Tolerant For The Right Reason: The Case of Michael Sam Sr.

Michael Sam  is an amazing football talent 1.  He is the reigning co-defensive player of the year in the toughest conference in college football.  He tackles opposing players using flawless technique and determined focus of force.  He will likely be a third or fifth round pick by a team in the National Football League’s upcoming draft.

And last Sunday, we all learned that Michael is gay.

Sam came out via a series of interviews and soon national media outlets began cycling through the same chorus of talking points related to the burgeoning experience of being gay in America in the 21st century.

Barriers are coming down.

Equality has found its way.

We are finally becoming sophisticated.

We are on the right side of history.

As the news media cycle goes, the early columns were uplifting and positive. Columnists championed Sam’s bravery and dreamed of the days when people will be evaluated based upon their moral character and not by the color of their skin or their sexual orientation.  And the next news day brought about the complementary negative story lines which filled out the range of responses to Sam’s announcement. Here columnists and commentators alike took to criticizing anyone who held a less than accepting reaction to the news of Sam’s sexual identity. And suddenly the backwoods, anachronistic buffet of interview data was served up on a hot platter.

Michael Sam’s father was interviewed by the New York Times on his reaction to his Son’s announcement.  Although he now disputes the specific nature of his answers, Sam Sr. said of his immediate reaction to the news:

“I don’t want my grandkids raised in that kind of environment.

“I’m old school,” he added. “I’m a man-and-a-woman type of guy.” As evidence, he pointed out that he had taken an older son to Mexico to lose his virginity.

Why Sam Sr.’s response doesn’t help the conversation

Let’s step past the curious parenting decision regarding Mexico for a minute — Sam Sr.’s response is not an uncommon one among many Americans struggling with the rise of LGBTQ influence in American culture.  But Sam Sr.’s response is a admittedly shallow and judgmental one.  And it is not the best approach for many reasons. First, it plays into an unfortunate and misinformed narrative about negative reactions to gay culture in America.  Consider the following conversation about homosexuality and American life:

Person A: What do you think about this Gay movement in America?

Person B: I am uncomfortable with the Gay movement because I am old school and grew up in a time when you could not be out and out gay in America.  I prefer and privilege a previous era in American culture.

Person A: You are on the wrong side of history.

The Wrong Side Of History narrative is quite common in today’s conversations and anyone truly practicing tolerance is going to be labeled as anti-history.

The second reason the aforementioned response is not the best one is that it equates “being gay” with being a new fangled movement, one that is incorrect by virtue of it’s novelty.  Thus, being gay is tantamount to owning an iPhone 5, or using the internet, or wearing Tom’s Shoes. One could refuse any of those because one is “old school.”

The third problem with the “old school” response is that it appears to be anti-progress.  Thus, one could be “old school” and therefore opposed to modern medicine, academic research, or eco-friendly architecture.  It is for both reasons that one’s opposition to the gay question matters, especially if one is a believer in Jesus Christ and His absolute Truth.

The Bible Is Both Pro-Progress and New-Friendly

Let’s return to the hypothetical dialogue between Person A and Person B. Consider how an important adjustment to the response changes the tone and scope of the conversation about homosexual culture in America:

Person A: What do you think about this Gay movement in America?

Person B: I am a missionary to American Culture and respect the laws of the land.  I am a proponent of progress because God is the one doing a new thing (Isaiah 43:19). My iPhone 5 is indication that I am a fan of new fads.  I am also convinced and persuaded by the Bible’s teaching on human flourishing and normative sexual ethics, which holds that sex is something not to be practiced between a random man and a random woman, but between a husband and a wife.  Biblically defined, not government defined, Marriage is the context for healthy exploration of sex.

Person A: You are on the wrong side of history.

If one were to respond in this way, Person A may still come back with the charge that the Christian is on the wrong side of history. But that charge doesn’t stick because Christians have historically held a sex-in-marriage-only position as the majority view throughout history.  It is actually by this point the normative Christian position.  Consider Pope Francis’ recent remarks on the matter, which offered a new tone (which is helpful) while maintaining and reinforcing the traditional position.

So, if you find yourself in a conversation in the following weeks where you are asked to talk about gay culture in America in the 21st century, I would encourage you to help the conversation along in this way: Be pro-Bible, not old school.

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Footnotes:

  1. Photo from si.com.

About Doug Hankins

Although not a Christian in his youth, Doug came to believe in Jesus during his teenage years. When not playing sports or pastoring Doug is probably spending time with his wife, reading a good book, or drinking some hot tea. Doug's first book Dawson Trotman: In His Own Words is available wherever books are sold. You can follow Doug on twitter.
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20 Responses to Tolerant For The Right Reason: The Case of Michael Sam Sr.

  1. NateDiggity says:

    Thanks for helping us defend our position with the right argument. Appreciate your work here.

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