Boogity Boogity Boogity, Amen

In case you missed it, here is the video of one of the most entertaining prayers of all time:

Pastor Joe Nelms of Family Baptist Church in Lebenon, TN was offering the invocation before the Nationwide Series race in Nashville, TN. His prayer has certainly stirred up quite a bit of controversy that has divided people into four basic camps:

  1. I can’t believe he would be so disrespectful and use prayer as a way to draw attention to himself.
  2. That was really funny.
  3. He is just reinforcing the stereotype that NASCAR is for a bunch of rednecks.
  4. He made an impact and gave the fans something they’ll remember. Maybe some of them will think about attending church because they remember his prayer.

The first reaction was that of my wife and my sister when I played it for them. They were appalled and thought that the Pastor was definitely using his position for a little self-promotion. I’m sure many others shared this initial reaction

The second was mine. I chose not to make any moral judgment when I first heard it and just laughed—much like the people at the race.

The third is the opinion of ESPN.com NASCAR writer David Newton. In an article published on Tuesday he said that “it made national news and not in a good way.” This is the only opinion of the four that I really disagree with. I am a big-time sports fan who has never gotten into racing, but I have talked more about NASCAR this week than I have in the past two years. I have read articles about that race well past the point where the author stopped talking about the invocation, I have looked up standings, and I have searched youtube for other interesting racing videos. I have learned things I didn’t know about NASCAR: many drivers drink Pedialite (the stuff you give sick babies) to stay hydrated. In my mind, for a second-tier sport, any publicity is good publicity.

The fourth is the opinion of Pastor Nelms himself. In an interview with Fox News, he said that by staying away from a “cookie-cutter” prayer he hoped to make people remember it and think about God and church. He’s obviously taken some criticism for his words, as I’m sure he knew he would, but decided it was worth it.

I’m not really sure I have made up my mind how I feel about it yet, so I’ll just list a few personal thoughts:

  • Distinguishing between results and motives is tough. Did Pastor Nelms get a lot of personal attention? Yes. Was that his goal? He said it wasn’t…in an interview on national TV.
  • I think it’s great that they still pray before every NASCAR event and I’m not sure I knew that that until this week.
  • It is very difficult to be humorous is a religious context without coming across as sacrilegious.
  • My biggest question is if Pastor Nelms was really praying to God or making a speech to the people listening. Are public prayers usually directed toward God or the people who can hear? If the audience isn’t considered then why do we even pray publically?
  • Even if I felt that it was ok to do something like this, I’m pretty sure I could never summon the courage to do it publically.

Since I really don’t have one, I would love to hear your opinion on this and that’s why there is a “leave a comment” button below. Boogity, boogity, boogity.

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About Jeff Postlewaite

high school principal since '07, father since '04, teacher since '03, husband since '03, sound tech since '96, UVA fan since '92, gadget junkie since '89, Christian since '88, Giants fan since '84, golfer since '83, brother since '83, human since '81

Posted on July 28, 2011, in Diversions, Sports and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. No, Not that David Newton

    First, thanks for the plug to my namesake’s column at ESPN.

    Second, I had written a rather detailed response to this post, but decided against posting it for various reasons. I will say that I started with your fourth observation about public prayers and ended up reminiscing about a sermon (that I think we both heard once) comparing NASCAR to Nebuchadnezzar’s Kingdom.

    Third, I’m with you on the initial response. While I think it was more performance than prayer, it was funny and didn’t cross any real theologically boundaries. I can say that I’ve heard far worse in conjunction with christian school ball games, pot-luck dinners, and preacher boy prayer meetings.

  2. David, I figured “David Newton of ESPN.com” was your pen name 🙂

    I was also thinking about that Nebuchadnezzar sermon this week. I seem to remember thinking at the time that the illustration wasn’t a horrible stretch and that the points were all Biblical and within context, but that the sermon was delivered to the wrong audience. Maybe 10% of the crowd were emotionally affected by Dale Earnhardt’s death and, therefore, the rest of us didn’t see the connection between God’s handwriting on the wall and the skid marks on the wall at Daytona. Maybe if he had preached it at a men’s conference in Goldsboro, NC it would have had its intended effect.

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