taking the words of Jesus seriously

Earlier this week, it was reported that one in four Americans believes that God ‘plays a role in determining which team wins’ at sporting events.

Additionally, more than half of Americans believe God ‘rewards athletes who have faith with good health and success, ’ as researched by a recent poll performed by the Public Religion Research Institute.

<insert divinely inspired facepalm here>

Last night after their Super Bowl win, Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens made two (perhaps) well-intentioned yet theologically inept statements ::

’When God is for you, who can be against you?’ (in response to being asked what it was like to be a Super Bowl champion)

I’m not even sure how to *begin* to respond.

My friend Andrew Marin said it well in less than 140 characters:

Context and usage determine meaning.

The verse Lewis quoted is Romans 8:31. In context, it is speaking specifically of individuals being reconciled to God in the person of Jesus Christ – who advocates on behalf of humanity in the midst of our common struggle with falling short of perfection.

Not the San Francisco 49ers, regardless of how poorly they played in the first half.

The Apostle Paul, in the middle of the first century, wasn’t writing about an American football game.

Lewis’ second comment came in response to what he would say to the families of the two men that were murdered by being stabbed to death (Lewis himself had been accused and acquitted of their double homicide):

‘To the family, if you knew – if you knew the way God works – he don’t use people who commits anything like that for his glory. No way. It’s the total opposite.’


Moses killed a guy. Then he led the people of Israel out of bondage and into the promised land.

King David killed a guy, because otherwise it would have been exposed that he’d slept with his wife while he was out of town working. Oh, and that ‘guy’ was his friend. He is celebrated as the greatest king of Israel’s history, and called ‘a man after God’s own heart’ in scripture.

The Apostle Paul killed people for following Jesus. Then he had a change of heart. Then he stopped killing people and started helping them find and follow Jesus (just like the people he’d killed). He also wrote the verse Lewis quoted out of context.

I’m confident in saying that Lewis, donning his ‘Psalms 91′ undershirt did not intentionally propagate unhelpful and damaging theologies.

New to Red Letter Christians? Start Here…

Perhaps the same can even be said for the *thousands* of people who retweeted his quote exclaiming, ‘Ray Lewis just quoted my favorite verse! Praise the Lord!’

I’m sure they had the best of intentions.

But well intentioned bad theology is still bad theology.

When Ray Lewis and one in four people in our country believe that God gives a damn about the outcome of a football game – and that the winner is dictated by whomever’s side God is on (spoiler alert :: he’s on neither side), it gives me reason to believe there is a need for some clarification || the logical result of the well-intentioned-bad-theology of Ray Lewis is that good things happen to good people (whose side God is on), and bad things happen to bad people (whose side God is not on).

That’s what gives us the type of asinine statements that happen after tragedies like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Japanese tsunamis and sandy hook elementary. and it’s worth speaking out against.

For what it’s worth ::

God is not on the Baltimore Ravens side; God is not on the San Francisco 49ers side.
God is not on the Republicans side; God is not on the Democrats side.
God is not on FOX news’ side; God is not on MSNBC’s side.
God is not on Iran’s side; God is not on America’s side.
God is not on Israel’s side; God is not on Palestine’s side.
God is not on women’s side; God is not on men’s side.
God is not on skinny people’s side; God is not on fat people’s side.
God is not on gay people’s side; God is not on straight people’s side.
God is not on married people’s side; God is not on re-married people’s side.
God is not on single people’s side; God is not on divorced people’s side.
God is not on Christianity’s side; God is not on Islam’s side.
God is not on the side of the progressives; God is not on the side of the conservatives.

Whether capitalist or socialist, celibate or in relationship, clinically depressed or overly bubbly, loud-mouthed or soft-spoken, a member of a church or someone without religion, African or Caucasian or Asian or Latino or European or whatever tax bracket you find yourself in, whether you speak English or another language, whether disabled or able-bodied, a pastor or parishioner – God is not taking sides with you against anyone.

God is planted firmly on the side of humanity, in solidarity with each of us.

God is on everyone’s side, and we’re all invited to be a part of what it is he is up to.

even those of us with a past full of mistakes.even those of us still making mistakes.
even those of us with bad theology.
even Ray Lewis.
even you.
even me.

Any questions? What do you think?

Michael Kimpan is the author of the WayWard follower blog, a site designed to inspire thoughtful conversation and movement among followers of Jesus Christ. Michael works with The Marin Foundation in Chicago, a non-profit organization which works to build bridges between the LGBT community and the Church.

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty

About The Author


Michael Kimpan is the founder and Executive Director of (un)common good collective. Michael has a proven history of helping individuals and institutions think critically about matters of faith and culture through his writing, teaching, and consulting with churches, higher education institutions, community organizations, businesses, and NGOs. He holds a BA in Youth Ministry and Biblical Theology from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, IL and is currently pursuing his MA in religious studies at Chicago Theological Seminary. His revolutionary work in social justice at the intersection of faith, politics and society has been featured by Advocate magazine, Human Rights Campaign, The Huffington Post, CNN, and TIME magazine as well as a number of nationally syndicated radio and podcast shows.

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