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)

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