As he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” –Matthew 9:10-11
The week this issue of Whosoever was set to go online, something monumental happened in the world of sports. I only know this, because it was all they were talking about on the news, not because I’m a big sports fan. In fact, when the news was announced that Jason Collins, an NBA player, had come out as gay.
“Who?” I thought. I had never heard of him even though he’s apparently spent a few years in the NBA. For those of us not enamored with sports, the names don’t mean much, but this young man’s brave actions – coming out in the homophobic world of professional sports – means a lot. It means a lot to a lot of people – to those still closeted within the locker rooms of professional sports, and those who follow sports, be they young or old. Collins’ courage – putting his livelihood on the line to be honest about who he is, sets a great example for LGBT kids who may look up to him.
It also sets a great example for those who came out with both barrels to bash Collins the moment he dared step a rainbow-colored toe outside of his closet.
Certainly, the usual suspects of Pat Robertson and Bryan Fischer took their usual odious swings at Collins. But, it was there, on ESPN, the premiere sports network, that Collins was really blindsided by a analyst named Chris Broussard.
You see, when Collins came out, he had even more courage than just declaring his sexuality – he also declared his faith.
“My parents instilled Christian values in me,” wrote Collins. “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,” he added.
The declaration that Collins is both gay and a Christian, was just too much for Broussard who, on air, declared:
“Personally, I don’t believe that you can live an openly homosexual lifestyle or an openly, like premarital sex between heterosexuals. If you are living that type of lifestyle, the Bible says you know them by their fruits, it says that’s a sin,” said Broussard on the show. “If you’re openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be, not just homosexuality, whatever it maybe, I believe that’s walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ.”
Ah, we in this community who have managed to reconcile our sexuality and our spirituality are all too familiar with Broussard’s form of spiritual abuse.
Let’s count the hackneyed catchphrases, shall we? We do not have lives, we have “lifestyles.” We don’t live our lives, we live “the openly homosexual lifestyle.” We are not known by the kindness and grace of our lives, we’re only known by our “fruits” – all the sex we’re having which is of course “a sin.” Oh, but wait, not just any run-of-the-mill sin but “unrepentant sin” and “open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ.”
Wow! We sure are some terrible people! How can we be allowed to walk the streets?
Well, I suppose if Broussard and his ilk had their way, we wouldn’t be. Broussard and those who so cruelly attacked Collins, certainly hope that their words will shame Collins either back into the closet or into those “ex-gay ministries” that even former leaders like John Paulk and Alan Chambers can’t disavow fast enough.
What Broussard is attempting to do is make Collins – and anyone who might have the temerity to declare exactly who they are and that God loves them just as they are – a misfit. Collins, and anyone like him, cannot fit into the macho world of pro sports. If they try, they’ll be blackballed, shunned, and perhaps have some form of violence or other retribution visited upon them.
Our community is used to this kind of talk – that we are “unrepentant sinners” who are openly rebelling against God’s will for our lives. But, what we who have reconciled our faith and sexuality know is a truth that deflects all the hurtful words. We know that God loves us. We know that we are misfits – even misfits among misfits, like Collins who now misfits in basketball, but also misfits in the LGBT community because of his faith.
As LGBT Christians or other people of faith, we face scorn not just from people like Broussard and other right-wing Bible worshipers. No, we get it from inside our camp as well, from those who don’t understand why we’d want to be part of a club that wants nothing to do with us and wishes we’d just go away, or at least shut up and get back in the closet.
The good news is, of course, that Jesus guy we talk so much about was just like us – a misfit among misfits. He was a Jew, but he wasn’t all that loyal to Judaism. He did an entire speech where he turned accepted Jewish law on its head by saying, “You have heard it said … But I say to you …” on matters like murder, adultery and treatment of our enemies (Matthew 5:17-48).
As a Jewish male, he held a place of privilege in his society – one that would allow him to take no notice of those below him like women, prostitutes, tax collectors, Gentiles, the ill or the poor. Yet, these were exactly the kind of people he made sure he was seen with. He dined with them, talked with them, drank with them and even touched them and healed them.
This was scandalous behavior, not understood by either the authorities or those he helped. The former was angered, while the latter marveled at this misfit of Jewish society that deigned to enter their even more severe misfit world.
If Broussard, and anyone else who will bash another human being for being honest about who they are and who they love, rejects that person, they are just as surely rejecting Christ. It was Jesus who shows us how to deal with those shunned by society. It is Jesus who shows us how to react when we learn that people are not just like us.
Instead of preaching at them, Jesus ate with them. Instead of condemning them, Jesus healed them. Instead of berating them, Jesus drank with them. Instead of feeling superior in his faith, Jesus sat with them, talked with them and offered them nothing but love and acceptance.
This is something to remember when we wish to return hatred for the hatred we have received. We cannot hate Broussard or anyone else who speaks words of judgment and condemnation to us. Instead, those words should soften our hearts toward them, because their words reveal both their fear and their misunderstanding of us.
Let us follow the example the Christ has laid before us and give compassion and mercy to those who have shown us little or none of both. It’s only when we embrace and live into our misfits among misfits nature – like Jesus – that we are able to see through the hateful words and really see the humanity of those who seek to attack or condemn us.
The old Christian hymn says “They will know we are Christians by our love.” As LGBT people of faith, I hope “They will know we are misfits by our love.” It’s how Jesus did it.
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.