This is a follow up to my post from yesterday. I watched a larger clip of the conversation in which the ESPN NBA writer Chris Broussard declared himself to be a Christian. In his statement he said he could not see how someone could live in open rebellion to God’s decrees regarding sexuality and still claim to be a Christian. He cited many forms of sexual sin – adultery, fornication, and homosexuality. His point was if a person is doing any activity in one of those categories and is in that activity as a life style and seeking legitimation of that life style, then that person is living in unrepentant sin and thus cannot be a Christian. That is Broussard’s point.
I felt he articulated it well, but while I agree with much of his statement, I come up short of his final declaration. In the context in which he wrote, I will not state who is and who is not a Christian. I define a Christian as one who follows Jesus. I know people who are trying to follow Jesus as Lord in their lives and are openly gay. I personally believe that creates an unresolvable tension but I think there are many unresolvable tensions. The most American of these is living with disproportionate wealth, but that’s another topic for another day.
In the ESPN dialogue, the other conversation partner with Broussard is a LZ Granderson. He is also a sportswriter and he is openly gay. The ESPN host moderating between Granderson and Broussard brings up the issue of athletes who have trouble with the whole concept of homosexuality. Granderson takes that question as an opening for conversation about the way we in society discuss homosexuality. Up to this point, the conversation has been about how being openly gay will affect Jason Collins as a basketball player. Broussard had done what he has always done and talked about the NBA scene from a basketball perspective. But in responding to the host’s question, Granderson, appropriately, I think, takes the discussion in the direction of societal conversation (“the conversation”).
To his credit, Granderson does not lash out at the tweets of athletes who simply cannot understand the entire notion of homosexuality. He invites divergent viewpoints. He shares that he and Broussard have discussed the issue many times. They are long-time friends and have multiple times had “the uncomfortable conversation.” Granderson’s point is that the conversation needs to be had.
Broussard picks up on this and agrees that he and Granderson have had this conversation and continue in their friendship. They have been on basketball teams together. They accept each other’s different points of view. Broussard actually uses the word “tolerate,” but he uses in a context that implies he and Granderson are friends who have covered this ground thoroughly and have done so in off-camera, unfiltered settings.
The congenial dialogue however becomes a bit pointed and it makes me wonder exactly what Granderson and Broussard have said directly to one another in unguarded moments. I think the sticking point that sharpens Granderson’s tone is Broussard’s definite contrast between the homosexual lifestyle and Christianity. Incidentally, I would guess it is anachronistic to say ‘the homosexual lifestyle.' When talking about the LGBT community, we are talking about millions of people so there are many lifestyles. But in his remarks, Broussard definitely sets up two poles – gay and Christian.
Granderson takes exception to this because he self-defines as a Christian and very clearly says, "Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior." He expresses extreme frustration saying that on one hand “you,” and here there is double meaning as "you" refers to both Broussard and to enforcers of marriage laws that define marriage as man and woman, call sex outside of marriage a sin. Then on the other hand, “you” won’t let “us” (and he identifies the LGBT community) get married. Granderson’s finishing flourish is that he doesn’t need Chris Broussard or anyone else to tell him he is a Christian. This turn to more confrontational rhetoric comes when Granderson invites the conversation and the host points out that the player who has come out, Jason Collins, calls himself a Christian.
Thus we have three self-identified Christians, Granderson, Broussard, and Collins. Two, Granderson and Collins, are openly gay. The third, Broussard, says, you cannot live a gay lifestyle and be a Christian. Is he right? Or is Granderson right in calling this an “unfair” position imposed on persons who are gay and Christian? On this point, I recommend the reader check out Christopher Yuan’s book “Out of a Far Country.” I have blogged on this book and you can read my comments here http://honesttalkwithgod.blogspot.com/2012/05/christopher-yuans-out-of-far-country.html.
Yuan, himself gay, concludes there are two options. Heterosexual marriage and celibacy. He refers to these options as holy sexuality. I know LZ Granderson would be upset and cry unfair as this conclusion. So too would a lot of my gay friends and I can understand why. Many of my friends who are heterosexual would also call this ridiculously unfair. But is it?
Where I live in North Carolina, there are three fairly prominent Baptist Churches that will gladly perform same-sex weddings. Of course North Carolina as a state does not recognize same-sex unions as marriages. But I think same-sex couples can get legal paperwork that states they are in a civil union. And there are other states where they can go and get a marriage license. At one point, as the temperature rose in the Granderson-Broussard dialogue, a frustrated Granderson said, “You say I can’t get married then you call sex outside of marriage a sin. Well a brother’s gotta do what a brother’s gotta do.” Of course the implication is that sex is a necessity and it will happen no matter what.
That is a mistaken stance for a Christian. I was celibate until I turned 32 (when I got married). I was extremely frustrated in my 20’s. I wanted to say “a brother’s gotta do what a brother’s gotta do.” But I waited and many times I did not know if my wait was going to end in marriage or not. For me it did. And I can hear the retort. “But Rob, as a heterosexual, you always had the potential for marriage. You were waiting, not accepting celibacy as a lifestyle.” I grant that response. It is a reasonable response to make. My rejoinder is this. There are many heterosexual marriages where the sex part of it is either wholly unsatisfying or absent altogether. Healthy spirituality must take precedence over fulfilling sexuality for the person who wants to follow Jesus.
Granderson’s phrase “a brother’s gotta do what a brother’s gotta do,” has no bearing for a Christian. I appreciate his sense of unfairness. However, he and all Christians must submit every region of life to the Lordship of Jesus. I do know of Christians who believe this can be done while affirming monogamous, committed homosexual marriages. When I was in Arlington, VA, I was in a small group of men (we met in DC weekly) who prayed together regularly. Every member except me affirmed homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle choice if the relationship is for life and is nurturing and beautiful and full of love. Now in Chapel Hill, I have a friend who is a pastor whom I greatly respect. She makes the same argument. My DC friends and my NC friend both make their case from scripture. I think their reasoning is Biblically weak, but it is Biblical reasoning.
Granderson needs to revisit his own presentation if he wants to assert the compatibility of Christianity and homosexuality. While I do not think the two – Christian life and gay life – are necessarily opposite poles, I don’t see them as natural compliments either. To call Jesus “Lord” is to submit to him in everything. Listening to Granderson describe his faith, it sounds like it is something he desires rather than something that is true. It sounds more like Jesus is his than he is Jesus’.
I want to be kind about this. Granderson is a sports columnist, not a trained theologian. And his comments came in the fluid medium of a live conversation. My thoughts here are written at my leisure, with the benefit of editing. Granderson would doubtless be more polished in his articulation if he were writing a piece entitled “the gay Christian.” Even so, he would need to base his case on something other than his own desires or what is fair. At some point the advocate of Christianity that allows for gay marriage must make that case from the Bible. I have not seen that case made with any weight anywhere.
In conclusion, I reiterate that Christians are called to love. We must go overboard in extending grace the way Jesus did. This is true of all Christians, gay and straight. What matters most is not who one can marry or my right to assert a particular theology. For the one who calls Jesus “Lord,” what matters most is his will which we discern through ardent study of scripture, the teaching of the church, and the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Everything we do is to be done in obedience to God. For this conversation to proceed, the outcome cannot be dictated in advance, and all the participants who call themselves Christians must move ahead in submission to God and in a spirit of love.