisites

Therefore, we believe wedding policies, at a minimum, should answer the following questions related to prerequisites for a pastor, employee, or church member to participate in a wedding ceremony or related event:

  1. What biblical qualifications must the couple meet?
  2. What biblical standards of decorum and behavior must be accepted by those responsible for the wedding and whether those standards apply to any wedding-related reception or party, wherever those events are held?
  3. To what set of biblical beliefs regarding marriage must those requesting a ceremony adhere?

Couple

Marriage by or in the church should demand appropriate humility by the couple and deference to the holiness of matrimony as an institution established and defined by God. In setting qualifications for couples, the church should point directly to its statement on marriage, gender, and sexuality in its constitution and by-laws. Here the church would confirm that marriage is between one man and one woman for life. As can be stated in the by-laws and affirmed here, a biblically valid marriage is one between one man and one woman who: 1) have never been married or are widowed and are not engaging in sexual sin; or 2) who have a biblically valid divorce(s) according to the church’s understanding of the Scriptures as stated in its by-laws. A couple engaging in fornication or living together would be required to repent and to show evidence of repentance prior to the wedding.

Decorum

People attending events in the church facilities will receive a witness from the event. In fact, people who attend a church wedding can consider a reception/”after party” held elsewhere to be representative of the church. The church should protect its witness by establishing parameters of decorum both for the wedding and for any wedding-related events (rehearsals, rehearsal dinner, reception, even “bachelor parties”). These parameters include the sorts of decorations that can be used (Are cupid decorations consistent with the church’s witness?), the behavior of the wedding party (What if the wedding party comes down the aisle doing backflips? Have you seen the video? Or drunk?), the use of alcohol or marijuana or other drugs, dancing, music (Usually music must be approved by a pastor or designated member of the church.), etc. Churches might differ on some matters, but all churches should think on and state what a wedding is and is not.

Statement of Beliefs

The church should develop an abbreviated statement on marriage and weddings that comes directly from and refers to its larger statement. This statement should include key affirmations about marriage and the wedding, including, but not limited to, that marriage is between one man and one woman for life, that a wedding is a worship service, and that a church wedding gives a witness of the church to the community. The statement also should include statements on gender, sexuality, and other beliefs of the church on matters the church deems important to its witness (e.g., the use of alcohol, lewd behavior, coarse jesting and language, etc.). All involved in putting on the wedding should sign that they will adhere to the statement and will do nothing to change the church’s testimony in the community in this regard. (Note that “adhering” to a statement does not require “agreement” with the statement, necessarily.)

The church also should develop a facilities use policy, and we will address that in the next post.

_________________________

Disclaimer: This series of posts is not intended to provide legal advice regarding church law, membership issues, or lawsuits. While the posts have implications for potential legal matters, we suggest you consult an attorney for answers to any legal questions related to the subject matter of these posts.

“We Believe…”: Changing Your Church Constitution and By-Laws

wedding ringsWe are all theologians in a sense. Not everyone has pursued formal theological education to attain a degree that gives “theologian credentials,” but we all have at least some basic belief about God, man, sin, and salvation (or the lack thereof). When new churches start, they often spend countless hours laboring over how to express their theological beliefs in a written statement so that prospective members will know exactly what kind of church they are joining. In a perfect world, such statements of belief will find their way into the constitution or by-laws as the articles of faith or statement of belief.

For the most part, a church’s articles of faith will lay out the basic beliefs of the church regarding the Bible, God, Christ, man, sin, salvation, the church, ordinances and office, membership, and perhaps a handful of other things. This raises the question of marriage, sexuality, and gender identity—where do they fit in a statement of belief? Do they even belong in the first place?

Within a classical understanding of doctrine, a statement regarding marriage, sexuality, and gender identity could fit easily under the category of anthropology. The doctrine of anthropology is the study of human nature and existence. This doctrine asks the questions: Who am I? How did I get here? What is my purpose in life?

