Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Chris Broussard, Starbucks, and Mismatched Conversations

In the News
If you are a sports fan (like me), or even if you aren't, you have probably heard about Jason Collins coming out on Monday. It is news because he is a professional basketball player. His announcement makes him the first active, male, American, team-sports, professional athlete to come out as gay.
Overall, there has been an outpouring of support for Collins, who is a veteran player in the NBA. In fact, ESPN did a special episode on him in their show Outside the Lines.
Here is where it gets interesting (at least to me). On the episode of Outside the Lines, ESPN interviewed Chris Broussard, who is a frequent NBA analyst on ESPN and other sports stations. Broussard was asked many questions, but the one that is getting the most attention is when he was asked what he, as a Christian, thought of the fact that Jason Collins also claimed to be a Christian.
I didn't know about Chris Broussard's Christianity, but have since become aware of the fact that he has been outspoken about his faith, and that he is a big supporter of Christian Hip Hop and urban Christian ministries.
You can watch Broussard's comments below, but I will sum them up here. He did his best to articulate that homosexuality was one of many things that are called sin in the Bible. He worked hard to communicate that it was not worse than other sins like pre-marital sex between heterosexuals, but that it was a sin nonetheless. He said that he had a hard time considering Jason Collins to be a Christian because, by choosing an active homosexual lifestyle, he was living in open rebellion to God. Again, he reiterated that he would say the same about someone who was choosing to practice any other sin.
There are many things that I want to say about this interaction, but I will limit myself in this post to one area. At least one other post will certainly follow.

Mismatched Conversations
Not surprisingly, Chris Broussard has taken an intense amount of heat since his comments on Monday. I don't know if he will lose his job over this (I hope not), but he has been lambasted by many of his colleagues, as well as many bloggers and other people who disagree with him.
I am not taken aback by the fact that many disagree with Broussard. He communicated the basic Christian position on homosexuality (I actually think he communicated it quite well, considering the sound-bite context of his comments). The Christian position on homosexuality is becoming increasingly unpopular. Many people have pointed to the bravery of Jason Collins for coming out. While I do accept the Bible's teaching on homosexuality, I don't discount that there was something brave about Collins' actions. Nonetheless, Broussard's words were also brave. He politely articulated what he knew to be a very unpopular position, and he did so in the public sphere.
Again, it doesn't surprise me that he is receiving backlash. Some call Broussard a bigot or a homophobe. I believe these to be misdirected comments. But more misdirected are the comments that ignore his actual statements and respond instead to statements that he never made.
Some seem to feel the need to remind Broussard that we don't live in a theocracy, and that he shouldn't force his religion on others. Those who make these comments only show that they are not listening very closely.
Broussard made no comment about same-sex marriage. He never said that homosexuality should be illegal, or that Jason Collins should not be allowed to play in the NBA. In fact, he did not initiate bringing his faith into the conversation. He was asked about it.
Here is the key: He was asked if he, as a Christian, thought that a person could be a Christian and a practicing homosexual at the same time.
Broussard's answer was that he does not consider a person to be a Christian if that person is living in open rebellion to any of God's ways. Not foisting his religious beliefs on anyone else, he simply articulated a Christian perspective on the question.
As I said, there are other parts of this issue that I look forward to addressing, but I have one point here: We must be careful to respond to what people are saying, not what they aren't saying.
For someone to remind Broussard that we don't live in a theocracy reveals that they think he said that we should outlaw homosexuality. This is the kind of argumentation and debate that does nothing to help understanding and conversation.
And this is not simply something that non-Christians do to Christians. Let me give another example.

Before Your Remove the Plank in Your Brother's Eye . . .
Other the past number of months I have seen several Christians cry out against Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz. Their problem with him is that he said that anyone who is against same-sex marriage can take their business elsewhere. What an arrogant and dismissive thing to say!
Except that he didn't say it.
When challenged by a shareholder who had a problem with Starbuck's support of same-sex marriage, Schultz simply communicated that this was the stance of Starbucks, that it wasn't going to change, and that if the shareholder felt strongly enough about it, he was welcome to invest elsewhere. Here is his exact quote:
"If you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38% you got last year, it's a free country. You can sell your shares of Starbucks and buy shares in another company."
Now, it is valid for a person to choose coffee other than Starbucks in response to their support of same-sex marriage. But it is not valid to say that Howard Schultz told anyone who disagrees with him that they can get their coffee elsewhere. When we do this, we do the same thing that we bemoan when it is done to us. We object to something that he never said.

