The issue of Sunday play is a perpetual discussion-starter in Mormondom. Some celebrate as courageous those who refuse to dishonor the Sabbath by participating in sporting events. Then there is this story. On Saturday, Todd Miller, BYU golfer and son of golfing legend Johnny Miller, qualified to play in the Sunday final of the Utah State Amateur, then declined to play. Miller said: “What I do on Sunday is way more important than winning a tournament. I don’t look down upon people who play on the Sabbath. I would just feel like a hypocrite in my own heart if I did. I made that decision, and I’m going to stick with that.”
As you would expect, the sponsors of the tournament were outraged. This is from Utah Golf Association executive director Joe Watts: “I’m surprised, I’m shocked and I’m disappointed. Although I fully respect a person and his religious convictions, it’s a matter of what process that kind of religious conviction should have shown itself. There’s lots of considerations a person has to make besides his own personal religious convictions before he enters into an activity. Volunteers . . . , golf courses . . . , contestants who have put in their time and effort. . . . It should have been handled sooner.”
Of course, the comparisons with British runner Eric Liddell of Chariots of Fire fame appear early in the story, but Miller does not remind me of Liddell. Liddell’s pursuit of Olympic gold did not necessarily entail Sunday play, but most high-level golf tournaments conclude on Sunday. Miller knew that the final match was scheduled for Sunday, and he is a good enough player that his participation in that match was a strong possibility. In my view, he should not have entered the tournament. By the way, although I never played at the level of Todd Miller, I have been down this road.
Finally, Miller’s scheduled opponent in the title match was another BYU golfer, Clark Rustand, who is also a returned missionary. He is quoted as saying: “I totally respect his decision of not playing on Sunday, but I’ve made the decision to try and compete at the highest level, and that puts me in a position to play on Sundays. I wish it wasn’t the case and that I could have Sundays to relax and go to church. But at the same time if I do make it and it becomes my livelihood it will put me in that predicament even though I honor my commitments to my church.” (Did he say “relax and go to Church”?) I could use some help here because I cannot understand this attitude, which seems fairly prevalent in the Church. My reasoning is as follows: Sunday labor and Sabbath observance are antithetical; choosing a profession that requires (regular) Sunday labor necessarily entails a decision to forsake the blessings of Sabbath observance; and anyone who is willing to make that choice does not understand the Sabbath. What am I missing?