When news of basketball player Jason Collins’ coming out reached my little corner of the world, I didn’t think it was a big deal. Sure, Collins is the first professional athlete to come out while still playing professionally. But I did not think his coming out would be that controversial. There are thousands and thousands of professional athletes in the U.S., surely some of them are gay.
But the Christian community is reacting in shock, wonder and amazement. And I’m not sure if we are reacting to the fact that there’s a gay man in a professional sport, or to the fact that he came out. Because if we are reacting to a professional athlete with a gay orientation, then what’s that say about us? Surely we don’t believe that there are no gay people in professional sports? And if we are reacting to the fact that he came out, well, what does that say about us too? “Hey, gay man. The world was a better place when you were hiding off in your closet.”
It didn’t help the situation when ESPN anchor Chris Broussard made this comment:
“I don’t agree with homosexuality. I think it’s a sin.”
Then a quote came up in my news feed on Facebook attributed to Kirk Cameron saying,
“Comes out with his Christian beliefs and faith in God, gets ridiculed for it and called names… someone goes against God’s Word and brags about being Gay and they are praised for it??????”
Then a local radio talk show host out of Detroit asked his audience on Facebook what they thought of all this. The thread, with people comparing Christians to gays and calling this all part of Obama’s agenda and heralding about God’s plan for marriage, can be well summarized in one comment that someone put up:
“Stop gays nuff said.”
This general response from many in the Christian community is disappointing and more than a little embarrassing. Everybody is allowed to their opinion, and that is just as true for Broussard. But when his words are spoken as representative of the Bible and Christianity, somebody on the Christian side needs to call him out in the same fashion as the Muslim community is expected to call out Jihadist. Especially because Broussard’s comments, while being his opinion, are biblically untrue. [Update: I am referring specifically to that comment. I agree, in general, with what he said about gay sex, since the Bible does speak to that.]
As a fairly conservative Christian I agree that the scriptures condemn gay sex. I also agree that the Bible teaches the ideal marriage as being between one man and one woman. But what the Bible does not condemn is homosexuality. No where does the Bible even address same-sex attraction. Broussard’s comment, “I don’t agree with homosexuality” is akin to saying “I don’t agree with shortness of height,” or “I don’t agree with green eyes.” It’s pretty absurd and it does not represent the Bible’s position, but only the position of someone who has not taken the time to think his opinion through carefully before going on air.
The quote attributed to Kirk Cameron is embarrassing because it takes Collins’ coming out as an opportunity to make it all about us. We are victims. Never mind that Collins felt the need to hide his whole life for fear of the repercussions of being born with same sex attraction. Yet somehow Christians are the real victims in all of this? Have we exchanged the empathy of Christ for an entitlement we think we deserve? We are not victims in North America. You want to know what it’s like to be a victim for your faith, go to a town square in China and try handing someone a Bible. I’m not saying that Christians are not sometimes persecuted here. But the operative word is sometimes. I should probably say, in terms of real persecution, rarely.
And as for the comment “Stop gays nuff said.” What does that even mean? Stop them from what? From going to the grocery store? From playing professional sports? From eating at McDonald’s? From coming out? Are gay people the enemy?
To be honest, when I read the Gospel’s I don’t even recognize the Jesus that these people are supposed to represent. And it’s sad. I believe their hearts are sincere. They see themselves as Bible Christians. They think they are defending the faith. But they are not. Rather they have let their assumptions, zeal and fear colour the issues. And as a result it is making it more difficult for the rest of us to evangelize the Gospel to our culture. It is also damaging the Church. It is, in other words, serving the ambitions of the evil one.
HOW CHRISTIANS SHOULD HAVE RESPONDED
Here are five ways I think Christians should have responded to Collins’ coming out.
Jason Collins, we commend you for coming out!
This would have been a good place to start. Jason Collins has lived his life in fear and has been hiding himself from the world. Rather than demonize him and suggest that the world was in a better place before he came out, we should commend him for it. We should feel empathy for how he has felt and how he has been in hiding.
How can we better serve you and others like you?
Understanding Jason’ story will better equip the Church to do what we’ve been called to do. Serve. Rather than suggest that he remain in his closet and pretend that gay people don’t exist, we should encourage all of them to come out so that we can educate ourselves and learn how best to disciple them. We’ve done a pretty terrible job at it so far.
A call for others to come out too.
Rather than pretend that gay people don’t exist so that when one comes out we react in shock, we should encourage gays everywhere to come out. How can we serve a people group that we want to pretend don’t exist? Furthermore, we should remember the days when Christians were persecuted both past and present, and show a great deal of empathy toward what many gays are going through (see the biblical principle here: Exodus 22:21). As a bonus, can you imagine the opportunities we’d have to share Jesus with this group if they saw that we were encouraging them to come out?
We should educate Christians so that they don’t say stupid things.
We all say dumb things from time to time. I do. You do. And sometimes we stand behind the stupid things we say with great zeal. The antidote for saying dumb things is knowledge. Jason Collins’ coming out has created for us a great learning opportunity. As illustrated above, Christians everywhere are coming out of the woodwork saying dumb things. Now is the time to explain to them some of the things I’ve highlighted in this post. So please share.