Jason Collins is Gay, but is Chris Broussard a Bigot?

Yesterday Jason Collins became the first male athlete in one of the four major male sports to come out as gay. But headlines praising this move were overshadowed by news that ESPN NBA analyst Chris Broussard believes that practicing the homosexual lifestyle is a sin.

During a segment on ESPN’s Outside The Line about Collins’ announcement, Broussard stated that as a Christian, he believes that homosexuality is a sin:

I’m a Christian. I don’t agree with homosexuality. I think it’s a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is. [ESPN's] L.Z. [Granderson] knows that. He and I have played on basketball teams together for several years. We’ve gone out, had lunch together, we’ve had good conversations, good laughs together. He knows where I stand and I know where he stands. I don’t criticize him, he doesn’t criticize me, and call me a bigot, call me ignorant, call me intolerant.

The response to Broussard’s statements mocked him and his faith, and many implied that viewers should complain to ESPN about the analyst so that he would be fired.

Most of these responses quoted Broussard’s comments only and included an edited YouTube clip of the show so that we have no context. Based on these critiques, we are led to believe that Broussard randomly decided that ESPN viewers needed to know his stance on the morality of sex.

The charges against the analyst have been threefold: 1. That he held a morally repugnant position on homosexuality. 2. That he felt that the world needed to know that position. And 3. That he chose this time to announce this position, thus distracting from the real news story.

However, that’s not what happened, as you can watch here.

In fact, the entire 13 minute segment was devoted to the league’s reaction to Collins’ coming out. The topic was never the fact that Collins’ came out, but how the league would handle it. During this conversation, another one of the guests, LZ Granderson, states that it is important that we be able to have hard, uncomfortable, but civil conversations about homosexuality. And he notes that he and Broussard have had many such conversations, since they have opposite stances on homosexuality.

It was only after LZ had identified Broussard as someone opposed to the homosexual lifestyle that the analyst began to explain his belief. In other words, Broussard did not reveal his personal position on the issue, LZ did, and he clarified it.

But what’s more important here is that LZ and Broussard share their beliefs in the context of making the claim that what we need as a nation and a league is the ability to have these hard talks without resorting to hate or name calling. Both men understood that if we can’t have a civil discussion on homosexuality, things aren’t going to get better. If we call anyone who sees homosexuality as a sin a “bigot,” then the conversation shuts down immediately.

What both men were getting at is the way political language is used to delegitimize opinions and people. If we can label a moral belief “bigoted,” then we no longer need to pay serious attention to it. While Christians often point to this dynamic as the intolerance of tolerance, we ought to recognize that there are beliefs which we dismiss, too. There are beliefs which we reject out of hand and refuse to offer a space for dialogue. And rightfully so. Not all ideas are worthy of recognition and a chair at the table. So, the question becomes, is the traditional Christian stance on homosexuality one of those unworthy ideas, or does it deserve a voice in public discourse?

After Broussard explains how he and LZ are examples of how people can disagree about fundamental issues and still respect and tolerate one another, LZ makes the point that he too identifies himself as a Christian, and claims that homosexuality does not prevent someone from being a believer. The host then turns to Broussard and asks for a response: “Now Chris, he mentioned in his article, Jason, that he’s a Christian as well. So what’s your take on that?”

At this point, the ESPN host has asked Broussard to respond to the claim that Christians can be homosexuals. And Broussard answered, because he was asked.

I don’t necessarily agree with everything Broussard said. Specifically, I’m not comfortable making the statement that anyone who lives in sexual sin cannot be a Christian. Put bluntly, I’m not sure there would be a Church if that were the case. But that theological issue aside, I found Broussard’s words to be carefully chosen, thoughtful, and biblical. But for that medium, I suspect they were not wise.

Specifically, I think they were unwise because in that public space, his answer is likely to cause more heat than light, as it did. His words were ripe for taking out of context and removing nuance and ignoring the particular people who deal with same-sex attraction and worry about whether God loves them. There is a better model for speaking out against sexual sins, and that is the model that Broussard describes: meeting with and having honest, charitable conversations with people.

Even with my reservations about the theology behind some of Chris’ statements and the timing of his words, what seems irrefutable is that he has been grossly misrepresented by many people here. He did not bring up his beliefs, the host and his fellow guest did. And they were in the context of calling for honesty and charitable openness. LZ and Broussard were calling for an end to exactly the kind of dismissive rhetoric of power which has since been used to call for Broussard’s firing.

