Football and Faith
Revd Tim Fox writes ...
"Who we are / Who are we? Some thoughts after the Football…
Matters of national identity seem to be all around us at the moment. From continuing arguments over Brexit to the accusations and bitterness over (what seem to be known as) ‘Culture War’ issues, it seems to me that we are often invited by media and politicians to think about who we are – and who we are not. Are we Europeans or are we not? Are we British? Or are we English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh…? Who is ‘in’ (as in, allowed to consider themselves ‘one of us’) and who is ‘out’ (almost literally, in the case of those fleeing war and oppression overseas).
This has come home to me again after watching the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy. Apart from the genuine sadness and disappointment of losing (deservedly – Italy played the better football), there was also the loss of a feeling of togetherness that I found deeply refreshing. Under Southgate, our team of young, talented, quite often ethnic-minority or multi-ethnic footballers seemed to represent so much that is best about our nation; and they were, more or less, embraced by people from across spectrums of political and cultural thought.
Sadly, that feeling of togetherness is a distant memory this morning, as the appalling racial abuse directed at some of our young team on social media comes to our attention. Perhaps it is especially troubling as we know that football and violence have so often been linked in the past, and that (as many women sadly know) the disappointment of defeat carries the threat of real violence in homes and in communities. The abuse given to young players such as Sancho, Rashford and Saka carries with it not only hatred and vitriol, but also a very credible threat of harm.
What has particularly caught my attention though, is the voices of those who observe all of this and say ‘This is not who we are’ and ‘We are better than this’…
Hmmm, I wonder...
You see, when examining ‘who we are’, we Christians might recall the words of Jesus to the effect that ‘we will know by the fruit’. Jesus said that ‘a good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit… thus you will know them by their fruits’ (Matthew 7.15-20). So, looking at the ‘fruit’ that is the aftermath of the loss to Italy, this leads me to wonder: What if this really is who we are, as a nation?
What if the violence, anger, hatred and racism show us something deeply troubling about who we are as a nation? What if the sense of ‘permission’ that a minority of football fans clearly feel to boo and to jeer and to damage and destroy really does tell us something about who we are and about what is tolerated in this nation…? And if so, what can we do about it?
Well, I think these things certainly show us that the Church of Jesus is needed to stand up – boldly and confidently – for who we are and for who we should be as a nation. We should stand up for everything that the church should stand for: the love of God for all, generosity, forgiveness, inclusion, reconciliation… and we should recognise that we all have a responsibility to stand against racism, and division, and violence.
It is not enough to simply not be part of the problem, we also need to be part of the solution. I believe that, as followers, of the way of Jesus Christ, we need to be active; not just passive.
We need to be unafraid to speak out, rather than just maintaining a dignified and non-judgmental silence. Where there is racism, we need to be actively Anti-Racist, seeking to include and to lift up, rather than just being ‘nice to everyone’. Where there is injustice, we need to be actively seeking and calling for justice, not just offering ‘thoughts and prayers’ to those who are caught in hopeless cycles of poverty and exclusion. We need to be actively involved in the issues of the society around us, as Jesus so clearly (and so dangerously) was. We need to be bearing ‘good fruit’ and to be unafraid of letting others see it…
Apart from anything else, we are people who, by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, believe that change is possible. We believe that personal change is possible, and that indeed a nation can be changed. We have a vision of a ‘world made right’ to cling on to, a vision of the Kingdom of God, a vision of peace and safety for all, where ‘every tear is wiped away from our eyes’ (See Isaiah 11 and Revelation 21).
So, will you be prepared to speak out against injustice and racism?
It could be as simple as a Social-Media post in support of those young footballers. It could be remembering to challenge the casual comments of that old friend in the pub. It could be writing to an MP, or getting involved in a campaign of some sort. It could be anything – but it would certainly be a commitment to showing the world around us that we can be something better than we are right now!"
Revd. Tim Fox. Monday 12th July.