Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
A couple of weeks ago the major news in the professional sports world was the announcement made in an essay in Sports Illustrated by veteran professional basketball player Jason Collins that he is gay. The response from fellow professional basketball players, the media and even President Obama was that he was a hero. Making this statement, these people claimed, took great courage, and because of this they were proud of him. They stood with him in support and solidarity.
Sometimes it is best to let the dust settle just a bit on these sorts of announcements as it can give some time, distance and perspective. This is why I address this issue now.
Shortly after this was disclosed a cartoonist for the Chicago Tribune attempted to capture the sentiment of the response, and contrasted it with the disclosure of being a Christian. In the one caption, Tim Tebow confesses his faith in Christ, “I’m Christian.” A media person, a bit scornfully, replies, “Keep it to yourself.” The second picture is of Jason Collins who confesses, “I’m gay.” To this the media response is “Tell me MORE, you big hero!!!”
Chris Broussard, longtime ESPN basketball analyst, was asked how he regarded Collins’ claim to be a Christian and a sexually active gay man. Broussard, who affirmed Collins as a “great guy”, responded publicly on the air with the following:
I’m a Christian. I don’t agree with homosexuality. I think it’s a sin, as I think all sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman is. …If you’re openly living that type of lifestyle, the Bible says you know them by their fruits, it says that’s a sin. If you’re openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be, not just homosexuality, adultery, fornication, premarital sex between heterosexuals, whatever it may be, I think that’s walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ. I would not characterize that person as a Christian because I don’t think the Bible would characterize them as a Christian.
To this, the response was anything but accepting and tolerant. Broussard was referred to as a “bigot,” he was accused of being “intolerant” and “homophobic,” and he was criticized for being “irrelevant,” and much worse.
As one compares the responses to these two announcements, there are few to none comparisons but only – and many – contrasts.
There is a cultural conformist mindset which this exemplifies. If one looks at our culture and the cultural stream, the conformist mindset made Collins’ announcement the easier of the two. Broussard’s response was counter-cultural, a non-cultural conformist response, which explains the strong and negative backlash he experienced.
This is another one of those indicators and reminders that we live in a postmodern and an increasingly post-Christian day, which is evidenced not only in the acceptance of Collins’ announcement and how he is praised for it, but also in the response against those who do not.
Living faithfully as Christians in this changing culture will be the focus of our 2014 Theology Conference. This sort of cultural conformist mindset and its implications will be one of a number of subjects we will address. Please put the dates on your calendar and plan to attend!