Let’s be realistic. Broussard–who is a terrific analyst, one of my favorites–may lose his job over this. ESPN has released a statement that does not apologize for the analyst’s beliefs, but does apologize for the way his beliefs became the focus of the conversation:

We regret that a respectful discussion of personal viewpoints became a distraction from today’s news. ESPN is fully committed to diversity and welcomes Jason Collins’ announcement. (deadspin)

I take this as a very positive sign that ESPN will stand by Broussard’s right to his moral and religious beliefs, but I worry that the public outcry for his head will ultimately prove to be too great. Which is unfortunate, because as this smart Business Insider piece points out, the producers of this segment knew exactly what they were doing by bringing Broussard on to address this story.

So, what do we do if he gets fired? Would this be persecution of Christians? I don’t think so. As I wrote about last week, Christians need to be very wary of calling things “persecution.” The victim complex is attractive, but destructive. I would encourage fellow believers to resist the urge to point to this situation as a sign that calling homosexuality a sin will soon be illegal or that Broussard is being persecuted for his faith. More than anything, if ESPN fires him it will be an example of smart business practices. LZ and Broussard believe this kind of honest conversation needs to happen, but ESPN might not want it to happen on their dime and on their network, which is their choice.

The temptation here is to frame Broussard and the US Church as the victim here, to see ourselves as being oppressed by an intolerant, hateful world. And as I’ve shown above, this is accurate–to an extent. Broussard has wrongly taken the blame for bringing attention to his beliefs. But I don’t think the way forward after events like this is to stress our suffering or “persecution.” Identifying ourselves as the victim only plays into the kind of unproductive and uncharitable rhetoric of power that we are reacting against. It invites us to focus on the injustice done to us, to the corruption and evil of them, and to the rightness of our cause.

Instead, let’s just not be surprised. Let’s just acknowledge that traditional Biblical principles are not respected and popular, and that Christ kinda told us that would be the case. Rather than make this about how intolerant and hypocritical the world is, let’s call attention to the need for grace in these conversations. Let’s agree with LZ and Broussard that we need to be able to have these conversations in an adult and loving way. Let’s channel that energy which we desire to spend lamenting our abuse on evidencing what loving, neighborly dialogue about faith and morality looks like.

Because if we spend our time weaving narratives of oppression and suffering, we will almost surely fail to present the Gospel as the gracious and power-transforming force that it is.

About Alan Noble

(Co-Founder/Editor/Columnist) is a part-time lecturer at Baylor University. He received his PhD in Contemporary American Literature from Baylor, writing on manifestations of transcendence in 20th Century American Lit. He and his family attend Redeemer Waco, a PCA church. Alan's passion is studying how believers can be a faithful presence in culture to the glory of God and the edification of others. In addition to editing, Alan writes his column, Citizenship Confusion for CaPC.

---Follow Alan on Twitter @TheAlanNoble and on Facebook.

---For questions, comments, or interest in speaking engagements please email me at noble.noneuclidean [at] gmail [dot] com.

  • George Yancey

    Good column Alan. I agree that firing Broussard would not be persecution. But it would be religious based discrimination. I agree with you that some Christians run to the P word to fast. But we should also recognize that discrimination can and does happen without having to call it persecution. I think that when we deny the reality of discrimination is part of why some Christians go overboard and label it persecution.

  • http://www.ECinc.org Dr. Ralph Blair

    I agree, too many Christians jump into a destructive victim complex of self-righteousness. Sadly, they tend to do so especially in these matters of homosexuality. If your Waco PCA congregation is, as many Southern PCA congregations are, derived from congregations that quoted the Bible and tradition to justify slavery and segregation (long before your days), take caution in so easily using a term like “traditional Biblical principles” when it comes to today’s controversies over homosexuality. Those who cited proof texts in favor of slavery had, as Christian historian Mark Noll explains, a far easier time with arguments from Scripture than did the abolitionists who had to depend on more general calls to, for example, Jesus’ Golden Rule. We must learn that lesson.

  • Alex Scheibner

    I really appreciate your post. The dictionary.com definition of Persecute is “to pursue with harassing or oppressive treatment, especially because of religion, race, or beliefs; harass persistently”. Unless the Christian interpretation of persecution is different than this definition, it seems that if this man is fired, it would qualify. He was “pursued” because, as you pointed out, he did not bring up the topic on is own. And his firing, if it comes to that, would most certainly be “oppressive treatment”. It would surely be labeled oppressive if LZ was fired for believing that Christians can support same-sex marriage. At the very least, his treatment is prejudicial.

