PHILADELPHIA — Faith and football connected for a gain at a recent dinner in downtown Philadelphia sponsored by the American Bible Society and attended by nearly 1,000 folks who have faith and almost certainly are Philadelphia Eagles fans.
The featured guest celebrity and an obvious draw for the event was Philadelphia’s favorite coach of the year, Doug Pederson, whose Philadelphia Eagles won their first Super Bowl championship this past February.
Pederson made his remarks in a Q-and-A with sports radio commentator Rob Maaddi. It was clear from the conversation what importance faith has in the life of the Eagles coach, who reads from his Bible every morning, but also in the lives of most of his players.
“Nothing is done without prayer,” Pederson said. Speaking of the team’s cohesiveness, he said, “It’s the Holy Spirit that binds you together,” and “I truly believe God had a plan for the Eagles.”
For himself, he said, “I have to trust God and say, ‘It’s in your hands, it is not my call.’ I have a group of men who accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.”
The real reason for the June 11 dinner, which was attended by members of many faiths, was to highlight the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center that the American Bible Society is near Independence Hall and is scheduled to open in 2020.
The center, which is estimated to cost $60 million and projects 400,000 visitors in its inaugural year, is designed to show the role religion, especially the Bible, played in the founding of the nation and continues to play to this day.
Founded in 1816 when the nation was very young, the American Bible Society had as its purpose promoting reading of the Bible. The organization’s first president was Elias Boudinot, who was president of the Continental Congress from 1782 to 1783.
The society’s second president was John Jay, the first chief justice of the United States, explained Roy Peterson, its current president. Other distinguished past members include Presidents John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes and Benjamin Harrison.
Over the years, the American Bible Society has printed or distributed a stunning 6 billion Bibles worldwide. In the beginning, they were the King James Bible in English, but since then many other editions and in many other languages.
For most of its existence the organization had its headquarters in New York City, but three years ago it relocated to Philadelphia’s historic district. Peterson, in his presentation, especially emphasized the faith of the Founding Fathers in Philadelphia as they wrote the nation’s foundational documents. He also noted the regard that Philadelphia’s founder, William Penn, had for Scripture.
In keeping with the football theme, welcoming remarks for the dinner were given by Ike Reese, a former Eagles linebacker who covers sports on Sports Radio 94WIP. The opening prayer was led by the Rev. Herbert Lusk, a former Eagles running back who would kneel in prayer after making a touchdown, who is now senior pastor at Greater Exodus Baptist Church.
What makes that unusual is the American Bible Society is historically a Protestant group, and for most of its history Protestant and Catholic Bible scholars didn’t talk to one another.
That changed in 1943 after Pope Pius XII directed Catholic biblical scholars to return as much as possible to the original texts for translation rather than rely completely on St. Jerome’s late fourth century Latin Vulgate, which served as the official Catholic Bible. Some of the source manuscripts uncovered more recently would not have been available to Jerome.
This movement was reinforced by the Second Vatican Council, which urged scholars to work together to produce texts that are acceptable by all Christians, and that has been the general rule ever since, although some of the later books accepted in Catholic Bibles are not included in Protestant Bibles.
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Baldwin writes for CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.