As a Christian, I believe that Christians need to be involved in the public conversation about issues. We need to be thoughtful, gracious, articulate, and considerate. This is what I would love to receive from those who disagree with me. This is what Howard Schultz deserves. And this is what Chris Broussard deserves.
One final word: If you were Chris Broussard right now, you would probably appreciate thoughtful, grace-filled people who were coming to your defense. I am sure this is something that he would appreciate right now from those who understand his position and appreciate his boldness.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Boston Bombings, Kermit Gosnell, and the Role of Anger

I don't consider myself an angry man, but anger was my first response when I first heard about the bombings at the Boston Marathon on Monday. The anger built when it was reported that three people, including an 8 year-old boy, were killed as a result of the act of terror. My oldest son Matthew is 8 years old. Even as I write this post, I feel marred by the sadness and indignation of my emotions. The people impacted by the bombing were not combatants. The whole tragedy seems so senseless. It is hard even to write about it.
Speaking of things that are hard to write about, this week there has been a lot of chatter about Kermit Gosnell, the abortionist who is on trial for the brutal murder of seven live-born children. The gruesome details of Gosnell's abortion practices are stomach-churning. The subject of abortion is not new to me, but I have a hard time reading about the trial. I feel disturbed. I feel angry.
Those of us who are Christians can wrestle with the role of anger in our lives. Many passages warn us against anger:
James 1:19-20: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.
Ephesians 4:26-27: "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.
Matthew 5:21-22: You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, "You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment." But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.
These passages can make anger seem like a open-and-shut case. Clearly, it seems, anger is sinful and it has no role in the life of the Christian.
At the same time, other passages seem to present the idea that anger has a place in our lives. We have Jesus cleansing the temple when merchants have used the Passover to oppress the poor and line their pockets. We also have consistent examples of God's anger and wrath. And we also have the first part of the Ephesians passage quoted above. The Apostle Paul doesn't tell us not to be angry, but not to sin in our anger.
Apparently, this is more complicated that it seems. But if we look to Scripture to guide us on the subject of anger, we can come up with some clear direction.

1. Anger is not necessarily sinful.
If we define anger as an emotion response to something or someone, then anger itself is not sinful. In fact, in certain cases anger would seem to be necessary. The utter lack of anger does not demonstrate that someone has reached some state of peace and spiritual tranquility. Instead it simply demonstrates indifference. It is appropriate to be indignant when terrorist bomb marathon runners, or when a licensed physician dismembers babies, or when any number of other atrocities (domestic violence, child abuse, rape, sex trafficking, etc.) are carried out. When we are angry, it proves that we care.

2. We should not automatically assume that our anger is well-founded.
Sometimes we get angry because of atrocities. Most of the time, though, we get angry because our plans are being thwarted. Someone else gets the promotion we want. Someone cuts in front of us on the freeway. Someone speaks a hurtful words to us. When we are slighted, anger often follows.
We must recognize that most of our anger is not the result of objective injustice and oppression. It is much more often the result of a personal offense. This kind of anger only shows that what is most important to us is . . . us. When we experience anger, we should always pause to check our motives, rather than automatically justifying our anger as "righteous."

3. None of us is the judge.
Sometimes anger is appropriate. That said, anger should not lead us to revenge or vigilante justice. This doesn't mean that it is wrong for us to have a legal system, to have prison, or even to have the death penalty. It simply means that it is not the job of any human being to dole out wrath. Scripture is clear on this. Perhaps the best summary passage on this subject is Romans 12:19: Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord.
Our appropriate anger over murder and rape and acts of terror should not cause us to conclude that we are qualified to take revenge on others. That is not our job. That is God's job. Paul gives us the comfort of knowing that the only perfect judge will sort all of this out in the end. God's wrath and judgment are always sobering realities, but they are also comforting realities. We can set aside revenge because someone else is going to sort things out.

4. We are not superior to others.
When I read about Kermit Gosnell or the Boston terrorists, it is easy for me to think of them as sub-human. Or at least to think of them as sub-Dan-Franklin. Since I have never done those things, I can disregard them as human beings and quickly condemn them to hell in my own heart.
It is not wrong for me to be angry, but it is misguided for me to forget that none of these guilty people need the gospel of Jesus any more than I need it. Russell Moore wrote a post about this reality last week. I confess that I did not enjoy reading it, but I needed it. In the post he reminds us all that the difference between us and Gosnell or the Boston bombers or Osama bin Laden is a matter of degree.
In other words, I must take a moment and remember that there are a lot of good reasons for God, and others, to be angry with me. I must be careful not to use the occasion of someone else's atrocity to make me feel like I am better than them. I am a broken sinner saved only by the sacrificial work of Jesus. We all come to God the same way, through the blood of Jesus.

If you find yourself responding to recent events with anger, you are not alone. You don't need to beat yourself up over it. At the very least your anger simply shows that you care. But you also don't need to assume that your mindset is completely justified. We all must humble ourselves and ask how God will guide us to respond to our anger.
And if we respond rightly to our anger, it will bring us exactly where we need to go: To the gospel of Jesus Christ.