The Gay Basketball Star and an Emerging Cultural Narrative

If you’re a sports fan, did you see the news about former Villanova Wildcats basketball player Will Sheridan coming out of the closet?  And the stories about Phoenix Suns President and CEO Rick Welts revealing the same?  Whether you like basketball or not, you should care about these stories as a Christian.  The way each narrative has unfolded in the press shows the direction our culture is traveling on the issue of homosexuality.

Christians need to be very aware of the way the mainstream media is treating these kind of stories.  For the broader culture, homosexuality is the new civil rights cause–and just like the civil rights cause, homosexuality is entering the cultural mainstream at least in part through sports.  Reporters are treating gay athletes like heroes, praising their “courage” and “authenticity.”  Read the stories I’ve linked to above, and do a Google search on each topic to find more coverage if you like.  You will find this narrative in spades.  The (religious) parents of Sheridan and other athletes making headlines (like the mother of “Kye Allums,” the first transgender woman’s basketball player) have had a terrible time accepting the newfound orientation of their children.  The writers interviewing these parents treat them with empathy–but take great pains to show how they have accepted this shift and continue to grant “unconditional love” to their children.  The rightness of homosexuality is a given, while opposition to it is a clear transgression.

Here’s a snippet from the ESPN story on Sheridan that backs up this claim:

Josie Sheridan always preached unconditional love, and she meant it.

And when the test came — when her son, whom she calls her best friend, sat her down — loving him wasn’t hard. But accepting the news was.

“Devastated. I was devastated,” she said. “I mean, I was disappointed. Not in him, but in things that were taken away — not having a daughter-in-law, grandchildren, things like that.”

But after the initial shock wore away, Josie looked at her son and saw something that had been missing — happiness. He was always a good child (“too good to be true,” his high school coach once told her), but a tickle in the back of her mind, a mother’s instinct, told her he should have been happier….”Once I saw him, so happy and content, that’s all I needed,” Josie said. “I never loved him any less. In fact, I think I love him more. I’ve always been so proud of him, but he has such courage. This takes courage.”

Christians need to sort through this narrative carefully.  We are those who tout the cosmos-shaking love of a magnificent God, after all.  We have a stake in love.  But our understanding of God’s grace–the channel of His love–differs markedly from that of our culture.  God fully accepts all who are His children, and he never lets them go (John 10:27).  Yet this does not mean that God approves of sin.  Those who choose an evil path will not meet with God’s love, but his justice.  We will taste his wrath.   The only way to escape this wrath is through a complete heart change, full repentance, a renunciation of all our sin.  Only when we have repented of sin and turned completely from it may we experience God’s salvific love.

So the love of God is not a contentless love, an actionless love.  It is the polar opposite of love as culture defines it.  Cultural love requires no change.  In fact, man-centered love requires that no change be required.  Biblical love calls for the reverse.  Wherever love is, change is.  That is, when God loves a person, he profoundly changes them, whether they are gay (contra Romans 1), vainglorious (contra James 3), an adulterer (contra Proverbs 2), or caught in any number of other sins.  He does not accept their prior orientation; in order to meet his holy standards, he requires a new orientation.  He actually makes the sinner “a new creation” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).  True love, God’s love, is transformative, not static; active, not passive.  This is because in the Christian concept of salvation, love and holiness work together.  God’s love shed abroad in our hearts does not compromise God’s holiness.  Love enables us to meet God’s holy standards, to stand pure before him.

Tragically, our culture believes the opposite.  Many people, of course, believe in only the vaguest, weakest sort of God to begin with.  In their understanding, God enfranchises and approves of their authentic selves.  The person they believe they need to be–this is the person God wants them to be.  He (or she, in cultural understanding) acts as the Great Actualizer, the One who Makes All Dreams Come True.  This excellent article about celebrities and spirituality in the Wall Street Journal makes this quite clear.  God is like the supportive friend in a rom-com: always there, always rooting you on, never confronting you or making you feel bad, perpetually guiding you ever so gingerly to your best self.  It is this deity, not the Lord of heaven and earth, who stands behind us today, urging us onward.

All these things are in play in the cultural homosexual narrative.  There is not to be any pushback for those who come out of the closet or wish to change their gender.  Like God himself, we are to accept in full the natural orientation of those around us.  Those of the broader culture who disagree with this idea generally have very little moral foundation from which to respond to this narrative.  Robby George and the Catholic natural law school have mounted their arguments, and bravely so; evangelicals are declaring their biblical convictions on the matter, calling the culture to biblical truth.  These and other efforts are salutary, but outside the gracious intervention of God, we should not expect some sort of radical embrace of them by the gatekeepers of western thought.  Such is surely possible, but this is a strong narrative.  To those who have no biblical understanding of morality, it is the new civil rights cause.  Those who stand against homosexuality today will increasingly be equated with those who accomplished the hateful subordination of African-Americans in this country.

