This week, Jason Collins came out as a black, gay, professional basketball player in Sports Illustrated. His bold and courageous move was met with encouragement and support from a wide cross-section of America. Many notable figures, including Magic Johnson, Father James Martin, Kobe Bryant, Nancy Pelosi, Rev. Al Sharpton, and both the Clinton and Obama families offered words of support and encouragement.
This outpouring of support was not shared, however, by Chris Broussard, a commentator on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” who was asked for his personal opinion about Collins’ coming out. Broussard stated that he was a Christian, and as such, he was compelled to say that being gay was “open rebellion” against God. When asked about the fact that Jason Collins was also a Christian, Broussard stated that one cannot be gay and Christian at the same time.
As Christian leaders in America, we know that Christians hold a wide variety of viewpoints on human sexuality. It is not necessary, nor is it right, to reject lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people out of hand due to the Christian faith. To do so, misrepresents the ever widening nature of the gospel of Christ, who engaged with those on the margins, and placed in leadership people who were not powerful by worldly standards.
We are pastors and leaders who have discovered that LGBT people are often the most faithful members of our congregations and denominations. We have received blessings upon blessings when we free them to be the people God made them to be and use the gifts that God gave them. In the same way, we are thankful that Jason Collins has been able to use his God-given gifts for athletics, and now has the freedom to be faithfully and authentically himself with the world. That is a cause for rejoicing, not of condemnation.
When Broussard uttered his words of condemnation, LGBT-supportive people of faith sprang into action. Faithful America has already gathered over 24,000 signatures, asking that the Bible not be used to bash gay athletes on EPSN. GLAAD is helping faith leaders like us formulate a challenge to the false claim that Christians must uniformly reject LGBT people and LGBT athletes. And thousands of people of faith are offering a prayer for thanksgiving for Jason Collins and the role model he is for thousands of LGBT athletic young people, including people of color.
As Christian leaders, we also encourage the media to report the reality that an increasing number of people of faith, including many Christians, are embracing and supporting their LGBT friends and family. They do so, not despite their faith, but because of it. As GLAAD demonstrated in last year’s ‘Missing Voices’ report, too often, stories like that of Jason Collins becomes one of “gay v. Christian,” when the reality is that Collins is a man of strong Christian faith, as are many who support him.
We pray that God will open the eyes of Chris Broussard and help him mature in his faith. May Broussard see that Christianity is not a faith that is closed off to those who are different from him, but one that continually expands, reaching out to the neighbor and the stranger, sharing the good news. We encourage Broussard to listen with humility to LGBT Christians, their lives and stories. It is through listening that we learn.
We are among those who give thanks for the life and witness of Jason Collins. May he always know that God has created him and loves him just as he is. May he exemplify the courage and grace that he has displayed in the last two days. And may God use him to send that message of love and inclusion to others, telling everyone of the ever widening love of God.
Rev. Gil Caldwell, TruthinProgress.com, National Board of PFLAG, Asbury Park, NJ
Bishop Yvette Flunder, Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, San Francisco, CA
Rev. Darlene Garner, Metropolitan Community Church, Prince George’s County, MD
The Very Rev. Gary Hall, Dean, Washington National Cathedral, Washington, DC
Rev. Cedric Harmon, Many Voices, Washington, DC
Rev. Candy Holmes, Metropolitan Community Church, Prince George’s County, MD
The Reverend Luis Leon, St. John’s Church – Lafayette Square, Washington, DC
The Reverend Dr. Jacqueline J. Lewis, Middle Collegiate Church, New York, NY
The Rev. Dr. Pamela R. Lightsey, Boston University, Boston, MA
Rev. Irene Monroe, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Gene Robinson, IX Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire
Pastor Joseph Tolton, Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, New York, NY