BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Sports Illustrated dropped a bombshell on the world of professional sports by announcing through its cover story that veteran NBA center Jason Collins has come out of the closet as an openly gay athlete.
Predictably, the mainstream news media has hailed Collins as a hero and a pioneer. And predictably, his “coming out” has led to his being compared to Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King Jr. and others.
I agree that it is a landmark moment, but it is a sad and troubling landmark that has now been set upon the landscape of professional sports and our culture – like those lurid adult club signs that mar and pockmark the beauty of the natural scenery alongside interstate highways. As historical comparisons go, this moment to me feels much more like the Roe v. Wade decision or the recent decision to allow women to fight in combat. In other words, there is nothing here to celebrate.
I worked as a journalist and a sportswriter for many years before entering ministry, and I continue to hold a keen interest in sports. As a minister of the gospel, I also cast a wary eye on the culture within which God has called me to proclaim the Good News. That said, here are a few observations on the news surrounding Jason Collins:
- Jason Collins is not a hero. A hero is someone who lays down his life for his platoon or his country in war, a person who rescues a baby from a burning building, a person who loves to such a degree that it drives him to lay down his life for his friends. Celebrating participation in that which God calls sin is never heroic. Let’s face it, Collins’ announcement is not even counter-cultural in America in 2013. The mainstream media will canonize him as a patron saint of gay rights, but make no mistake, he is no hero.
- Jason Collins is not Jackie Robinson nor is he MLK. Comparing Collins to these two men is an affront to their legacies. Jackie Robinson was a hero who suffered for his people, tearing down a wall of separation that was erected to exclude a group of people from participation in a sport due to their skin color. Men made in the image of God were discriminated against because of externalities and this was tragic. MLK laid down his life for an equality which scripture clearly affirms: “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:25). This is hardly the same thing as fomenting for the freedom to choose a partner for sexual intimacy. In the history of sports, there has never been a wall labeled “sexual orientation” on the outside. It is an issue of recent vintage. Collins has not suffered and will not suffer, because the national media and popular culture in America have embraced and advanced homosexuality and its dark agenda for many years now. Robinson suffered grinding persecution, his first name often a hateful slur that began with an “n.” MLK paid for civil rights with his own blood. Jackie Robinson was an evangelical Christian who would likely disapprove of Collins’ lifestyle choice. MLK was a preacher of God’s Word which clearly depicts homosexuality as turning the created order on its head (Romans 1:18-32).
- Jason Collins serves as evidence that homosexuality is, in most cases, a lifestyle choice and not a genetic orientation. In the wake of his announcement, Collins’ fiancée of eight years, a woman named Carolyn Moos, spoke to ESPN. Moos was shocked by her former fiancee’s announcement. The two had planned to marry and Moos had seen no hint of same-sex attraction in Collins. While I certainly believe there are many, including Christians, who struggle with same-sex attraction, I also believe Collins illustrates the truth that the embrace of homosexuality is more often than not a volitional choice. But as R. Albert Mohler Jr. has pointed out, even if a so-called “gay gene” were eventually found, we must recognize that even our genes are fallen and stand in need of transformation by grace. Encouraging another person to embrace a bent toward same-sex attraction, even were it proven to be genetically driven, would be akin to encouraging them to submit fully to a tendency toward womanizing, a violent temper, meth addiction or hitting the bottle daily. No, we must pray for grace to resist all our sinful tendencies, and this comes only through the heart-change wrought by the Spirit of God through the gospel of Christ.
- Jason Collins needs prayer and the gospel, not enablement. As followers of Christ, we must reject the news media’s portrayal of Collin’ announcement as a Shakespearean romance or a landmark moment in civil rights. Telling Collins to embrace his sinful desires would be like telling Pete Rose to embrace his gambling addiction or telling Ty Cobb to embrace his violent racism. Sinners need rescue from sin, not affirmation to continue in it. As those who have been transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, we must pray that God will open Jason Collins’ eyes to the reality of his sinful and destructive lifestyle and that the transforming grace of God will unshackle him from bondage to it. Sovereign, unilateral grace is what every sinner, including us, including me, needs and it is the Good News that, by God’s grace, will give the story of Jason Collins the happiest ending of all. Let us refrain from condemning Jason Collins, but let us also love him enough to pray that God will pour out His redeeming mercy on Collins and make him a trophy of amazing grace.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jeff Robinson is elder of preaching and pastoral vision at Philadelphia Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala.)