Telling ESPN: Christian does not equal anti-gay

  |June 5, 2013

It’s not everyday that you hear the President of the world’s most valuable media property (~$40 Billion) say he made a mistake.

But that’s what happened after NBA basketball player Jason Collins came out as a gay man, and ESPN sportscaster Chris Broussard called him a sinner – live on TV. To millions of viewers, Broussard said,

If you’re openly living that type of lifestyle, the Bible says you know them by their fruits, it says that that’s a sin … If you’re openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be, I believe that’s walking in open rebellion to God and Jesus Christ.

ESPN issued a tepid apology – “We regret that a respectful discussion of personal viewpoints became a distraction from today’s news. ESPN is fully committed to diversity and welcomes Jason Collins’ announcement.”

So how did it get to the point where ESPN president John Skipper finally admitted: “We made one mistake: The mistake was not being more careful with Chris Broussard, and there is a collective responsibility there.”

Millions of people around the country flooded every corner of the internet with outrage. LGBT activists and organizations led the firestorm with headlines calling out Chris Broussard and ESPN for failing to challenge this instance of homophobia.

We knew this was a particularly important issue in the world of faith, and that Christian support in particular would be critical to show how the times they are a-changin’. 

Enter Reverend Debra Haffner, co-founder and President of the Religious Institute, and a longtime advocate for full equality of LGBTQ persons in all areas of religious and public life.

Rev. Haffner started a petition on the Groundswell platform, calling on ESPN to stop trying to score points by misrepresenting religion. We give her extra points for that perfect sports metaphor and for how she calls out Broussard for ignoring the overwhelming witness of scripture for inclusion and welcome of all people.

The petition took off, and within days almost 4,000 people of faith and values signed on to tell ESPN that Christian does not equal anti-gay. Rev. Haffner reached out to ESPN and they agreed to meet with her and other LGBT-affirming clergy!

In her conversation with ESPN’s Vice President of Diversity, Inclusion, and Wellness, Rev. Haffner shared the call of the petition: 1) stop trying to score points by misrepresenting religion, and 2) that many Christians celebrate sexual and gender diversity as a blessing consistent with their faith.

Jason Collins is a hero for coming out as the first openly gay NBA basketball player, and for citing his Christian faith as a core reason for being public about his sexuality.

If other athletes and Christians are going to come out too, it will take many of us to pave the way for their acceptance and support.

The love and support offered by Rev. Haffner’s petition, the signers, the social media posts, the shares, the conversations – they’re all part of building a multifaith movement for justice that stands for the triumph of love and hope over hate and fear.

We watched progress unfold on our Facebook page when we shared a call to action for this petition –

people talking about faith and sexuality, and calls for love being championed.

Now, what change do you want to see?

Take a chance. Start a petition. Spread the word. Grow a movement.