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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Girls, Sports, and the Bible

Since I'm at a basketball tournament this week (with a girls' team), this post seems... apropos. First, I'll show you the draft of a post I started three years ago. After that, I'll wrap it up with some additional thoughts.

Here's the original draft:
Girls, Sports and the Bible

Yes, evidently, they are all tied together. (I got this from my godless heathen friend - his phrase, not mine- because he likes to point out to me when Christians go around making us all look like nuts.) Hmm... one disclaimer before I begin. The Bible is open to interpretation in some areas, and I don't want to imply that the author of the article I'll reference doesn't have the best of intentions. I just think that, sometimes, in order to study the Bible, you need to take the text, the cultural background, and the original target audience into consideration.

To make this easier, please go read the whole article. I'm not going to quote the whole thing.

Done? Okay, let's dive in, shall we?
I think this should give us strong reason to pause and consider the question, “Should women participate in sports?”
Hmm... does the Bible say anything at all about sports? About volleyball? Didn't think so. So, we can't just pull a verse out of our hats to justify one position or the other. Let's see what Mr. Jonas has to say.
For those of us who believe we should train our daughters according to Titus 2, 1 Peter 3, and other Biblical passages, my answer is “Yes, it is not good.” I propose that sports greatly hinders the development of godly, Biblical, feminine character. Parents today expend extraordinary amounts of time and energy taking their daughters from one sports event to another, week after week, even to the point where it exhausts the family and family resources. The fruits we see are that today’s Christian women are often ill-prepared to be Biblically obedient wives and mothers. This brings to mind a couple of questions: “Why do we spend so much time preparing our daughters to play sports?" and "What does it prepare them for in the future?” My answer is that sports prepare women to be more like men. Instead of spending all that time preparing our daughters as the Bible directs, we are training them to be like men so they can better compete with men in traditionally masculine roles - i.e., compete with them in the workforce, in politics, in the military, and in sports.
First off, parents "expend extraordinary amounts of time and energy" taking their daughters and sons to sporting events, exhausting family resources . One could easily argue that the number of activities that kids are involved these days (not just sports, but Scouting and clubs and music lessons and... and... and...) isn't healthy for families, whether they have sons or daughters or both. I presume that the author means that the daughter's sporting events are a waste of time because it teaches the wrong things, whereas a son's sporting events are important because it teaches discipline and team work and more masculine traits.

What does Titus 2 (Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.- Titus 2:3-5) have to do with soccer or volleyball? I would think that sports would be a great opportunity for older women to instill traits of discipline and perseverance into younger women. As for 1 Peter 3, that is all about a wife being submissive to her husband. Once again, what does that have to do with girls playing sports? (I know, he gets into that later... doesn't mean that I'm not confused by the verses he uses.) And, as for preparing girls to be "Biblically obedient wives and mothers," and "how does it prepare them for the future?" it does so by teaching time management (practice, schoolwork, chores, etc), how to get along with others, and yes, how to be obedient. Let's face it, you don't obey the rules, you're on the bench.

He claims that sports prepares women to be more like men, preparing them to compete with men in the workforce, in the military, in politics, and in sports. I hate to break it to him, but women have been doing that for centuries, and even received praise in the Bible for it (see here and here and here, for starts.) Ok, maybe not in sports. But, except for the Greeks, there wasn't much of an interest in sports in general except as a childhood amusement until a little over a hundred years ago. Until the Industrial Revolution, no one had time for such frivolity.
Actually, I don’t have a problem with women playing recreational sports on an occasional basis, just with them playing competitive sports on a regular day-to-day basis. This rigorous physical and mental training tends to make women more masculine. I think it is prudent to often ask ourselves “Can a woman do this activity and retain a Biblically feminine character?” With sports I think it will be difficult in most cases.
How is that difficult? If Christian parents are training their daughters in a Godly manner to begin with, then the training as an athlete can used as a tool, teaching discipline and a desire for excellence. As for making women more masculine, while that might be true in some sports (and yes, I have a problem with girls playing certain co-ed sports), in most sports, that's just not the case. The physical activity might take away a little of the body fat, making them a little less "soft and cuddly" (which he mentions later), but it makes them more physically fit, fulfilling the Biblical mandate to take care of your body, because it is the Temple of the Holy Spirit. (And, on a personal, anecdotal note, I'd like any of you who question female athletes not being Biblically feminine to ask my sister-in-law's husband what he thinks. She was active in sports in high school, then she took up running, and she and her husband have participated in triathalons together- not to compete against one another, but as something to do together.)
The Bible talks about women developing a quiet and gentle spirit; I think sports fosters anything but that. They instead develop a competitive and contentious spirit that will cause them to have great difficulty in their marriages. I already mentioned that the effort expended on sports will hinder the development of wifely duties around the home; even worse is when a man has to compete against his own wife in the workplace and community.
He says that playing sports hinders the development of "wifely duties" around the home. Is he saying that sports prevent girls from learning how to perform those duties? I'd like to point out that "wifely duties" that used to take all day (washing, cooking, etc.) take a fraction of the time, now. Learning how to clean a house doesn't take very long. (I'm almost willing to grant him the point on cooking, but I don't think that girls aren't learning to cook because they're in sports. They're not learning how to cook because their moms are working outside the home and don't want to cook or don't have the time to teach their daughters to cook.) And, because of the ease of housework today (yeah, I say "ease" right now because I'm sitting at a computer and not washing clothes using a washboard), women actually need sports or some other form of exercise in order to stay healthy.

I don't really understand how playing sports in high school will make a woman compete with her husband in the marketplace. I'm sorry, but to say that a woman who plays sports is somehow a threat to her husband is ridiculous- that's a sign of a man with low self esteem who doesn't really understand his Biblical place in the world. I would think a man would want a wife who exhibits the self-confidence that comes with sport participation.
Well, how did I do? Rereading the post, I have to admit I found one error (at least). A sport ( running) is mentioned in the Bible (here, here, here and here). It's used as a metaphor for our lives as Christians, trying to do our best.

I stand by what I wrote back then. Some thoughts I had while reading...
The author did have some valid point. Uniforms for some sports are less than modest. Some sports are wholly inappropriate for girls. Girls and boys competing against each other in most sports is a bad idea.

Then again, the author was way off on some of his points. Allowing a girl to participate in competitive sports is not necessarily contrary to raising a Godly daughter. It isn't some slippery slope to be avoided at all costs. Once again, it comes down to parental responsibility. If you're doing your job as a parent, letting your daughter play sports isn't going to turn her into a rowdy, disobedient harpy who makes her husband miserable.

Thoughts? Anyone?

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