None of this means that we should run to the hills.  We should stay right where we are.  We should contend for truth.  We should befriend and show the most genuine kind of love to all kinds of people who are sinners just like we are and lost just like we were.  We should not shrink back, but should declare a far more magnificent brand of love than the culture knows, a strong love, a transformative love, a judgment-killing love.  Lost and hopeless, the culture will offer its narrative of acceptance.  We, in turn, will offer a greater narrative of salvation.  In prayer, we will never stop asking the Lord to do great work in our day to turn the hearts of the people to him (1 Kings 18:36-37).

(Photo: Josh Maready for ESPN)

  • Carl

    Thank you for holding to the truth that God is far above our humanistic character traits of what people think he “should be” or “could never be” like.

  • losgriego

    “The only way to escape this wrath is through a complete heart change, full repentance, a renunciation of all our sin. Only when we have repented of sin and turned completely from it may we experience God’s salvific love.”

    Good article overall, but to have the above sentence being about how to escape wrath and no mention of Jesus or the Cross, is a bit concerning. Especially if someone stumbles over this article through a google search, it comes across as a works-righteous statement.

  • Adam Winters

    A solid take on arguably the most pressing challenge to American Christianity, Owen.

  • davepatchin

    Owen, very true that biblical love and morality is in an ongoing collision with the broader cultural mores. And standing for God’s truth and love is critical. My encouragement to all is to ask, is homosexuality (ie. attraction to the same gender) the issue? I suggest we reframe the debate away from homosexuality v. heterosexuality back to how everyone uses their God-given sexuality (1 Cor. 6:9-18). Only when we focus on God’s standards for all, regardless of the label, will we be able to point towards God’s, and our loving response to Him. (John 14:21).

  • viktor palenyy

    i really appreciate the article i’m encouraged to see people hold up the TRUTH in a loving manner.

    and, i would greatly appreciate if you could expand on the term: judgement-killing love. thank you

    • owenstrachan


      Thanks for your kind word. The cross of Christ overcomes the sentence of condemnation we deserve as sinners. My language is expressive, but it’s getting across this reality. The wrath of God is assuaged entirely by Christ’s cross-work, which is driven by his desire to glorify the Father and show love to his sheep.

      Hope that helps.

  • taylor

    There is no reason Christians should be more aware of headlines concerning homosexuality than any other issue today. The whole nature of the Gospel is that it is counter cultural and allows Christians to discuss issues that culture deems the most important with a soberness that does not submit to the media’s exaggeration nor mitigates the complexity of the issue. If the Gospel shows us that Jesus, His life and ministry, are the only necessities when talking about the culture that surrounds us. We can contextualize the Gospel so that it makes more sense in any given situation, but we don’t need to be well versed in gay basketball players to do that. Christians neither have to ignore homosexuality nor take special measures to study it because when it comes down to it, it is Jesus whom is being presented.

    • theoldadam

      Great comments.

      It’s ALL about Christ Jesus.

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  • tim

    ” Reporters are treating gay athletes like heroes, praising their “courage” and “authenticity.” ”

    Not just athletes – pretty interesting support video from Google

  • owenstrachan

    Hi all, good thoughts. A robust Christian worldview takes note of all kinds of cultural developments and theological challenges to the faith, including homosexuality. Nowhere have I said that homosexuality is the core issue we face, nor that we need to give undue attention to it.

    It’s not wrong, though, to speak directly to an issue when scriptural teaching is directly challenged. It’s quite right to set things in a larger framework; I tried to do just that in talking about our Christian metanarrative. But we don’t make the mistake of talking exclusively about the gospel or exclusively about the culture. A thick blend is ideal, in my opinion, for us to emulate the men of Issachar of 1 Chronicles 12:32 and “know the times” even as we, like Timothy, “guard the good deposit” (2 Timothy 1:13).

    Don’t make the mistake, though, of thinking that we shouldn’t speak directly to the sin of homosexuality. We should and must, just as we should decry adultery, lying, selfish ambition, and so on. Just because some Christians have over-emphasized preaching about homosexuality doesn’t mean that we don’t speak directly to it. We certainly do.

    • davepatchin

      Owen, not to be nit-picky, but could you be explicit about what you mean in regard to the “sin of homosexuality?” I fear too often if we are not precise in our wording, the culture sees us condemning people simply for being tempted.

      • owenstrachan

        Dave, appreciate the question. My phrase relates to a homosexual life. We don’t want to miss that Romans 1 indicates that the existence of homosexuality is an effect of the fall. This is not to say that living chastely as a saved gay person is to live in sin. But it is to note that this is a condition that comes in a fallen world. It’s kind of like decrying “the sin of adultery.” We’re not thinking merely of the discrete act of fornication, but of a life that tragically involves any number of manifestations of the same and that is, fundamentally, not glorifying to the Lord.