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From Dura to Alabama: Honoring God

From Dura to Alabama: Honoring God

One of the most famous stories in the Old Testament is that of three Hebrew boys—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—who refused to break one of the Ten Commandments. Captives in the kingdom of Babylon, the three young men were quickly recognized for their wisdom and talent and worked in the royal court.

But then King Nebuchadnezzar set up, on the plain of Dura, an idol of himself and demanded that everyone bow before it, declaring that all people “shall fall down and worship the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up; and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace” (Daniel 3:5, 6).

The only problem? The second commandment forbids worshiping idols. Thus, these three young men refused and faced the fiery furnace, preferring death over violating God’s law to save their lives.

Jumping ahead about 2,500 years, a story in Alabama made national news when a high school basketball team chose to forfeit a game and, thereby, let go of their chance to play for a state championship. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the team did not want to violate one of the Ten Commandments—in this case, the fourth, which calls for people to rest on the seventh day.

Though forfeiting a game is, of course, not the same as being cast alive into a burning furnace, the principle remains the same: obedience to God, as manifested by obeying His law, regardless of the consequences.

What happened, and what lessons can we learn from this story?

The Faith of Mustangs

Oakwood Adventist Academy (OAA) is a Seventh-day Adventist K-12 school, located on the campus of Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama. The school’s roots go back to 1896: “Oakwood Industrial School, … charged with the task of training young people of African American descent, OAA recently celebrated its 120th anniversary. OAA is the oldest and largest Black SDA school in the United States, and one of the longest continuously operating Black private schools in the US.”

Like many high schools, OAA has a vigorous athletics program, which includes the game of basketball. It fields a team, the Mustangs, that is deep on talent and was a contender for a state championship. 

That is, until an obstacle got in the way. 

A playoff game was scheduled for February 19 at 4:30 p.m.—a Saturday, the seventh day of the week. On that day, the sun wouldn’t set until about 5:30 p.m., which, in the biblical reckoning, is the end of the seventh-day Sabbath. In the Bible, a day begins at sunset and ends at sundown. The players were convicted that if they went ahead and played the game, they would be violating the fourth commandment, which reads, in part, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God” (Exodus 20: 8–10).

Showing sympathy to the Mustang’s dilemma, other teams in the tournament were willing to switch their game time with the Mustangs’ game time, which would have enabled the Christian team to play their game at 7:30 that same night, two hours after the Sabbath ended. It seems it would have been a simple accommodation; however, there are two sides to the story.

The Refusal

Despite the willingness of other teams to switch game times, the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) twice denied the request. Thus, however disappointing to the players’ athletic dreams, rather than violate a commandment of God, the team opted to forfeit the game.

The Oakwood University Church in Huntsville affirmed the team’s decision, saying, “OAA stands firm in their convictions and painfully but proudly forfeits their Saturday/Sabbath playoff game scheduled this afternoon at JSU and their hard-earned shot at the Alabama state championship out of their firm Bible-based belief in seventh-day (Saturday) Sabbath observance.”

The story made national news. A CNN headline read, “Oakwood Adventist Academy’s basketball team say they had to forfeit a game over religious beliefs. The governor wants answers.” Indeed, Governor Kay Ivey tweeted: “In response to alleged treatment of the Oakwood Adventist Academy boys basketball team, I’ve sent a letter to the AHSAA. …  I’ve also sent a letter to Oakwood to stand in solidarity with the team & to praise them for standing firm in their convictions.”

It should be noted that the AHSAA replied that Oakwood Academy had indeed “voluntarily joined the association and by so doing had agreed in writing to participate in all scheduled playoff games without a petition or forfeit. … Granting an exemption or making an exception for any reason, every time one is requested, would be chaotic.”

From Dura to Alabama

The Mustangs, after a lot of hard work and then a lot of disappointment, missed out on the championship. But no one on the team, it seems, regrets the decision. When asked by a local reporter about why the Mustangs did it, senior and team captain Raynon Andrews answered, “I want them to see our stand and our faith. That we won’t back down just for a basketball game. It’s bigger than basketball.”

Again, while what happened with the Mustangs isn’t as dramatic as what the three Hebrew boys faced on the plain of Dura, what did happen in Alabama is consequential. Whether or not you favor competitive sports, we can admire these youth for standing up (or, in this case, sitting down) for their beliefs.

Why did the team choose to honor the Sabbath with such conviction? The answer is that the seventh-day Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments, right up there with “Thou shall not kill” and “Thou shall not commit adultery.” Should they have violated one of those commandments for a basketball game? Of course not. So why, then, the fourth? It’s a good question, and to learn more about the answer, read this article: “Seize the Day.”

This article contributed by Clifford Goldstein
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