Christian evangelicals are hard at work recruiting young athletes into Christianity in publicly-funded schools all across the country, and taxpayers are footing the bill. The injection of Jesus into school athletics is being carried out by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), a Christian group that encourages and rewards school sports coaches for using their influential positions to spread Christianity among youth.
For those who are unfamiliar with FCA, it is a Christian religious group whose existence is dedicated to turning school athletic departments into missionaries for Christ. FCA’s website states, “The purpose of [FCA’s] Campus Ministry…has been to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the lost and to seek and grow a mature follower of Jesus Christ. The ‘win’ of Campus Ministry is to see campuses impacted for Jesus Christ through the influence of coaches and athletes.” An answer to the question of “What is FCA?” on the group’s website states, “Since 1954, FCA has been challenging coaches and athletes on the professional, college, high school, junior high and youth levels to use the powerful medium of athletics to impact the world for Jesus Christ.” FCA also encourages coaches to conduct Bible studies on campus. The group is open about its use of the platform of athletics to spread Christian “evangelism, discipleship, outreach and fellowship.” One of FCA’s corporate sponsors is Chick-Fil-A, the fast-food restaurant chain whose president, Dan Cathy, expressed strong views against same-sex marriage in a July, 2012 interview in the Biblical Recorder.
Awareness of the problem of Christian evangelism infiltrating public school sports heightened this week in Colorado after Colorado University (CU) announced it would hire Mike MacIntyre, an evangelical Christian and a high-profile member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FAC), to coach CU’s football team. Hiring McIntyre raised red flags among Colorado secular groups who follow separation of church and state issues. After all, just this month — the very same month CU hired him — MacIntyre was given FCA’s Grant Teaff National Coach of the Year Award, which recognizes a coach who exemplifies Christian principles and is involved in the FCA.
A History of Religious Infiltration
The problem of Christians openly using Colorado’s college sports programs to proselytize started around 1982, when Bill McCartney coached football at the University of Colorado. In 1985, after complaints that McCartney had conducted organized religious activities and team prayers, CU was forced to adopt a new policy saying that “coaches should not organize or conduct religious activities, including promotion of prayer or Bible readings by players or coaches.” Despite the new policy, in 1990, McCartney started a Christian group for men called Promise Keepers that conducted religious events on the CU Boulder campus. In 1994, when the group was at its peak, 50,000 men attended a Promise Keepers event CU Boulder’s Folsom field. After that, Promise Keepers moved its gatherings to Mile High Stadium in Denver. Women have long complained that Promise Keepers is a sexist organization, and indeed, the group only started allowing women to attend its conferences for the first time in 2009. In 1992, while speaking at CU, McCartney called homosexuality “an abomination against almighty God,” and spoke in favor of Colorado’s Amendment 2, which banned laws protecting gays from discrimination. (Amendment 2 was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1996.) McCartney resigned from CU abruptly in 1995 after winning the Fiesta Bowl, walking away from a $350,000 a year job with 10 years left on his contract. Why he left was a mystery. McCartney said it was to spend more time with his wife, but he also had a daughter who, by that time, had given birth to two children out of wedlock — each fathered by a different man, both of whom who also happened to be McCartney’s football players.
Wantonly Violating School Policy
CU has suffered with a string of coaches after McCartney who, like McCartney, also openly and brazenly violated the school’s prohibition on coaches leading religious rituals. In 2000, CU found itself saddled with another over-zealous Christian coach, basketball coach Ricardo Patton, who intentionally violated the school’s policy against leading players in prayer by openly and defiantly quoting from the Bible and swearing he would never cut Jesus from his CU team. CU fired Patton. There is also a report that yet another football coach, Gary Barnett, instructed his players to bow their heads together in worship after every practice. Barnett defended his actions by saying “The team has needs, and the team needs prayer.” Flash-forward to November, 2010, when CU was considering re-hiring McCartney. The proposal drew a flood of protest letters, some from CU employees, asking the school to rule out re-hiring McCartney because he was known to have used his position as coach to advance sexist and anti-gay agendas.
Like CU campuses on the eastern side of the Rockies, Colorado Mesa University (CMU), in Grand Junction, on the western side of the Rockies, has a branch of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes active on campus. The group promotes itself by running Christian-focused advertisements on flat-panel TV screens in the pool area, which is open to the public. A video promoting the CMU’s branch of FCA shows heart-warming scenes of students engaging in football practice and athletic workouts and attending religious gatherings on CMU’s campus, interspersed with numerous scenes of students being baptized in CMU’s taxpayer-funded lap pool. In the mean time, students report they are unable to get an on-campus branch of the Secular Students Alliance established at CMU because they can’t find a full time instructor willing to openly sponsor it. Reportedly instructors are afraid of retaliation, and losing their tenure and pensions.
Colorado’s public colleges and universities are taxpayer-funded schools, and inappropriate places to conduct organized prayer and other school-financed activities that promote religion. For this reason, and because of previous CU coaches’ blatant disregard for policies enforcing the separation between religion and government, Colorado’s secular community will be watching Coach MacIntyre VERY closely, just in case, like prior evangelical coaches, he tries to use his taxpayer-funded, influential position working with young athletes as a vector to promote Christianity.