The best place to start in answering those questions is the first chapters of Genesis. Here we see some key truths about human nature that we must not forget. First, we are created by God—that is how we got here (Gen 1:26–27). Next, we are created in God’s image (Gen 1:26–27). While the image of God includes a number of different aspects, we can at least affirm that it includes the fact that we are created for a relationship with God. Third, we have been given stewardship over the rest of creation (Gen 1:26, 28), which means that we have the unique responsibility of caring for everything else God has made. Fourth, we see that God created us in two distinct genders—male and female (Gen 1:27). And finally, we recognize that God intended for the man and woman to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen 1:28). These points will become very important as we see below.

When we move to Genesis 2, we learn about how mankind is created to relate to one another. In verse 18 we read, “Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.’” In the verses that follow, we see the creation of the woman and the first marriage. God takes one of Adam’s ribs and fashions the woman out of it (Gen 2:21–22). He then brings the woman to Adam and presents her to him as his “suitable partner,” or his wife. In verse 23, we read Adam’s response to God granting recognition that this woman is “bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.” Finally, verse 24 gives us the divinely inspired commentary on this union. We read, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”

What we learn from the creation narrative is that marriage is a comprehensive union of a man and a woman in an exclusive, monogamous, covenant relationship designed to endure for a lifetime and directed toward the rearing of the next generation.

Not only do the opening chapters of Genesis point out God’s design for marriage, but they also lay the foundation for our understanding of gender and sexual identity. Note that God created two genders—male and female. He did not create the multiplicity of genders or sexual identities in the ever-expanding LGBTQ nomenclature. There are simply male and female, and they are designed to be complementary partners to one another. This is most clearly expressed through the institution of marriage.

Marriage between a man and a woman then becomes the only biblically authorized context for sexual expression. Any sexual expression apart from an exclusive, monogamous marriage between one man and one woman is sinful according to the text of Scripture.

It is this understanding that we want to put into the governing documents of our churches. Thankfully, we do not need to re-create the wheel in order to get an effective statement on anthropology, marriage, and sexuality into our church constitutions and by-laws. The first place that you ought to look is the statement of faith of your own denomination. Many denominations have such statements that will give you a starting point for appropriate language to use. The statement of your denomination might not be comprehensive enough for what we face today, but it should a good place to start. You can add to those denominational resources the helpful input of groups like Alliance Defending Freedom who have composed language that could be adopted into your constitution. Their work is more generic in order to appeal across denominational lines. My preference is to combine both such resources to develop a unique statement that addresses the needs of your specific church and the distinctive of your faith tradition. For example, below is my proposed statement that I believe works well within a Southern Baptist context.

We believe that God has created humans in his image and in the two distinct and complementary genders of male and female. These two genders are expressed in both physical biology and roles. Any departure from the biblical standard of male and female, whether that be a rejection of biological gender or an attempt to alter biological gender, is a violation of Scripture. (Gen 1:26–27; Matt 19:4; Mark 10:6; Eph 5:21–33)

We believe that marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in an exclusive, monogamous, covenant commitment for a lifetime. It is God’s unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and his church and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel of sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means for procreation of the human race. (Gen 1:26–28; 2:18–24; Prov 14:1; 17:6; 18:22; 31:10–31; Eccl 9:9; Matt 19:3–9; Mark 10:6–12; 1 Cor 7:1–16; Eph 5:21–6:4; Col 3:18–21; 1 Tim 5:14; 1 Pet 3:1–7)

We believe that any form of sexual immorality (including adultery, fornication, homosexuality, bisexuality, bestiality, incest, and pornography) is sinful and offensive to God. (Exod 20:14; Lev 18:6–23; 20:10–21; Job 31:1; Prov 5:1–20; Matt 5:27–28; Mark 7: 10–23; Rom 1:26–27; 1 Cor 6:9–20; 7:1–5; Gal 5:19–21; Eph 5:3–5; Col 3:5; 1 Thes 4:3–5; Heb 13:4; Jude 7)

