When NBA center Jason Collins announced his gay orientation he became the first current athlete in any of the top four professional sports to do so ending months if not years of speculation surrounding this issue. It was never a question of “if” it would happen but “when” and “by whom”. The majority of America applauds him and much to the chagrin of many of my conservative colleagues, I do as well. I am not back-peddling on my evangelical Christian beliefs in fact I maintain my embrace of the fullness, truth and authority of the Bible as God’s Word including the Biblical prohibition of homosexual practice.
Perhaps my thoughts regarding Collins’ announcement indicate that I am being desensitized by our liberal and tolerant culture. However, while I oppose any sexual practice outside of marriage between a man and a woman, I am not stunned or shocked by Mr. Collins’ announcement. Actually what surprised me the most is the question being asked by the sports media of the athletes and team executives as to whether they are surprised by the rendering of this first out-of-closet declaration?
As an evangelical Christian I am at peace with the apparent contradiction between my disagreement with homosexuality and my affirmation and support for any homosexual as someone created by God. I can disagree with the lifestyle without leveling judgment or condemnation against gay people; that’s not my role at this juncture. Neither am I afraid of them. In fact, I am significantly more offended at being labeled “homophobic” than I am at the increasing public support being garnered by the gay community. Just because I disagree with this practice does not mean that I am afraid. Labeling anyone with a disagreement as “phobic” is every bit as narrow-minded as the religious right is accused of being toward their opponents.
To Jason Collins I say this. Mr. Collins, regardless of my opinions on homosexuality I applaud your courage. As I listen to stories recounted by gays about the common experience you share beginning during their formative years trying to understand feelings that may seem foreign, strange and even in conflict with the cultural mores that have been instilled in them. This is followed by coming to grips with the reality of what is happening inside, followed by questions of how to deal with these feelings and realizations about themselves. “Do I pursue them?” “Do I try to quench them?” “Who can I talk to about this?” “Do I talk to anybody?” “Can I talk to anybody?” It is impressive to ponder that all of this is going on while, as in your case Mr. Collins, they diligently pursue educational and vocational goals. You, Jason Collins, have achieved much including a degree from prestigious Stanford University followed by a long career at the highest level of your sport.
The basketball pundits have commented on the modesty of your career, but modest or not you have sustained a career at the highest level of the sports world for 12 years. Not only have you sustained this career you have done so with a soul-wrenching secret of which I must assume you have been at times both proud and frightened. I can only wonder how your heart pumped as you penned those irreversible words presenting yourself as the first male homosexual in professional sports to publicly declare your orientation.
When an evangelical says that he will pray for someone in your position it is often received, sometimes correctly, as judgment or condemnation. Allow me, please Jason Collins, to pray for you. Not as a mean-spirited barb but in the same spirit that I would offer to pray for any of my Christian brothers and sisters facing the challenges of life. For you Mr. Collins I will pray for peace, joy, truth. honor, faith and health. At 34, one cannot presume to guess how long your NBA career will continue but I pray that it will not end prematurely as a result of your courageous announcement.
Mr. Collins, I hope that you can accept my respect in spite of my disagreement with your lifestyle. If not, I understand but in any case I do respect what you have accomplished academically, athletically and vocationally maximizing your God-given gifts and abilities and I pray God’s best for you.