NBA player Jason Collins made headlines this week with his announcement that he is gay. Collins is the first player in the four major American sports leagues to do so. During an ensuing discussion of Collins on ESPN’s Outside the Lines, analyst Chris Broussard stated that as a Christian, he believes that practicing a homosexual lifestyle is a sin. LZ Granderson, a fellow ESPN contributor who self-identifies as Christian and gay, responded on the program, resulting in a discussion that may serve as a model for Christians who continue to wrestle with this topic.
Their example is especially noteworthy given the fallout of their conversation. As one would expect, there has been a firestorm of social media both decrying and defending Broussard. I’m concerned with the tendency of some who label the criticism of Broussard as persecution. The 24-hour news cycle, the blogosphere and social media produce a glut of words, many of which are not well chosen. If we are going to use the term “persecution” to describe what happens when Christians are tried unjustly, tortured and even killed because of their faith, then we should not use the same term to describe what happens when Christians are criticized on social media or even lose their job because of an unpopular stance (as of now Broussard has not been fired). As Alan Noble of Christ and Pop Culture points out, Christians should read stories from The Voice of the Martyrs before we presume to use the word “persecution” to describe what Christians in North America are facing.
Christians also need to avoid claims of being “victimized” by the media, political correctness, etc. For starters, the language of victim implies passivity. Something happens to victims that they neither intend nor expect. Here’s where the New Testament language can teach us something. Jesus is not a victim. He lives in such a way that he expects conflict and confrontation with the powers that be, religious and political. His rejection by the world is not something that just happens to Him, as though He neither intended nor expected it. He did. He doesn’t simply say, “Bear your cross,” but “Take up your cross.” That is language of active engagement, not passivity. Christians are not called to be victims, but witnesses. As witnesses to the new world brought about by Jesus, we expect opposition from the old order that is passing away. Witnesses to Jesus are never victims but victors, even when they experience what the world would call defeat.
Regrettably, the response to Broussard seems to emphasize that it is impossible to engage in nuanced public discourse on this topic. The Outside the Lines segment was intriguing – especially at the 7:30 mark in the clip below - as Broussard and Granderson clearly disagree on this issue, but both men modeled critical thinking, respectful dialogue and open honesty. Based on their interaction with one another, I can only wish that more Americans in general and Christians in particular were willing to put the time, effort and discomfort into this conversation as Broussard and Granderson. From their remarks, it sounded like they had spent a decent amount of time actually talking with one another on a personal basis about this topic.
Of course if we did that, then we couldn’t reduce our view on hot topics – be it homosexuality, gun control or immigration - to an angry tweet or an anonymous Internet posting. We should see both Broussard and Granderson as role models here because of their willingness to hold their beliefs with conviction and engage in open but difficult conversations with one another. After all, how we have conversations with one another says as much about our faith as what we conclude at the end of those conversations. Led by the Spirit, Christians can and should be willing to have conversations that truly move “outside the lines,” not for the sake of entertainment but for the sake of faithfulness.