We believe that God offers redemption and restoration to all who confess and forsake their sin, seeking His mercy and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. (John 14:6; Rom 3:23; 6:23; 1 Cor 6:11; 1 John 1:9)

We believe that every person must be afforded compassion, love, kindness, respect, and dignity. Hateful and harassing behavior or attitudes directed toward any individual are to be repudiated and are not in accord with scripture nor the doctrines of the church. However, identifying particular behaviors and identities as sin does not constitute harassment or hate. (1 Cor 13:1–13; Gal 6:1; Eph 4:15, 32; James 1:19)*

Let me suggest that you work on your own statement of beliefs in the area of marriage, sexuality, and gender so that your church can have a clear position on the issue. You may use the one provided above or adapt it for your own purposes. Remember, the purpose of such a statement is to state clearly what you believe about marriage, sexuality, and gender.

_________________________

*Much of this statement has been adapted and/or copied from Article XVIII of the Baptist Faith & Message (2000) and “Five Things All Churches Should Have in Their Bylaws” from Alliance Defending Freedom. Both of these resources are available to the public at the links above.

This is the second installment of a multi-part series addressing why churches need to consider updating their organizational documents. The series is written in conjunction with Dr. Waylan Owens. Part 1 is available here.

Disclaimer: This series of posts is not intended to provide legal advice regarding church law, membership issues, or lawsuits. While the posts have implications for potential legal matters, we suggest you consult an attorney for answers to any legal questions related to the subject matter of these posts.

The Character of Sports

Bellevue Soccer TeamAs the (ridiculously) short winter in Texas appears to be giving way to spring, it is that time of year when parents start signing their kids up for sports teams. Since we live in a large metropolitan area, we have the luxury of choosing almost any sport at any time of year. Football, baseball, soccer, and basketball are virtually year-round activities here. At least once a year, my wife and I have a discussion about which activities to place our children in and for how long.

For many people, sports are an unhealthy obsession, but sports can actually be good for the development of character—if done the right way. Here are a few thoughts on the character that sports can build and some caveats for parents to go along with them.

Teamwork

While there are individual sports, we mostly think of team sports when we consider signing up our kids for a season. The beauty of such team sports is that they can counter the oppressive culture of individualism we often find in our society. Rather than spending time mindlessly staring at a screen with no consciousness of the world around them, children who play team sports get the opportunity to interact with other children in a (typically) competitive environment where they have to work together to accomplish a goal.

The level of teamwork varies with the sport, but one thing is consistent—the team is essential. No single child can compete against an entire team and be successful. For that matter, not even LeBron James could take the basketball court by himself and compete with even a decent college-level team.

Learning teamwork is important for our children because the “adult world” is full of interaction with others and collaboration to accomplish goals. From marriage to the workplace to church, we constantly interact with people for the sake of pursuing common goals.

As a leader, Moses learned this lesson from his father-in-law in Exodus 18. Jethro came to visit Moses in the wilderness and to bring his wife and sons back to him. While there, Jethro observed that Moses was handling all the disputes of the people by himself and advised him against such an approach. Jethro counseled him to “select out of all the people able men who fear God, men of truth, those who hate dishonest gain; and you shall place these over them as leaders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties and of tens. Let them judge the people at all times; and let it be that every major dispute they will bring to you, but every minor dispute they themselves will judge. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people also will go to their place in peace” (Ex 18:21–23). Even the prophet Moses needed a team to accomplish the goal of judging the people and bringing them into the Promised Land.

The Warning for Parents

Children’s sports sometimes bring out the worst in parents. Many of us consider our child to be the next Peyton Manning, Derek Jeter, or Michael Jordan. However, our kids still need a team. They also need a team that respects them. When parents grandstand for their own child to be the focal point of the team, it actually does the child and the team a disservice. Camaraderie, selflessness, and unity are necessary for success on the field and in life. Even the most talented team can lose to another team that has learned to play together. Instead of promoting your own child, promote the team.

