Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Homosexuality Debate & The Definition of "Christian"

I've always been scared of saying the wrong thing. I don't sleep well. I never have. But each time I tell another person, I feel stronger and sleep a little more soundly. It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret. I've endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie. I was certain that my world would fall apart if anyone knew. And yet when I acknowledged my sexuality I felt whole for the first time.
Jason Collins

Chris Broussard and L.Z. Granderson, African-American Christian ESPN analysts, debated Jason Collins' coming out party a couple of days ago on ESPN's Outside The Lines program. The Evangelical NBA expert Broussard predicably had qualms with Collins' decision and with Granderson's own out-of-the-closet "lifestyle":

I'm a Christian. I don't agree with homosexuality. I think it's a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is. [ESPN's] L.Z. [Granderson] knows that. He and I have played on basketball teams together for several years. We've gone out, had lunch together, we've had good conversations, good laughs together. He knows where I stand and I know where he stands. I don't criticize him, he doesn't criticize me, and call me a bigot, call me ignorant, call me intolerant.

In talking to some people around the league, there's a lot Christians in the NBA and just because they disagree with that lifestyle, they don't want to be called bigoted and intolerant and things like that. That's what LZ was getting at. Just like I may tolerate someone whose lifestyle I disagree with, he can tolerate my beliefs. He disagrees with my beliefs and my lifestyle but true tolerance and acceptance is being able to handle that as mature adults and not criticize each other and call each other names.

... Personally, I don't believe that you can live an openly homosexual lifestyle or an openly premarital sex between heterosexuals, if you're openly living that type of lifestyle, then the Bible says you know them by their fruits, it says that's a sin. If you're openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be, not just homosexuality, adultery, fornication, premarital sex between heterosexuals, whatever it may be, I believe that's walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ. I would not characterize that person as a Christian because I do not think the Bible would characterize them as a Christian.

A few remarks about this drama:

1. Although I personally disagree with his particular stance, I adamantly believe that Broussard not only has the right to air his convictions, but that he did so in a loving and respectful way and that he should be commended for it. As the late Christian theologian James McClendon wrote a few decades ago, Christianity itself is "an essentially contested concept," which means that it is up for debate (in word and deed) what exactly it means to be a "Christian." This debate is more important than ever and is particularly interesting when it takes place outside the walls of the institutional church by non-professional religionists, let alone aired on ESPN. Broussard should not be labeled a "bigot" or "hypocrite" or "hater" because he holds a view that most Christians have held for the past 100 generations.

2. Broussard, rightfully, quoted Matthew 7:16, the words of Jesus, that "false prophets" indeed will be revealed by "the fruit" of their lives. However, Broussard, wrongfully, turns this fruits test into a (homo)sexuality litmus test. The words of Jesus in Mt 7:16 actually come at the end his most well known series of teaching, the Sermon on the Mount, a passage the theologian John Howard Yoder describes as "a description of how a person behaves whose life has been transformed by meeting Jesus." These exhortations include the command to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, to abstain from lusting over non-spouses and oath-taking and placing judgment on others, to pray in a secure location (rejecting the temptation to be revered as uber-pious), to place value in things that truly matter, to trust God instead of worry about wealth, food and clothing and more.

What it does not contain is any reference whatsoever to homosexuality. True, "homosexuality" is condemned by Paul in Romans and I Corinthians, but are these referring to the 21st century Western concept of sexual orientation and loving, covanental unions between members of the same sex? Of course not. These references allude to what 1st century readers of the letters of Paul would have recognized as sex slavery (a wealthy older man buying a pre-pubescent to gratify his sexual fantasies) or pagan temple worship (where one would have sex with a temple prostitute to glorify the gods) or military anal rape (a practice used to humiliate enemies after a battle). Sorry for the graphic definitions, but these need to be spelled out for obvious reasons: they are nothing like the kind of consensual, same-sex love that Jason Collins is endorsing.

3. Broussard adds insult to injury with his after-the-fact tweet:

Today on OTL, as part of a larger, wide-ranging discussion on today's news, I offered my personal opinion as it relates to Christianity, a point of view that I have expressed publicly before. I realize that some people disagree with my opinion and I accept and respect that. As has been the case in the past, my beliefs have not and will not impact my ability to report on the NBA. I believe Jason Collins displayed bravery with his announcement today and I have no objection to him or anyone else playing in the NBA.

Seriously, how can an act be described (by the same person) as both "walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ" and "bravery" at the same time. That's impossible. I am actually empathetic with my Evangelical brothers and sisters who boldly declare that "homosexuality is a sin" and that they truly love their friends and family members who are gay or lesbian. Love the sinner, hate the sin, right? I understand where Evangelicals are coming from when they live in this tension and I do not think that they are being "hypocritical" (even though I disagree with their conviction). But one cannot have this stance and still claim that the "sin" is an act of bravery. Can they?

Ultimately, I believe, Broussard is caught up in a conviction that is slowly unraveling before his very eyes. Evangelicals like Broussard, are experiencing some major cognitive dissonance in this debate. They are meeting more and more people who are coming out as gay/lesbian and these friends and family members desperately want to lead legitimate lives filled with faith and family. They want dignity and respect. Just like straight folks. But God's-Inerrant-and-Self-Evident-Word seems so clear, doesn't it? The Bible, like all sacred documents (the Koran, the Constitution), begs to be read both carefully and critically. When it hasn't been, the oppressed of society ("the very least of these" that Jesus spent all of his time advocating for: women, the poor, gays and lesbians, ethnic minorities, slaves, the disabled) almost always lose.


  1. Thank you Tommy for writing from a place of dignity, respect, love and grace.

    PS: It's time for a new image from the official artist. Take a look at The pics are locked from copying but if you see one you like let me know and I'll send you the pic.

  2. Definition of "Christian"; one who believes in Jesus Christ. Nowhere is it required or expected that a human being (innately flawed) will live a perfect life. A homosexual living his/her truth, is living more in accordance with God, than were he to deny the Wisdom of his/her Maker. God doesn't make mistakes.

  3. Good for him. I hope he leads a more peaceful life, one where he is not as stressed - Very cool story.