Responding to Jason Collins' coming out: Conviction vs. fear and loathing

by Barnabas Piper
Posted on Friday, May 3, 2013, at 10:27 am

Jason Collins, though not a star, carries great social cachet as an NBA player. Earlier this week he became the first active player to openly come out as gay. Doing so was a brave act. Collins took a risk by declaring his homosexuality in a league full of jocks and overflowing with bravado. He might have been ostracized or even out of a job. In the days since, though, the overwhelming response from players, fans, and the media to Collins’ announcement has been supportive.

But not all responses have been positive. Chris Broussard, an ESPN reporter and analyst, had this to say on the popular Outside the Lines program:

“If you’re openly living that type of lifestyle, then the Bible says, ‘You know them by their fruits.’ It says that, you know, that’s a sin. And 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.”

Marvin Olasky wrote about Broussard’s courage to speak this way, and Broussard is to be commended for the unabashed, thoughtful grace and truth with which he spoke. His emphasis on living the homosexual lifestyle rather than referring to merely “being gay” is especially important, as is his equalizing sins of all sorts. By being so decisive and clear, Broussard took a risk of his own.

Other Christians have responded in a different manner. One spokesperson for a prominent conservative Christian organization postulated that Collins would be a problem in the locker room and NBA owners should not sign him in the future. He suggested other players would say, “I do not want some guy, some teammate in the shower eyeballin’ me. … And my wife wouldn’t want that either!”

While many heterosexual males may have such concerns, this style of rhetoric is unhelpful and hurtful. But rather than join in the stone-throwing game myself, it is more beneficial to consider what the right response should be and what we can learn from these two examples.

Broussard’s statement came from conviction, not fear. He spoke truth in a careful manner and, while many have labeled him a bigot and a homophobe, he made no insulting or hurtful statements toward Collins. It was an expression of belief that left the door open for conversation, reengagement, and even relationship.

The other kind of response comes from a place of fear and smacks of loathing. Rather than engaging convictions it attacks the man, leaving no room for relationship or further conversation. Such responses cut off any chance at influence and leave a divided us vs. them situation.

As Christians, our call is to represent Jesus. And we know Jesus was a man of deepest, perfect conviction, but he was not a man of fear. He sat side by side with those a religious society viewed as loathsome and—without condoning a single sin—loved them. Jesus advanced nothing but the agenda of salvation, His Kingdom. This is our example and command—not fear or loathing.

Barnabas Piper

Barnabas works for Lifeway Christian Resources and is the author of The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity and Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt Is Not the Enemy of Faith. He and his wife live in the Nashville area with their two daughters. Follow Barnabas on Twitter @BarnabasPiper.

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