Discipline

I’ll never forget one of the coaches from my childhood. I didn’t really like him very much. He made us run long distances. If you were last, you might have to run another lap. He constantly worked on drills to teach skills. All I wanted to do was score (which I rarely did). Then he expected us to go home and work more between practices. I didn’t like what he required us to do. But he was teaching us the lesson of discipline.

Discipline is important in life, and sports have a built-in mechanism for teaching it—practice. Most kids are not blessed with the athletic ability to pick up the intricacies of a new game the first time they play. Yes, it may come easier to some than others, but even the best athletes practice (unless you’re Allen Iverson).

The discipline children learn in playing sports can translate to the rest of life. Schoolwork requires discipline. Jobs require discipline. Spiritual growth requires discipline.

Paul teaches us the lesson of spiritual discipline using illustrations from sports. He writes:

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1 Cor 9:24–27)

Thus, sports can help children learn the discipline necessary for life. Team sports in particular teach us that others are dependent upon us exercising our own discipline.

The Warning for Parents

The danger for parents when it comes to discipline in sports is the tendency to fall into one of two extremes. We can demand perfection from our children that they simply cannot deliver or we can let them off the hook of practice and discipline. By always demanding absolute perfection, we may drive our children away from a desire to participate. By giving in to the temptation not to require practice, we may send our kids a message that practice and discipline are not necessary. Both extremes are problematic. Balance in this area is necessary.

Perseverance

One of my fondest sports memories came around the age of 9 or 10. I had been playing basketball in a church league for a few years already, but my church’s team was not very good. In fact, we had not won a game in more than two full seasons. But this game was different. By some miracle, we had actually taken the lead at the end of the game and just needed to run out the last few seconds on the clock. We were inbounding the ball from under the opponent’s basket and they were surrounding us to try to steal the ball. I broke open, caught the pass, and avoided the defense until time expired. We won! The taste of victory was sweet. It was even sweeter due to the lingering taste of defeat for more than two years.

Losing is a part of sports. Very few teams go undefeated. Learning to lose is an important lesson for life. It teaches perseverance. People who fail to learn how to pick themselves up after defeat tend to struggle mightily in life. At some point, we will be passed over for a promotion, or someone will critique what we say or write, or someone will tell us that our idea is a bad one. What we do when that happens says a lot about our perseverance.

Losing every game for two seasons was not fun, but most of our team stuck together. Over time we got better because we continued to discipline ourselves and trust one another. By the time we quit playing together in high school, we found ourselves in the city tournament.

In our spiritual lives, there will be trials and difficulties, but Scripture tells us to stand firm. Romans 5:3–5 reads, “[W]e also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

The Warning for Parents

We as parents do not like to see our kids lose. As a result, some parents refuse to allow their children to play on a team that loses. At the first sign of a season turning south, they will pull their child off the team in order to find a better one—often bad-mouthing the coach on the way out. Another possibility is to blame the losses on someone else and never acknowledge our child’s role in the team’s loss. That doesn’t mean we need to be hyper-critical of our children’s faults, but we need to teach them where they can improve. I’m sure I cost my basketball team a number of games due to my abysmal free throw shooting. But that is why I spent afternoons in the driveway shooting free throws—at my dad’s suggestion. Failure is not fun, but it may be the best teacher.

This spring and summer, we will most likely have our kids in different sports and activities. I may even coach one of them. I hope they are successful, but I am more hopeful that they learn teamwork, discipline, and perseverance. Those are life skills they will take with them long after their days on the field or court are over.

_________________________

*Thanks to my friend and former teammate Achaz Foster for the “throwback” photo of one of our soccer teams back in the day. Yes, I’m the chunky kids second from the left on the back row.