As most people know by now, Jason Collins came out this week as the first active gay athlete in the NBA. In fact, if I understand correctly, he is the first active openly gay athlete in any of the major sports leagues. His announcement was met with an amazing amount of support–even from the President himself!
Of course not everyone was happy with Collins’ revelation–especially many conservative Christians. That’s OK; we’re all entitled to hold and respectfully express our viewpoints. At the same time, some of the commentary from “Christians” has been anything but respectful; in fact, some of the commentary has been quite hate-filled. And to be fair, not all of the commentary from “progressives” has been civil, either.
Something I don’t understand, however, is how some Christians have taken Collins’ announcement and turned it into a big pity party with Christian persecution as the primary theme. One post that landed on my Facebook page stated it was OK to profess being gay in the military, but professing your Christianity could get you discharged. And while I am still dubious of the validity of this post, I checked out the link for this claim, and the word used is “proselytize,” not profess. In other words, no religious conversion therapy allowed. Another post read: “Tim Tebow gets bashed for professing Christianity. Jason Collins gets praised for professing homosexuality.” Then there was a scripture reference from Isaiah about the dangers of calling evil good.
Chicago Tribune political cartoonist Scott Stantis added his two cents, as well. This week he published a cartoon that in the first frame depicted Tim Tebow telling the media he’s a Christian, and the media tells him to keep it to himself. The second frame is a depiction of Jason Collins telling the media he’s gay, and the media calls him a hero. You can see the cartoon and accompanying commentary at: http://newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/taking-a-stantis/2013/04/collinstebow-and-the-media.html.
Stantis states: ” This cartoon is a comment not so much on either Tebow or Collins but, rather, on the media and the culture we live with today. The fact that we seem to care more about what a high-profile athlete does with his privates versus what they believe. Faith often informs a person how to treat themselves and others around them. In Tebow’s case his profession of faith was often met with derision.”
First, there is absolutely no comparison in the stories of these two athletes. Tim Tebow is a white, heterosexual evangelical Christian male–not exactly an oppressed minority in the United States. He is not the first professional athlete to profess his Christianity. He is, however, probably the first to apply for a trademark for his prayer pose (otherwise known as “Tebowing”). And let’s not forget the nickname some folks gave him when he played for the Denver Broncos: “The Mile High Messiah.” He received a hero’s welcome when he moved to the New York Jets, too. Although if you want to carry the Messiah imagery forward, Denver was like a Palm Sunday party and New York resembled Good Friday. And so far, no resurrection. Tebow’s brand of Christianity received far more positive media exposure than it was ever bashed. And I’m fairly certain there aren’t many young men struggling with the decision of whether or not to be “openly Christian” for fear of not being able to play the sport of their choice.
Jason Collins, on the other hand, is a member of two historically oppressed minorities. He is the first active professional athlete to come out as gay. And we all know there are young LGBT people out there who struggle with the decision of whether or not to come out–and not being able to play the sports of their choice is often the least of their concerns. So, yeah, to me Jason Collins is a hero.
The only thing I can see these two men have in common is they are both Christians. Unless, of course, you agree with ESPN analyst Chris Broussard’s definition of Christian–a definition that excludes Collins and a host of other folks, including me. Actually, I consider that kind of exclusion a compliment.
Adding to the whole Christian persecution complex was National Organization for Marriage president Jennifer Roback-Morse, who told Lutheran Public Radio on Tuesday that it takes no courage to come out as gay. Something tells me she hasn’t read the homeless statistics for LGBT youth who are thrown out of their homes once they come out. Roback-Morse went on to say she believes it took more courage for Chris Broussard to say he’s a Christian and that he believes “sex belongs in marriage and it belongs in man-woman marriage.”
Yeah, it sure takes a lot of courage to profess you’re part of the religious majority, doesn’t it?
Here’s a thought. Maybe it isn’t as much the profession of faith as it is how that faith is shared that turns people off. Just because some people object to what largely amounts to Christian proselytizing–again, not profession of Christian faith–doesn’t mean Christians are being persecuted in the United States. Not praying in schools or before athletic events doesn’t mean anyone’s religious freedoms are being violated, either. And I don’t really care what words are on our currency. Given the war, poverty and various forms of oppression and abuse in the world, do you really think God cares whether or not the word “God” is on our currency?
As I’ve seen it expressed in other places, freedom of religion doesn’t mean just your religion. Or mine.
So let’s all take a step back and relax. No one is trying to steal anyone’s religious freedom. Then let’s get out there and feed some hungry people, clothe folks who need it, house people who need it, and profess our faiths in ways that make a real difference in the world.
Blessings on your journeys!