Early this week, Jason Collins told the sports world that he was gay. He is the first black man to do so while being an active player on a professional sports team. The announcement caused a media uproar. Of course, any time homosexuality is mentioned, one can expect to hear two distinct voices. One is the voice of approval, yelling overtures of praise and support. The other is from the conservative side, making sure their negative view on homosexuality is heard loud and clear. Like rival bands on opposite sides of a football field, the two sides jockey and position themselves to be louder than the other.
Chris Broussard, a sports analyst for ESPN, was asked his opinion concerning Jason Collins’ admission, he had this to say.
Broussard’s remarks were polarizing. Should Broussard be fired? Should he feel so free to share his personal religious views on national television? Is it right to be angry at someone for simply sharing their views, even if it’s an opinion that has a dwindling amount of support?
In this circumstance, I have the privilege of having meida experience while at the same time being a Christian. I graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism and Mass Media in 2006, and I worked as a freelancer for several years. As with other issues that cause us to engage in cultural wars debates, there are several critical voices and viewpoints that get drowned out. Since this topic won’t go away any time soon, I think this situation serves as a teachable moment to help Christians see some things in a different light.
As a journalist, I honestly see no reason to fire Broussard. He was interviewed, he was asked his opinion, and then he gave it. Chances are the people involved in crafting this interview, his colleagues, knew what Broussard would say in the first place. He is known for his outspoken Christian views. As someone who has done reporting and conducted interviews, I can’t bring myself to think that the powers that be didn’t know how this would turn out.
If I were in Broussard’s shoes, I wouldn’t have taken the interview. It makes him a scapegoat for ESPN, a soundbite in a media war. While legally it would be challenging for ESPN to fire him for voicing his religious views , it certainly leaves a blemish on his career that’s unnecessary. Sure, some might say that Broussard getting on the air and voicing such a popular Christian opinion makes him the epitome of a Romans 1:16 believer: not ashamed and ready to tell the truth. However, in this sticky game of media wrangling and sacrificial lambs, I think there was a better method to voice his views and still remain in the sphere where he can maintain influence. To say such a thing hours after the announcement was made isn’t a good look. Someone in the office knew that. I wonder if Broussard did.
As a Christian, my opinion sways a bit. Professionally, I believe that any action against Broussard is unfair. In terms of my faith, however, I wish that he wouldn’t have said anything. Here’s why:
The insertion of his theological views was ill-timed and unwarranted.
The popular Christian view is that homosexuality is a sin. While there is in fact a rigorous debate around this theological issue, the conservative side of the argument seems to miss some crucial points as they seek to maintain cultural relevance. Regardless of one’s views of homosexuality, gay marriage, or whether or not someone is born gay, it is an incredibly dramatic and intense issue for the person that is dealing with it and making the news public.
And to be fair, it’s not just from religious folks that fail at this. Christians in this country tend to take the brunt of the rap for homophobia and bigotry when it is just as prevalent in all areas of society. And just because someone disagrees with homosexuality doesn’t automatically make them a bigot or homophobic. In the same vein, African-Americans are perceived as exceptionally homophobic, when in reality blacks are no more so than anyone else. I mean, do you tend to see a lot of black people at those anti-gay marches? Any black leadership on the Family Research Council or the other traditional marriage advocates? There are some, but very few.
Broussard’s comment is reflective of what many Christians do when confronted with the issue of someone coming out. They make sure that their theological line is drawn in the sand, and they make double sure to let the person coming out know that they have crossed it. In taking that approach, there is an important piece of humanity that is missed. The narrative surrounding coming out stories is that people are exercising courage, bravery, and acknowledging who they perceive themselves to be in a situation that isn’t the most conducive to that reality. When Christians insert their claims at that specific time, it comes off as grandstanding and self-serving piety. It puts a bad taste in people’s mouths, and it’s not simply because of the belief. Most people know what the conservative response would be. However, when that affirmation of faith is poorly timed it only serves to push people away from the Christ we desire people to know.
This may not matter as much in the Jason Collins’ story. He has tons of support. Broussard’s and other’s comments are merely a fly in Collins’ ointment, and he’s certainty rich enough to buy more ointment. However, this isn’t the case of the people that we see on the street, or encounter in our churches. These folks are vulnerable, and subject to many emotional, spiritual, and even physical repercussions simply because of their orientation. As people who are supposed to be defined by our love and not simply our theological stances, Christians need to be mindful of this.
The idea that someone trusts someone else enough to share such personal and potentially relationship altering information about themselves should be held in high esteem. It’s not an opportunity to win theological points.
When you move away from the polarized edges of the argument, you’ll find that people aren’t necessarily looking for agreement on theological issues. Instead they are seeking respect, honesty, and to have their dignity as human beings acknowledged. Now, there are ways that the more liberal side of the argument also fails at this. Everyone who is holds conservative views around sexuality is not stupid or unenlightened. However, as a Christian I want to highlight some points that may not be obvious to more conservative folks. These points might help navigate the situations that you may encounter in dealing with LGBT people.
1.) Jason Collins said he was gay, he didn’t say anything about his sex life. Often, when homosexuality is discussed in conservative circles it is lumped together with the idea that it is a conglomerate “lifestyle.” Tons of wild sex, reckless living, and other negative images are mentioned in the same breath. An overwhelming amount of people who disagree with homosexuality view it as a choice, but that tide is changing even amongst conservatives. People who believe homosexuality is a sin are starting to see that the amount of choice involved in sexual orientation isn’t as much as some would like to believe. Besides, straight people’s orientation is never conflated with the idea of sin. Particular actions are condemned (premarital sex, adultery, etc.), but mere identification as being straight is not. The majority of straight people who are Christian have been involved in sexual sin, and are still engaging in it in some measure (this article gives recent information on a study concerning Christians and sex). The person who had sex with someone of the opposite sex is held accountable for their actions. The gay person, in numerous situations, is held accountable for their existence When identity and actions are connected, it robs the person of their dignity. It leaves them trapped in a state of perpetual unworthiness that is inescapable.. That’s a big difference. The gay person in question may not be having sex at all.
2.) The person is not an “issue” to be debated, but a person to love. Chances are, the person that is coming out to you knows what your theological views are. And they still trust you. That says something. While you may not agree with their choices, as a Christian you can minister to the fear, hurt, and pain that they’ve inevitably felt. Those are universal issues to the human condition. Everyone knows how it feels to be afraid and unwanted, even in the midst of our being wrong.
Yet our belief states that God still loves us and reaches out for us, even in that state (Romans 5:5). The Suicide Prevention Resource Center reports that suicide rates in LGBT teens are 30% to 40% higher than the norm. LGBT teens are more likely to be homeless. The person in front of you is not a bullet point in a persuasive speech, but a human life. The battle for their minds won’t be won if you ignore the issues of the heart. And even then, are we charged as Christians to win vigorous debates on sin, or to love people and participate in their progressive wholeness? Detailing your theology around sexuality at such a sensitive time only serves to push them away. It also diminishes the person in question to only their private parts and their desires.
3.) Coming out is about them, not you. One of things that people miss when this situation comes up is that it’s not time to make theological statements. I’m not telling people not to state their views in sermons, articles, and such. But in the one-on-one situations taking a stance such as Broussard’s is dangerous. What that tells the person announcing their sexuality is that proclaiming your views during a vulnerable time in their life is more important than listening to them. Again, they probably already know what your thoughts are.
Everyone is deserving of honor, as we are made in the image of God. Perhaps acknowledging that imago dei that is intrinsic to all of our existence is the first step in bridging the gap in this issue.