Michael Sam, the All-American defensive end from the University of Missouri, recently declared he is an “openly, proud gay man.” Michael Sam will enter the NFL draft in April. This is a big story. The acceptance of homosexuality has gained unprecedented social momentum in just a short period. Joining this to the cultural force of the NFL – America’s most popular sport – will only amplify its acceptance.
The argument you’ll hear repeatedly moving forward about Michael Sam – or any gay athlete – will inevitably be, “If he helps us win, why does his sexuality matter?” This “whatever it takes to win” mindset is the fundamental doctrine of the worldview of sports. And the Michael Sam story shines a new light on this sacred canon (i.e., “winning is all that matters”) of the central sacrament of American’s new civic religion – NFL football.
But is this how a Christian is called to think? Simply put: no. Winning – while ignoring (any sort of) immorality to do so – is never the goal of the Kingdom of Christ. But this is precisely where our hypocrisy as American evangelical sports fans is plainly exposed through this story. Yes, we should take a courageous and compassionate stand against homosexuality being accepted in society or on the gridiron. And, yes, we must not cheer a man (on the field or off) who proudly states his sinful sexual orientation – because that orientation is clearly condemned in Scripture (Rom. 1.27; I Cor. 6.9). Yet – and search your hearts on this, brethren – how many times during an NFL season do we cheer men who are proudly enslaved to other sins the Bible also strongly and clearly condemns – like drunkenness (Gal. 5.21; Eph. 5.18), sexual immorality (Rom. 13.13; I Pet. 4.3), and murderous anger (both on and off the field; Matt. 5.21-23; Col. 3.8; James 1.19-20)? I would suggest that the reason we turn a blind eye to these “other” sins (when the reality is our favorite team[s] is [are] full of such men) is that we – not unlike the culture – have swallowed the chief tenet of “winning is all that matters” in our own souls as well.
Brother and sisters, we must be consistent. Before we cry out against the homosexual boast of a would-be NFL draft pick, let us consider the log in our eye that cheers for players who are boasting of/committing sins that aren’t made public (because those sins are either [a] not head-line worthy – but "just the way it is in the life of a famous athlete" – or [b] not made known to protect the athlete committing those sins as well as the organization he represents). Even worse, sometimes we cheer men whose sins are made public (I'll refrain from listing examples for brevity's sake). Would we wear his jersey if we knew he was a serial adulterer? a man who regularly gets drunk? a man who who sometimes verbally or physically abuses his wife/girfriend? who is addicted to illegal drugs? Would we, as Christians, cheer him during the fall any different knowing such things? This requires pensive thinking in our hearts and regular conversations in our local churches – and maybe even repenting for many of us whose enjoyment of pigskin competition has blinded us to such hypocrisy (I being one).
While the Michael Sam story presents some challenges to the church of the Lord Jesus in Western culture, this much is clear: whatever the unrepentant sin and wherever the context in which it manifests, two clear consequences of believing the gospel are (1) obeying God’s Word and (2) loving our neighbor – neither of which means accepting a man’s sin, whether he is the man in the mirror, a ferocious pass-rusher, or faithful member of our local church. Love – true, biblical love – compels us to preach the One who died and rose again, in order that we and others might (continually) trust in Jesus, be forgiven by God, and turn away from any and every sin – not boast about it. For those gripped by the gospel, our only boast is in our Savior’s cross, not in our sexuality, for it is our crooked sexuality (homosexual and heterosexual) – among a multitude of others sins – that sent our Savior to the cross to purchase our salvation.