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‘Being Christian is love’: Drew Brees defends appearing in video linked to anti-LGBT rights religious group

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees talks to the media after a joint NFL practice with the Los Angeles Chargers in Costa Mesa, Calif., on Aug. 15. (Kyusung Gong/AP)

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees defended himself Thursday amid backlash over his recent appearance in a video publicizing an event organized by a major conservative Christian organization known for its anti-LGBT views.

Brees, who has been outspoken about his faith, pushed back against accusations that he knowingly aligned himself with Focus on the Family when he shot a video for “Bring Your Bible to School Day.” Focus on the Family was founded in 1977 and is described by the Human Rights Campaign as “one of the most well funded anti-LGBTQ organizations in America.” The group has sparked outcry over its apparent support of “conversion therapy,” the discredited practice of trying to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

In a video posted to social media on Thursday, Brees explained that he intended only to encourage students to bring their Bibles to school and “be able to live out your faith with confidence.”

“It was as simple as that, so I’m not sure why the negativity spread or why people tried to rope me into certain negativity,” the 40-year-old said. “I do not support any groups that discriminate or that have their own agendas that are trying to promote inequality. … That’s not what I stand for.”

The roughly 20-second promotional clip was released late last month and does not include any mention of Focus on the Family, but it directs viewers to a website published by the group. The video was also shared on the organization’s Facebook page.

When pressed by a reporter Thursday about his decision to support Bring Your Bible to School Day, Brees said he was not aware of the event’s connection to anti-LGBT messaging.

“It was not promoting any group, certainly not promoting any group that is associated with that type of behavior,” he said of the video during a post-practice media availability. “I know that there are, unfortunately, Christian organizations out there that are involved in that kind of thing, and to me that is totally against what being Christian is all about. Being Christian is love. It’s forgiveness, it’s respecting all, it’s accepting all.”

In a statement emailed Friday to The Washington Post, Focus on the Family President Jim Daly denounced the blowback against Brees and praised the athlete’s “ongoing support” for Bring Your Bible to School Day.

“It’s unfortunate that mean-spirited antagonists have attempted to draw attention away from this event by mischaracterizing the beliefs and positions of our organization,” Daly said. He later added, “We must treat everyone with love and respect. In 21st century post-Christian America, the best and only way forward is to not poke ideological opponents in the eye but find ways to acknowledge and respect our differences.”

Brees’s troubles appeared to begin Wednesday when Big Easy Magazine, a progressive publication in New Orleans, published a story titled, “Drew Brees Records Video for Anti-LGBT Religious Organization.” The article not only reported on the promotional video but also found evidence that Brees has interacted with Focus on the Family dating back to 2010.

The NFL star was swiftly called out by critics. Many struggled to understand how the vocal anti-bullying advocate, whom TV host and gay rights activist Ellen DeGeneres has repeatedly fawned over, could link himself to a group that some consider to be “one of the worst LGBTQIA+ bullies in the country.” Focus on the Family previously partnered with former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow in 2010 for an antiabortion ad that aired during the Super Bowl.

Focus on the Family makes its views on LGBT issues clear in numerous posts on its website. In one article, the group wrote that “same-sex ‘marriage’ ” has no place “within the context of a Christian worldview,” adding, “According to the Bible, marriage is heterosexual by definition.”

For many years, the organization also ran the “Love Won Out” ministry, which put on conferences and workshops nationwide with the goal of helping churches “respond in a Christ-like way to the issue of homosexuality,” according to an archived website. Anyone who struggled with “unwanted same-sex attractions” was offered “Gospel hope” that their desires could be “overcome,” the website said.

On Thursday, Brees blamed the backlash to his video on Big Easy Magazine’s “very negative headline,” which he argued “led people to believe that somehow I was aligned with an organization that was anti-LGBTQ.” In an attempt to “set the record straight,” the athlete emphasized that he lives by “two very simple Christian fundamentals”: “Love the Lord with all your heart, mind and soul, and love your neighbors yourself.” The second principle, he said, means to “love all, respect all and accept all.”

Brees continued to complain about the headline during the media availability, noting, “My intent with that video was to make a positive impact in the lives of some young people.”

“What’s a shame is that people make headlines just to get hits, just to get views, and all of a sudden these rumors spread that are completely untrue,” he said. “Shame on them.”

In response to Brees, Big Easy Magazine tweeted, “We were very very hurt by your actions.”

“It’s disappointing that you would spin this in a way to suggest our publication is publishing clickbait,” the news outlet wrote in another tweet.

By Thursday night, social media was alight with reactions to Brees’s comments.

In addition to fans who assured Brees that they stood by him, former NFL running back Reggie Bush and Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) came out in defense of the quarterback.

“Anybody who doubts @drewbrees character or believes bogus headlines about this man does not know him period!” tweeted Bush, who played with Brees in New Orleans from 2006 to 2010. “He is a great father, husband, leader, and most of all true man of god!”

Meanwhile, Banks blasted “the Left,” accusing critics of turning “an encouragement to share God’s love into hate-mongering.”

Others, however, were less sympathetic and ripped Brees for his argument that the media was at fault.

“I’m disappointed in @drewbrees for not doing a better job of researching a group with which he aligned himself,” one person tweeted. “I’m doubly disappointed that he chose to blame the messenger rather than owning up to his own failure.”

Another person suggested that Brees owed Big Easy Magazine “a public apology.”

“He smeared their story as clickbait, and then, he pleaded guilty to being ignorant about” Focus on the Family, the user tweeted. “Own your mistakes.”

Clarification: This story’s headline has been updated to more accurately represent Focus on the Family’s views on LGBT rights.