The first topic I want to explore here will cover two of my favorite subjects – faith and baseball. As many of you know, a movie covering the story of Jackie Robinson has hit the theaters. The movie carries the title “42” which is the number Jackie Robinson wore on his jersey with the Brooklyn Dodgers. My wife and I recently went to see the movie after I had read numerous articles critiquing the story.
Jackie Robinson’s story transcended the baseball world as it had a significant impact on the civil rights struggles here in our country back in the 1940’s. This story, as it unfolded, was bigger than the Dodgers, bigger than baseball and bigger than winning games as the Dodgers did in Robinson’s first season. Robinson broke the color barrier in America’s pastime with incredible courage and profound strength. He faced the ugliness of segregation in our country shouldering anger, hatred, threats of violence and pure evil – I do not use that word lightly. As a baseball fan I love the history of the game and have read much about this culture changing event, not only in baseball, but in our nation as well.
Eric Metaxas in USA Today stated, “There is a mysterious hole at the center of this otherwise worthy film.”
At the center of the story with Jackie Robinson is Branch Rickey, general manager of the Dodgers and the architect of breaking the color barrier in baseball. What motivated him to make this counter-cultural move? What gave him the strength and courage to stay the course? What inspired Jackie Robinson to accept the challenge and face deep seeded hatred and venomous anger that was directed at him? What inspired, motivated and allowed these men not to fight back facing anger with anger? What helped these men to become friends who would forever change the fabric of our country?
Both had a deep faith in God. Whether you are a person of faith or not, this is a fact. As Eric Metaxas put it, “Rickey was a Bible-thumping Methodist who refused to attend games on Sunday”. He believed that God was calling him to break the color barrier of baseball. He saw this as an issue of the faith, of love and central in the morality of America. He did not believe that segregation was acceptable to God. He selected Jackie Robinson because of his deep faith in God, his integrity and moral character.
Hollywood revised history with this story. Yes, God was mentioned in the story but one not knowing the story would not have come away discovering that the faith of both men was central in their facing this challenge. Once again, instead of stepping up, Hollywood shrunk back into the shadows of ambiguity and indifference. I understand and respect that many in our nation do not believe in God. I understand that matters of the faith are challenging at best for many. I respect the variety of beliefs of the citizens of this country. That said, facts are facts – faith in Christ motivated, inspired, and made possible this cultural turning point in the history of our country. Hollywood, seemingly, was too uncomfortable with the truth and chose to give to us a shamefully watered down version of one of the truly great stories of courage in our nation’s story.
Gouging the importance of faith in this story damages, changes, and compromises history. The civil rights struggle in our nation was won due to many factors – faith for many was central. Martin Luther King Jr, our most beloved civil rights leader, so beloved we have given him a federal holiday, was – ooops – a Baptist Minister. For him as well, faith is the well from which he drew his courage, convictions, character and strength.
I guess we should not be surprised. Hollywood has been cowardly when it comes to the faith for a long time. Johnny Cash’s story Walk the Line tucked away the role his faith played in overcoming his life’s challenges. The list of examples of this history revision is long.
I enjoyed the movie 42 but knowing the story ahead of time I found it somewhat one dimensional. Two of America’s true heroes, (Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson) whose actions have affected the generations that have followed were disrespected and disregarded because of a colossal lack of courage on the part of Hollywood.