We Begin with a Meme
Tim Tebow: I’m Christian.
Media: Keep it to yourself!
Jason Collins: I’m gay.
Media: This man’s a hero!
Maybe you’ve seen a version of this internet meme circulated by shocked and dismayed Christians. Here’s another one:
Good grief! When did we Christians get so whiny? This reminds me of the so-called “War on Christmas” that I blogged about previously . . . it’s the Politics of Petulance. And petulance is never a good evangelism strategy.
In a bit of synchronicity, Tebow and Collins were both in the news on the same day. Last Monday, Tebow was released by the Jets, and Collins came out as the first openly gay athlete in any of the Big Four professional sports (Football, Baseball, Basketball and Hockey).
A Quick Joke
Now that Jason Collins has admitted he is gay, I wonder when he will make the more difficult confession that he plays for the Wizards.
But Seriously Folks . . .
So some vocal Christians are upset that the mediocre gay basketball center is getting more positive reaction than the mediocre Christian football quarterback.
Last week some parishioners asked me what I thought of the whole Tebow vs. Collins thing. My answer was that I wished both of them were better athletes.
I like, even admire, Tim Tebow. He was an awesome college quarterback. As a pro quarterback, he is still an awesome college quarterback. He joins a long list of Heisman Trophy winners who flopped in the NFL. Who can forget the storied pro careers of Andre Ware, Eric Crouch, Danny Wuerffel, and Desmond Howard? (Those last two are particularly painful because they flopped in part with my Redskins.)
Unlike those others who went from the Heisman to the bench to the street, Tebow has millions of dollars in endorsements. According to his representation, Advertising Age estimated that he could make over 10 million dollars pushing products. His endorsement potential ranks higher Will Smith, Bill Gates, Hank Aaron, Tom Hanks and Jack Nicklaus. They say he’s “on par with Katy Perry and Beyoncé.”
Why? Because of his incredible success on the NFL gridiron, where he is currently unemployed and last year managed just 6 completions for 39 yards? Sure, his Broncos made it to the playoffs the previous year, but that was more due to the defense than his golden arm. And one year of so-so passing doesn’t typically translate into all that endorsement loot.
Far from being “persecuted,” Tim Tebow is wealthy and successful (at least off the field) precisely because he has been so outspoken about his faith. In a nation where more than 3/4 of its citizens identify as Christians, it doesn’t hurt to be associated with one when you want to sell underwear and stuff.
And I say, good for him! He seems like a nice guy and to be someone who walks the walk as well as talks the talk. I don’t agree with some key elements of his theology, but Christianity is about relationship with Jesus, not correct religion.
The Center of Attention
Which is why I am also an admirer of Jason Collins. Did all the Christians who want to bemoan the positive press that Collins got miss that he professed his Christian faith in his coming out statement? Were they too busy hyperventilating over his sexuality to see this paragraph?
I’m from a close-knit family. My parents instilled Christian values in me. They taught Sunday school, and I enjoyed lending a hand. I take the teachings of Jesus seriously, particularly the ones that touch on tolerance and understanding. On family trips, my parents made a point to expose us to new things, religious and cultural. In Utah, we visited the Mormon Salt Lake Temple. In Atlanta, the house of Martin Luther King Jr. That early exposure to otherness made me the guy who accepts everyone unconditionally.
Look, we Christians can disagree about homosexual behavior. Just like we disagree about how Creation happened and women pastors and whether to baptize babies. But in our disagreement, let’s remember that we – all of us Jesus-followers – are the Body of Christ. Certainly Jesus was someone who not just accepted but reached out to “otherness” and accepted everyone unconditionally . . . except maybe those Pharisees and other religious leaders who clung so tightly to right behavior as the key to salvation.
Can’t we stop obsessing about the specks in other Christian’s eyes (especially when those specks are sexual) and start being more aware of the logs of judgment that are in our own eyes?
It’s not up to us to decide who is “Christian” and who is not. That job, according to what I read in my Bible, was delegated to Jesus.
And Then There’s Chris Broussard
It was not a job given to folks like ESPN’s Chris Broussard. Let me be clear – I have no problem with Broussard saying that he believes gay sex is a sin. But, he crossed the line when he said that because of his sexuality, Collins is not a Christian. (The exact quote was “So I would not characterize that person as a Christian because I don’t think the bible would characterize them as a Christian.”)
Grace, Grace, Grace
This gets at the very root of what it means to be a Christian. Are we saved by keeping the rules? Then we are all in big, big trouble. Are we saved by keeping some special rules, especially the ones about sex? We’re all still in trouble, because Jesus said if we have lustful thoughts about someone we’ve committed adultery. (That should cover, well, everybody.)
Or are we saved by the grace of Jesus Christ? In spite of our imperfections, our failings, and our misinterpretations, it is by grace we are saved. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
So if they believe Christ is their savior – and I don’t know their hearts so I can’t make that determination -Tim Tebow, Jason Collins, and, yes, Eric Broussard are Christians. Period.
And I admire Tebow for his forthright faith. But I don’t feel sorry for him or think he’s persecuted in any way, not when Christians around the world are thrown in jail, tortured, and even killed for their faith. (It would be awesome if all of us American Christians stopped whining about how bad we have it. It’s not that bad, and if it was, Jesus said we’re blessed when we’re persecuted for our faith. So either way . . .) Don’t weep for Tim Tebow. As a person of European descent and a Christian he is in the majority ethnicity in the majority faith.
And I admire Jason Collins. If coming out as a gay man in big-time professional sports was so easy, someone would have done it by now. To be gay and African-American makes him a minority of a minority, and I see the support he’s getting from “the media” and even from the President as a good and positive sign.
Yes, some folks are upset that a “big deal” is being made about Collins’ sexuality. I understand that, but it is a big deal because it is something new (at least publicly) and because Collins did evidence courage in being first.
However, I pray for a day when it will truly not be a big deal, when we accept and even love folks no matter who they are. Sort of, as Jason Collins reminded us, like Jesus did.