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Texas athlete disqualified after pointing to heaven

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Columbus High School 4x100 relay team member Derrick Hayes takes the baton from teammate during a track meet (Credit: WFAA)

Derrick Hayes had just helped his Columbus high school relay team qualify for state.  As he crossed the finish line in the 4×100-meter relay, he pointed his finger toward heaven.  Track officials disqualified his entire team, barring it from competing at the state championships.  Critics complained that the students’ religious freedom was violated.  A petition was even created to protest the decision.

However, officials explained that Derrick’s gesture violated rules that prohibit raising one’s hands as an act of celebration.  After Derrick made his gesture, a meet official warned him of a possible disqualification should such behavior continue.  The student reacted disrespectfully in the opinion of the official, leading to the disqualification.  His parents later submitted a letter to authorities stating that “his religious rights were not violated.”

Now consider the infamous “stomp on Jesus” controversy at Florida Atlantic University.  An instructor assigned his students an exercise from their textbook in which they wrote the name “JESUS” on paper.  The instructor then asked those who wished to do so to stomp on the name, something most would refuse to do.  Their reluctance was intended to communicate the importance of symbols in culture.

A student who complained that the exercise violated his religious beliefs was suspended by the university.  A firestorm erupted in defense of the student.  However, the president of the faculty union later explained that the student was suspended because “the instructor was verbally threatened,” not because the student objected to the exercise.  All charges against the student have now been dropped and the university has prohibited the exercise.

I understand the initial reaction to the athletes’ disqualification in Columbus.  And I agree that stomping on Jesus’ name to make a point about religious symbolism is both excessive and offensive.  Imagine the same exercise using Muhammad or Buddha.

But in both cases, there was more to the story.  Those who claimed that the issues were only about religious discrimination turned out to be in error.  Jesus taught us to love the Lord “with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37); our Father calls us to “reason together” with him (Isaiah 1:18).  When a boy in Sunday school defined faith as “believing what you know ain’t so,” he articulated a viewpoint that is both popular and unbiblical.

Let’s “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3), but let’s do so with reasoned discipline.  C. S. Lewis: “God wants in us a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head.  He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim.”