black history, theology, Kids' books

Friday, April 15, 2016

Four Things Christians Can Learn From Baseball's Integration

One Christian journalist referred to it as “The only Oreo crumb in the cup of milk.”

The Oreo crumb phrase is in reference to being the only black person in a room full of white people. And, during my time in church and in campus ministry, this has been a regular occurrence for me. 

On the one hand, it's not that big of deal. What we have in common - the cross of Christ - is so much greater than our skin color that distinguishes us. 

On the other hand, it can be awkward. 

And confusing. 

And uncomfortable. 

Sort of like how 1947 was uncomfortable for Jackie Robinson. 

On April 15, 1947, Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball,  in large part due to a visionary named Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers general manager who helped pave the way for Robinson.

When the MLB honors Robinson on April 15 this year, roughly 10 percent of the players in the league will be black. The sport is now so integrated that the Negro Baseball League ceases to exist.

But how did they get there?

And what can churches and campus ministries learn from baseball's integration? 

I can think of at least four things. 

1. Branch Rickey thought things could change. When no one could imagine one united major league baseball system, Rickey could. I love Rickey's quote. “I may not be able to do something about racism in every field, but I can do something about it baseball.”

We may be not be able to stop all racial division in the body of Christ, but perhaps like Rickey we can change it in our particular sphere of influence. 

2.      Branch Rickey invested in multicultural friendships that were deep enough to shape his convictions. One can only wonder how much of Rickey’s convictions came from befriending his one-time teammate Charles Follis, the first black professional football player. Rickey's front row seat to Follis' sub-human treatment created empathy and sympathy in him. 

Here's a tough question. Do we have multicultural friendships so deeply rooted that they help shape our life convictions? If not, can we really expect the dynamics of the room to change? And what are we willing to do if those answers are no?

3. Branch Rickey went scouting the Negro Baseball Leagues.  The Boston Red Sox brought in Jackie Robinson first as a politically correct gesture,  but Rickey actually went to the Negro League games in order to find a baseball player that could help integrate baseball. 

Rickey had a team of scouts that watched the Negro League players. In other words, he entered another culture and then invited someone from another culture (Robinson) to come integrate baseball.  

He invested time, money, talent scouts and resources into it, and he was willing to go where it was culturally uncomfortable. If we're not willing to make make similar sacrifices, we're really just paying the idea of a gospel-centered diversity a lip service. 

4.  Rickey was willing to upset the status quo. Jackie Robinson was as vilified in 1947 as he is idolized in 2016. The Negro Leagues didn't like losing Robinson as a player, and so no one was on board with it initially. Rickey knew this would happen. And he knew it would take a player with both Robinson's talent and vision to pioneer the way for other blacks.

Let's be honest. When areas diversify, it creates a whole new set of problems. You have to think through a whole set of cultural questions that you don’t have to think through in homogeneous settings. 

The question then becomes: is it worth it? Is having integrated churches and campus ministries more God-glorifying, Christ-exalting and more consistent with "on earth as it is in Heaven?"

In 2016, we'd find the idea of segregated baseball repulsive. I'm hoping we will find the idea of the church being segregated equally repulsive.  That goes for campus ministries, too.

Do we really want to see multicultural expressions of the body of Christ in our churches and campus ministries?  Would we really love to see it "on earth as it is heaven?" Or are we content with "on earth as it was in the Jim Crow South?" 

As the world remembers Jackie Robinson, let's let his example remind the body of Christ that what has been isn't what always has to be. 

Chris Lassiter is a Christ-follower, a husband to Emily (read her blog here), a father to five kids and a freelance writer for Young Life Relationships,, and other publications. His first book, You're Grounded, was published by Moody Publications in 2013. You can order the book here.  His first kids' book, Grits & the Grimels, comes out this spring.