Like many community members, I read Jeff Mandell’s piece with interest on the forthcoming “Faith Night” at Target Field, “No Separation of Church and Baseball: Minnesota Twins Host a Faith Night.” Unlike Jeff, I am not a Minnesota Twins season ticket holder, but I am a baseball fan who just had the pleasure of taking my six-year old daughter to her first game at Target Field. Additionally, and not incidentally, the issues which Jeff raises in his well-written piece are exactly the kinds of potential conflicts which my Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas’ (JCRC) colleagues and I think about and work on frequently.
As a professional advocate for Minnesota’s Jewish community, I don’t agree with Jeff’s assessment that the Twins (an organization which offers kosher hot dogs at their stadium) have struck out when it comes to inclusion. I wholeheartedly agree, however, that this conversation is very much in play and appreciate TC Jewfolk allowing us the opportunity to take the field.
Though it hopefully goes without saying, the JCRC takes religious inclusion very seriously. For example, in cases where there are actual First Amendment Establishment Clause violations (which is not an issue here as the Minnesota Twins remain a non-state actor even with the taxpayer funding for a portion of the stadium) the JCRC is the first organization that local Jews often turn to for assistance. The same is true for community members who need a religious accommodation or where religious sensitivity is an issue at school or their place of work. This is also an issue which I have some experience navigating at the Minnesota State Legislature in the context of legislative prayer. So, if the decidedly sectarian testimonials and live worship music for the “Faith Night at Target Field” were planned for anytime DURING the actual game, then the JCRC would very much share Jeff’s misgivings.
The good news (no pun intended) about the “Faith Night” at Target Field is that to the best of everyone’s knowledge all of the festivities will take place during the postgame program. This means that for all of the fans who come to this Saturday game in August, “Faith Night” will be no different than all other nights at Target Field UNLESS they choose to participate after the game. By contrast, if testimonials were to be offered in-between innings or the traditional singing of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the 7th Inning Stretch was to be replaced with gospel music then I’d absolutely understand how this would make many community members feel uncomfortable because I’d also feel uncomfortable about having a worship service breakout while my family was essentially a captive audience.
It is hard to see how anyone is harmed by this “Faith Night” proceeding as planned. I also believes that for the sake of maintaining our credibility for when there really is a church/state or religious inclusion issue, we need to know as a community when to swing away and when to check our swing.
On a more positive note, I’ll conclude that the JCRC is happy for our friends in Minnesota’s Christian community who will enjoy this great opportunity in August. As part of our work as the Jewish community’s bridge to the greater non-Jewish community, the JCRC works very hard at building interfaith partnerships. From this work we know that the offering of such public Christ-centric testimony, especially from prominent Christians like Torii Hunter and Brian Dozier, and the live performance of worship music outdoors will be inspiring for the many Christians who choose to participate after the rest of us have left the ballpark. While such a public display of faith is not the kind of event most Jews would think to plan for our community, as an American and as a Minnesotan I am proud to embrace our religious diversity in its fullest dimensions and I hope other Minnesota Jews will join us in wishing our Christian friends much success with their night at Target Field.
In 2007, Ethan Roberts joined the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas as Director of the Twin Cities Jewish Community Government Affairs Program. A graduate of Macalester College and Stanford Law School, Ethan still cheers for his hometown Boston Red Sox, but allows that his Minnesotan wife is having some success at converting him to the Twins.