“Unconditional love is not the same thing as unconditional approval of my behavior.” ~ Christopher Yuan
There has been a lot of news recently about athletes who are gay. Yesterday, Jason Collins became the first openly gay player to sign a contract within on of the four major U.S. sports (ESPN). Last week, Michael Sam–a former University of Missouri Tigers football player–announced that he was gay a few days before the NFL Combine which could make him the first openly gay player in the NFL (ESPN). And the question that keeps being asked on different networks in one way or another is something to the extent of, “Is the NBA and NFL ready for their first openly gay players?” I think these are bad questions, but I will get to that in a moment.
First, let me tell you about Christopher Yuan whom I have grown to respect a lot over this past week. Because of some early exposure to pornography, Yuan struggled with his sexual identity. And very early in his life he found himself attracted to other males. At the same time, his parents’ marriage was falling apart, and he could see that divorce was inevitable. He finally became confident enough in his desires to embrace his choice of sexuality, and began visiting gay bars around town. Yuan could never find the happiness and satisfaction he so deeply desired. He had emotional and spiritual holes in his life, although he only recognized the emotional hole, and they were very deep. Eventually, Yuan began experimenting with drugs until he became a full fledged addict and drug-dealer.
Meanwhile, while Christopher Yuan continued to pursue anything that could help him enjoy his life, his parents had become Christians. Their marriage had turned around, and soon they were praying for and witnessing to Yuan every moment they could. At one point, they flew to Atlanta and Christopher basically kicked them out of his home.
A few weeks later, Christopher Yuan was arrested and sentenced to several years in jail for dealing illegal drugs. And a little while after that, Christopher found out he was HIV+ which led him to begin reading the Bible. He was ready to commit his life to Jesus, but there was one problem he still had to deal with: it seemed to him, that the Bible condemned homosexuality. Yuan decided to go visit the prison chaplain who told Christopher that the Bible didn’t condemn Christianity. He handed Christopher a book that explained why being a homosexual and being a Christian were compatible.
Christopher Yuan read the book on homosexuality while continuing to read the Bible, but the more he read the less he believed the book. Soon Christopher stopped reading the book on homosexuality all together, and he was faced with one of the most difficult choices he’s ever made in his life. “Do I walk away from homosexuality? Or walk away from what God teaches?”
It was during this struggle that Christopher Yuan began to realize something very important: in our culture, sexuality is seen as an identity (i.e. heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, etc…), but our identity doesn’t come from our sexuality, our identity comes from God. He put it this way, “God doesn’t say, ‘be heterosexual because I am heterosexual’ just like he doesn’t say, ‘be gay for I am gay.’ God says, ‘be holy for I am holy.'” (1 Peter 1:16)
Sexuality is not an identity, sexuality comes from an identity. My identity does not come from my intimate relationship with my wife, my identity comes directly from my relationship (or lack of) with God. And that truth is the same for Jason Collins, Michael Sam, Christopher Yuan, and you.
And that brings me back to the reason I think the questions being asked about the NBA, NFL, Jason Collins, and Michael Sam are bad questions. First of all, look at the terminology: “first openly gay player (ESPN)” the phrasing alone implies that Collins’ or Sam’s identities are tied to their sexuality. It’s the same terminology that is often used inappropriately toward people affected by disabilities: “Do you see that autistic kid over there?” No I don’t! I see a kid named Peter, who happens to have autism. He is not an autistic kid, just like Collins and Sam are not gay players. They are players who are gay. If you think it’s just a matter of semantics, you’re wrong. It’s a vital distinction, and it misleads the direction of the conversation.
As Christians, and as a culture, we must realize that sexuality is not an identity–sexuality comes from our identity. Christopher Yuan saw this clearly through his dilemma in prison. He says over and over again that giving his life to Christ meant simultaneously accepting his new identity as a son of a perfectly holy God. In other words, it was a choice. Following Jesus Christ was a choice, the outcome of which was a new identity in the truths that God teaches. Yuan said, “the choice was either to walk away from God and continue with my lifestyle, or to choose Jesus Christ and follow what the Bible says.”
And that’s why I want to end with the quote I have posted at the beginning of this (very) long blogpost. Christopher said, “Unconditional love is not the same thing as unconditional approval of my behavior.” This quote summarizes the Christian way to approach the topic and struggle of homosexuality (and any other form of sexuality). Whether we realize it or not, we often participate in our culture’s embrace of sexuality as an identity. Christians are notoriously brutal when it comes to dealing with people who come from a different worldview. We often forget that these people are human beings, loved by God. In fact, he loved them so much he sent his Son to die for them–just like he sent his Son to die for us. Yes, that’s right. You and me, and all of the other Christians on the planet who think they are good people. Jesus died for us. God looked down and saw all of us with the identity of “condemned sinners” and sent his son to give us all a new identity of “adopted sons.” When we remember that we have a new identity as “adopted sons” we will stop treating this guy as a gay man and this girl as a lesbian. Instead, we will see them as human beings, with names, and stories, and the potential to change the world. And then it happens. We begin to love instead of hate. We begin to serve instead of demand. We begin to influence instead of condemn. That doesn’t mean we unconditionally approve of their lifestyles, just like I hope you would never approve of my actions if I cheated on my spouse or married a second, third, or fourth wife.
“Unconditional love is not the same thing as unconditional approval of my behavior.” (C.Yuan)
So as you read or hear story after story about this gay person or that gay person. Remember that sexuality is not an identity, sexuality comes from an identity. And correct other people. Don’t let them get away with defining someone based on that person’s sexual preference. Instead, hold up the same standard that God put in place, for yourself and everyone else on the planet: “Be holy as I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16) That is the beginning of your identity.