I’m a rabid college football fan. My life is marked by my undying (and sometimes irrational) allegiance to the Alabama Crimson Tide. My love for my favorite team precludes me from cheering for anything or anyone related to Auburn, Tennessee, LSU, or pretty much any team sporting orange. Some of you may think that my self-description is hyperbolic. Consider that I come from a state that often blurs the lines of good-natured rivalry with ill-fated idiocy (Exhibit A: Harvey Updyke). One of the few things that trumps my college football fanaticism is my devotion to Jesus Christ and his Good News Message. Today I read a news story that combined with those two commitments put me in a quandary.
I’m cheering for LSU fans.
You heard me right. I’m pulling for some Bayou Bengal fans.
A small group of students from LSU, self-dubbed as “The Painted Posse,” smears down their flesh with purple and gold body paint for every home game. These students epitomize the passion and pride that make college football great. They spell out catchy slogans on their chests. My favorite is “Put ’em on a spit,” a tip of the hat to the Louisiana tradition of pit roasting just about any creature known to man and making it taste yummy. These students also typically place a small painted cross on their shoulders, a simple display of their common faith in Jesus Christ.
Last week, LSU sent out an official email from the school which featured the above picture of the Painted Posse. Sort of. Evidently their fierce devotion to the Bayou Bengals is so commendable that it would be prominently featured in a promotional email blast to untold multitudes. I guess the Painted Posse’s devotion to Jesus wasn’t quite so commendable. LSU administrators air-brushed the cross right off of the Posse’s painted chests.
In an interview with Campus Reform, Posse member Cameron Crooke stated, “I was a bit surprised, because our pictures get used so frequently, and the cross had never been edited before.” But was this really a big deal to the Posse? “The cross painting is important to me because it represents who I am as a Christ follower,” Cooke added, “and it reminds me who I need to act like in Death Valley.”
Why would LSU do this? Al.com reported: “LSU vice chancellor for communications Herb Vincent, who said it was within the school’s right to alter the photo, said LSU changed the image as not to offend anyone.”
Well, Chancellor Vincent, you missed on that one! I’m offended. If the initial reaction on-line is any indicator, I’m not alone in that sentiment. I spent three years among the Tiger faithful pastoring a precious church in Louisiana. Their passion for their team rivals the mirrored football mania in Alabama. But most of those faithful saints will be offended as well by the secular intolerance that has removed a simple statement of faith from the shoulder of a few earnest students. You can’t PhotoShop Jesus out of our lives, Chancellor.
As a follower of Jesus Christ, I am not surprised that the cross is a stumbling block to those who do not embrace Jesus (1 Cor. 1:23). The cross has been the lightning rod of history for over two hundred years. It has endured attacks before; it will withstand others yet unseen. While the secularized culture may scoff at the Gospel, faithful followers of Jesus must not cower at the threat of persecution. We believe that our message is “Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24).
The salvation message of Jesus Christ is more important than our devotions to our favorite teams. When my team plays good, it changes my mood. When I met Jesus, it changed my life! So for now, I remain a conflicted Bama fan that is rooting whole-heartedly for a few brothers in Christ in Baton Rouge. They’ve reminded me this week that the message of the cross can’t be airbrushed from the pages of culture as long as faithful followers proclaim it!