We’re beginning our Lenten sermon series this weekend on Counterfeit Gods. It’s a series on idolatry and, by extension, justification. Two topics that have me thinking about this article I read about Peter Rose getting erased Marty McFly-like from Topps Baseball Cards.
There are some things people will never agree on: Stones vs Beatles, Cool Bed Pillow vs Warm Bed Pillow and whether spending a month with Jar-Jar Binks would be worse than a month suffering with the Clap.
Add to this list of imponderables the question of whether or not Pete Rose (and I suppose all the rest from the Steroid Era) should be in the Hall of Fame. Being from Ohio originally, I know full well this question has its impassioned advocates on both sides. The arguments, both pro and con, however almost always revolve exclusively around baseball. The integrity of the game. In the case of steroids, there’s the point about the ‘purity’ (a revealing word) of a sport to which statistics are everything. And then there’s the very real concern that the cheaters’ records minimized the accomplishments that were won the hard way- as far as we know.
I don’t really care one way or the other about Pete Rose et al.
What interests me is how differently the Hall of Fame treats former players
when compared to how the Church treats its saints.
St Augustine was wantonly promiscuous and all but abandoned his loved ones- save his mommy- when he converted to Christianity and became a priest.
John Wesley was a terrible husband.
Jean Calvin had a man burnt at the stake.
Paul stood by and watched a man get stoned. And said nothing.
Mother Theresa had long periods of doubt and despair in her lifetime. Pope Benedict was a Hitler Youth.
And, of course, let’s not forget the 12 Disciples, one of whom betrayed Jesus for money and 11 of whom betrayed him just to save their own skin.
What’s remarkable when compared alongside the Hall of Fame is how the Church has never shied away from the sullied, silly or shadow sides of its saints.
Even the most honored saints are still sinners, and they can be because it’s not their saintliness that justifies their inclusion in God’s Church. It’s God. Only an institution that participates in the Gospel story and thus knows our justification comes not from our own accomplishments but from Christ’s gracious love can openly acknowledge both the warts and the wisdom of its people.
The Hall of Fame, on the other hand, participates in a much different story. The American story. Whereas the Church doesn’t need to blush that Peter denied Christ or that Augustine couldn’t keep it in his cloak, baseball (and America) often feel the need to pretend our heroes are without flaw. Because, after all, in America one’s accomplishments really are what we think justifies us.
Back to Pete Rose, Barry Bonds and the rest. I get the baseball arguments for their exclusion. But on Gospel grounds, I say let them in, rap sheet and all. Celebrate the positive. Don’t hide from the dark side of their stories.