It seems that the blogosphere has been abuzz all week with the news of gay NBA player Jason Collins’ coming out story in Sport Illustrated this Monday. The news has largely been met with positive statements from public figures, from the NBA Commissioner, fellow NBA players, and even former and current Presidents. Those on the right have largely kept quiet, or at least, feigned modesty over the whole ordeal. Rush Limbaugh, who is known for having a not-too enlightened view of the gay lifestyle in the past, spent much of his April 30th program underplaying Collins’ announcement, stating, “why can’t everybody just put your sexual preferences on Facebook and call it a day?” Many have even held up noted evangelical Quarterback Tim Tebow as a sort of conservative bookend, stating Tebow’s public profession of faith was largely ignored by media outlets, while Collins’ coming out garnered praise. In the face of a losing battle in the culture wars which led to a shellacking by Democrats in the 2012 election, many conservatives chose to be silent on the matter.
Of course, there’s one in every crowd.
I’m not talking about regular spew of hate that comes from the cesspool of “Bible-believing Fundamentalists” like the American Family Association and the Family Research Council, who have spent their existence propping up the false claims that homosexuality and pedophilia are one and the same. No, the unlikely social commentator is a Mr. Chris Broussard, senior writer for ESPN the Magazine. In a segment for the 24-hour sports news channel’s program called “Outside the Lines,” Broussard questioned the Christian faith of Collins, stating that someone who’s “openly living in unrepentant sin” like homosexuality is “walking in rebellion of God and Jesus Christ.” His comments have released a firestorm against him, calling for Broussard to apologize or even be suspended. While both Broussard and ESPN have released statements regarding the maelstrom of bad press, an official apology has not been issued to Collins. Furthermore, those on the right have come out in support of Broussard’s bigoted broadside, from the National Organization for Marriage to Pat Robertson of the Christian Broadcasting Network.
In light of all this, I believe that Mr. Broussard has a right to believe, however bigoted, the things he expressed on this program. It does not come without consequence that expressing this on the public airwaves will ruffle the feathers of many viewers and advertisers, and might even negatively affect his employment in the future, but if this is what he believes, or what he has been taught by his faith or his Pastor, so be it.
I will argue however, that despite what Mr. Broussard’s diatribe might suggest, there have always been and will always be gay Christians.
First, to treat Christianity as a monolith of a religion is ridiculous. Doing so is trying to pigeonhole the beliefs of countless Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Baptist, Pentecostal, Catholic, Moravian, Armenian, Coptic, and Orthodox believers. And, like so many other issues, thoughts on homosexuality are on a continuum. Most notably, the Episcopal Church in the United States elected its first openly gay bishop in 2003, Gene Robinson. He has long been an activist for gay rights, recently writing a book supporting same-sex marriage (he himself was joined in a Civil Union to his long-time partner in 2008). And while the Southern Baptist Convention continues to define marriage as “one man, one woman—for life,” the Alliance of Baptists proudly “supports the rights of all citizens to full marriage equality.” And then there are those who occupy a weird middle ground such as the United Methodist Church and, surprisingly, the Catholic Church, which acknowledge different sexual orientations, but if you happen to be the wrong orientation, you should never, ever act on it (which is sort of like acknowledging there are people born left-handed, but that they should never write).
Secondly, there are the oft-quoted and beaten passages of biblical “evidence” against homosexual lifestyles. The most famous, Leviticus 18:22, is where we get the “abomination” rhetoric so popular with right-wing fundamentalists, as well as an open call to execute men who “lie with a man as with a woman” (something nations such as Uganda have actually enacted!). That being said, it’s also worth noting that in the same book, things such as eating shellfish, wearing cloth of two different threads, and executing women who didn’t yell loud enough to be heard while being raped (kind of makes Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comments sensible in comparison). I could attempt to do them all, but you’ve probably heard them all by now, so here’s a nice recap done by President Jed Bartlet from The West Wing (click here).
Evidence in the New Testament is even sketchier. Jesus never says anything about the innate sinfulness of homosexuality, and in fact, is fairly forgiving of those who do commit sexual taboos (including a woman who “had five husbands,”) The epistles, written by followers of Jesus after his life, do contain some rather damning lines against the “effeminate,” and particularly condemn men who “abandoned their natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another” (Romans 1:27). The problem with these passages is that we don’t read the original Greek it was written in. “Effeminate” means “weak,” or “soft,” and referred to spiritual weakness, and Romans 1:27 is actually about pederasty, the bizarre yet commonplace practice in Ancient Greece were men tutored boys and in return for sexual favors (somewhere, Jerry Sandusky is wishing he had a time machine).
But to get to the point of the matter: there are gay Christians. They sit in pews and listen to pastors denounce their innate feelings. They sing in the choir, dance on the liturgical dance team, and might even be wearing a collar or habit. They are the teenagers and young adults who struggle to balance their feelings against those messages they hear in the pulpit or the fellowship hall on Sunday. They are the ones who attend the Bible studies, pastoral counseling, and “pray-the-gay-away” seminars yearning to overcome their urges. Some of them come out and are turned away from their places of worship; some are disowned by religiously strict fathers and mothers; some even take their own lives out of frustration, depression, or ostracization.
They may not fit your particular interpretation, but they do still believe in God and a Church that has turned their back on them. And, despite what you may believe, Mr. Broussard, as one normative, straight man to another, they deserve our love, our acceptance, and our support. Remember that in the Gospels, Jesus of Nazareth says that the Greatest Commandment of all was to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Seems to me many so-called “Christians” should study the Greatest Commandment rather than parsing Leviticus and Deuteronomy for bigotry and hate.