A few years ago a young friend of mine—a returned missionary—was on one of the college basketball teams in Utah. He was a great young man and a very good ballplayer, but he wasn’t playing as much as he hoped he would. His particular talents and skills weren’t exactly what that team needed at that stage of its development or his. That happens in athletics. So, with the full support and best wishes of his coaches and his teammates, my young friend transferred to another school where he hoped he might contribute a little more.
As fate would have it, things clicked at the new school, and my friend soon became a starter. And wouldn’t you know it—the schedule (determined years before these events transpired) had this young man returning to play against his former team in Salt Lake City's then-named Delta Center.
What happened in that game has bothered me to this day, and I am seizing this unusual moment to get it off my chest. The vitriolic abuse that poured out of the stands on this young man’s head that night—a Latter-day Saint, returned missionary, newlywed who paid his tithing, served in the elder’s quorum, gave charitable service to the youth in his community, and waited excitedly for a new baby coming to him and his wife—what was said and done and showered upon him that night, and on his wife and their families, should not have been experienced by any human being anywhere anytime, whatever his sport, whatever his university, or whatever his personal decisions had been about either of them.
But here is the worst part. The coach of this visiting team, something of a legend in the profession, turned to him after a spectacular game and said: “What is going on here? You are the hometown boy who has made good. These are your people. These are your friends.” But worst of all, he then said in total bewilderment, “Aren’t most of these people members of your church?”
...let’s finish the basketball incident. The day after that game, when there was some public reckoning and a call to repentance over the incident, one young man said, in effect: “Listen. We are talking about basketball here, not Sunday School. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. We pay good money to see these games. We can act the way we want. We check our religion at the door.”
“ We check our religion at the door ”?
Lesson number one for the establishment of Zion in the 21st century: You never
“check your religion at the door.” Not ever.
My young friends, that kind of discipleship cannot be—it is not discipleship at all. As the prophet Alma has taught the young women of the Church to declare every week in their Young Women theme, we are “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in,” not
just some of the time, in a few places, or when our team has a big lead.