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Rev. Emily C. Heath Headshot

Jason Collins, Chris Broussard and the Faith of the Guy in the Arena

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On Monday NBA player Jason Collins made history by being the first gay man to come out while actively playing in a major American professional sports league. Collins' statement was courageous and historic, and it will change things in ways we can't imagine yet. And most importantly, whether he knows it or now, Jason Collins just changed the lives of gay teenage athletes everywhere. Maybe he even helped to save those lives.

And as ground-breaking as that is, as soon as Collins' article appeared, many of us knew what was coming next: the criticism. The statement that has received the most attention so far came from ESPN commentator Chris Broussard. Broussard expressed his displeasure with Collins' announcement by saying:

"If you're openly living that type of lifestyle, then the Bible says 'you know them by their fruits,' it says that that's a sin," said Broussard. "And if you're openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be, not just homosexuality -- adultery, fornication, pre-marital sex between heterosexuals -- whatever it may be, I believe that's walking in open rebellion to God and Jesus Christ, so I would not characterize that person as a Christian."

And, yes, Broussard has every right to say all of those things. He is free to have his own interpretation of what it means to be Christian, and he can believe whatever he wants about the faith of Jason Collins. But that means that others can have a thing or two to say about his own statements as well.

And here's what struck me about what Broussard said. It wasn't the "homosexuality is a sin" stuff, because we hear that all the time. Of course there are plenty of Christians who wouldn't agree with Broussard's assertion that homosexuality is sinful, but for the sake of argument, let's not focus on that. Instead I'm interested in the part where Broussard tells Collins that because he is gay, he is not a Christian.

I'm not sure exactly how Jason Collins defines his faith other than saying, "I take the teachings of Jesus seriously..." But what I am sure of is that Jason Collins should be the one defining his own faith, and not Chris Broussard.

For most of us who are gay and Christian, we understand that some Christians believe we are "living in sin." We also understand that our faith does not hinge on their acceptance. While people like Broussard believe we are "walking in open rebellion to God and Jesus Christ," we are pretty sure that we are actually living as the people God created us to be. And so, really, it doesn't matter much whether or not Chris Broussard has seen fit to "characterize" us as Christian. That's not his call.

And yet, it happens all the time. Despite the fact that I'm an ordained clergyperson serving a mainline and fairly moderate church, I am routinely told that I am not a "real Christian" because I'm openly gay. Which is odd because I've never had the compulsion to go around and tell other that their own understanding of how they should personally practice Christianity means that they are not "real Christians."

I mean, if I did try, I think I'd get exhausted. For instance, I might tell a sports writer who spent much of his early career covering NBA games, including reporting those which were played on Sunday, and whose program now airs on Sunday mornings at 9 a.m., that I couldn't characterize him as a Christian since he clearly doesn't uphold the commandment to "remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy."

You know, just as an example.

But I won't. Because here's the thing: We all have ways in which we consistently fall short in our relationship with God. My personal belief is that being gay is not one of them. I think God is much more concerned with treating people, as Collins said, with "tolerance and understanding." But even if Broussard really believes that being gay is a sin, his painful remarks were made even more so by the fact that he had to try to invalidate the faith of not just Collins, but all Christians who are LGBT or who are allies, in the process.

The good news is that in the end Jason Collins is going to be remembered a lot longer than Chris Broussard. Because the guy who, as Teddy Roosevelt said, is in the arena, making the hard choices and taking the heat, is always remembered over the guy jeering from the seats.

I'm not talking about basketball players and sports reporters here.

I'm talking about people who make the hard and courageous choices that living a life as the person they were created to be makes them make. That's what faith is all about. And I believe Jason Collins is doing it, even though his decision to come out might ultimately cost him greatly. Chris Broussard proved that it is a real possibility that it will. But to choose to do it anyway is a mark of how closely one is trusting in something greater than themselves.

And that's the faith lesson that we all can take away from the person who is actually daring to get in the game.