  • Michael

    It’s funny how nothing is ever bigrotry anymore. It’s something that existed in the distant past and only to classes of people who it’s no longer societally acceptable to hate for no good reason. But of you think an entire class of people deserve eternal torture for no good reason today, as long as that class isn’t distinguishable on racial grounds–why that’s not bigotry. In fact, to even call such a discriminating individual a bigot is itself the REAL bigotry! Cause the Bible validates it in a passage the immediately follows the passage that equally condemns shellfish. I’m sure Mr. Broussard has just as strong feelings against that as he does homeosexuality, right, because it’s just religion & not merely a flimsy justification for his personal prejudices.

    And why stop at a civil conversation about gays. We should have a civil conversation over racial segregation too & whether mixed race marriages are morally permissible.

  • Erp

    Broussard has his own opinion but he seems to have mocked and belittled Jason Collin’s Christian faith first. Admittedly there is a bit of a battlefield between self-proclaimed Christians who think gays and lesbians are unrepentant sinners and self-proclaimed Christians who think merely being gay or lesbian is not a sin and feel if it is expressed in a committed relationship (or legal marriage/civil partnership in places where those are allowed) that is also not a sin.

  • Rob Petersen

    “’Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’” — Matthew 5:11-12 (ESV)

    When being reviled and being falsely accused of evil are, in Jesus’ estimation, akin to persecution (perhaps this is a triple hendiadys?), I think perhaps the author is overstating his case that this is not persecution of some sort. I would call this a form of cultural or economic persecution, bearing little difference from the same kind of persecution that took place among followers of Christ in the first century who were barred from trade guilds and thus denied the same vocational opportunities their pagan neighbors were afforded. Chris Broussard, and many other followers of Christ in the public, feel immense pressure to remain silent about their beliefs. As the author notes, it generates “more heat than light.”

    Persecution is much more than a concept we have derived from the English dictionary definition of the word. There is no pogrom, no incarcerations, no systematic execution of Christians, no. But we cannot simply shrug at such events as the attempt of many to discredit, slander, and financially harm Mr. Broussard because when asked, he expressed his beliefs as a follower of Christ.

    Mr. Noble, however, is quite right when he says Christians should not adopt a victim mentality in the face of this kind of treatment. If we are faithful to our calling, such treatment is to be expected (John 15:18-27). There’s no point in throwing ourselves a pity party. We just need to remember that hurting people hurt people, and that we have the only balm for their pain. It is up to us to continue to hold out the cure to the very ones who react so strongly against it, and to do with grace and truth.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/pgepps pgepps

    Theologically, if the extent of Broussard’s claim was that someone who lives in open and impenitent sin, not struggled against but declared as a regular practice in defiance of clear teaching about the sinful behavior, does not have the faith and hope of a Christian–well, that’s hardly controversial. That’s basic orthodoxy. Anything less is a failure to teach what Jesus and Paul taught, and what the Church has always taught. One can argue over whether the moniker “Christian” is best used for referring to the Church’s jurisdiction over all the baptized, for the social reputation of “Christian,” for the family cultural inheritance of “Christianity,” or for the individual experience of one’s actually being saved–but all of these are in opposition to impenitent, continuing, public sin in one way or another. One must choose between Christ and sin.

  • http://southerngospelyankeewordpress.com Esther

    I found this bit interesting:

    “While Christians often point to this dynamic as the intolerance of tolerance, we ought to recognize that there are beliefs which we dismiss, too. There are beliefs which we reject out of hand and refuse to offer a space for dialogue. And rightfully so. Not all ideas are worthy of recognition and a chair at the table.”

    This is pretty honest. We may disagree about various things, but that right there is something I’ve always believed. I like to cut to the chase of things. Rhetorical games become tiresome after awhile. I would like to move beyond “Well you’re being intolerant of us, how ironic, etc.,” as if tolerance is the greatest good. Yeah, it is intolerant, and yeah, it is pretty ironic. But at a certain point, one has to engage with the substance of the arguments (if there’s any substance to engage with, which sometimes there isn’t) and say, definitely, whether it’s just plain wrong.

    Absolutely, there are things we should reject out of hand, which don’t even deserve a place at the table of conversation. Amen to that. Now what, precisely, those things are… that’s where we may differ. I find it interesting that Broussard bent over backwards not to sound harsh in his comments, but you’re still trying to say it wasn’t sensitive enough. He even semi-apologized afterwards and said Collins displayed “bravery.”

    pgepps, agreed. Where, exactly, is the controversy in Broussard’s statement?


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