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Associate Editor

The peril of calling something wrong

By Peter St. Onge

Today we defend the bigot.

His name is Chris Broussard, and he covers the National Basketball Association for ESPN. This week, he had something to say about NBA player Jason Collins, who announced in a first person article on Sports Illustrated’s web site that he is homosexual.

Collins is the first athlete in any of the four major U.S. professional sports leagues to reveal he’s gay, and the announcement was deservedly greeted with overwhelming affirmation. From all sports, and from around the world, athletes tweeted their support. Celebrities joined in. The president, too. “I told him I couldn’t be prouder,” Barack Obama said later.

Then there was Broussard. The 44-year-old reporter has been critical of homosexuality in the past, so for the apparent sake of balance, ESPN put him on camera and asked him what he thought of Collins. Broussard was calm but blunt. “I’m a Christian,” he said. “I don’t agree with homosexuality. I think it’s a sin.”

He went on to say that he believed other things were sins, too, including adultery and heterosexual sex outside of marriage. Any of them, he said, was “walking in open rebellion to God.”

Here, however, is what Broussard didn’t say. He didn’t say that Jason Collins was evil, and in fact noted later that he thought Collins was brave to announce his homosexuality. He didn’t say that homosexuals are less deserving of our kindness, or more deserving of discrimination. Collins, he said, should be allowed to play in the NBA, as should any homosexual.

No matter. Within minutes, Broussard’s remarks flew across Twitter and the Internet. Mainstream media called him “controversial” and “homophobic.” Others called him hateful and intolerant and, yes, a bigot. MoveOn.org started a petition to get him suspended at ESPN.

Let’s be clear: I don’t share Broussard’s beliefs about homosexuality. Scholars who know much more than I say the Bible might not be as certain about homosexuality as some believe, that some of the nine passages commonly cited on the topic were about lust more than sexual orientation, and that none apply to committed, monogamous relationships.

At the least, the Bible doesn’t make nearly as big a deal of it as some Christians do today. Jesus never condemned gays, and homosexuality certainly didn’t rise to the level of a commandment – like, say, adultery. We don’t see Christians rallying for legislation about that when they bemoan the demise of traditional marriage.

In a way, Chris Broussard is a collateral victim of those Christians, who dominate media coverage on homosexuality. But there are other Christians, many others, who feel differently. Some disagree with Broussard. Some agree but don’t care to spend a lot of time on other people’s sins. Some are still sorting through what their Bible tells them about homosexuality – or how to balance those long-ago verses with the pull of modern culture.

The question, for believers and non-believers: Is it OK, ever, to think that homosexuality is wrong? When does belief become bigotry?

It’s bigotry, many would agree, when you use your beliefs to advocate for discrimination, such as laws banning same-sex marriage. It’s bigotry when you use your beliefs to demonize with slurs and other nastiness.

But Broussard did none of that. He answered a question about morality in a way he believes his faith and Bible require. What do we do with that?

It might be a moot question with homosexuality. Broussard is in a relatively sudden minority now on gays. Society, and laws, are becoming more accepting, and we’re not many generations away from wondering what all the fuss was about this week. Collins, by the way, responded to Broussard’s comments by noting that he, too, is a Christian. “This is where the discussion begins,” he said.

Maybe so, but it’s becoming a harder discussion to have, on homosexuality and so many other things. Our tolerance, it seems, is saved only for those with whom we agree.

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