ESPN’s Rick Reilly and the Theology of Ron Brown

Earlier this week I commented on the Ron Brown story, you know, the one where Brown, a Nebraska assistant football coach, attended a Omaha city council meeting to oppose a piece of legislation concerning discrimination against homosexuals.  Here’s a video of his remarks:

With an issue as polarizing as “rights for homosexuals,” of course opinions run strong and deep on both sides.  Count ESPN’s Rick Reilly as one of those with a strong and deep opinion against Brown and his activism.  Reilly’s method of skewering Brown is a familiar one.  Find an honor roll, all-American type student at Nebraska to use as an example and then paint Brown as a homophobic neanderthal:

His name is Brett Major. His family has been Nebraska season-ticket holders forever. He was a high school basketball player in Omaha, a 4.0-plus student, Man of the Year there and, at Texas Christian University, student body vice president and Phi Beta Kappa and a hanger of a big red Nebraska flag in his room. And he’s gay.

Oh, and he’s a devout Christian, thanks to Ron Brown himself.

Surely, then, the all-American boy-next-door’s theology trumps the homophobic bigot:

And now Coach Brown says he’s going to hell.

“I couldn’t care less,” says Major, who is getting his master’s in psychology at Wake Forest. “I know God doesn’t make a mistake. He didn’t put me on this earth to be banished to hell.”

If that’s not enough, provide a quote from a local minister:

There are millions of Christians who think Brown is wrong on homosexuals. “The Bible gives no account of Jesus encountering homosexuals,” says Pastor Craig Finnestad of the Water’s Edge Methodist Church in Omaha. “Jesus loved everybody and his love for others didn’t depend on their behavior or beliefs.”

Once Brown’s theology and character have been torn asunder, then the point can be made:

But should a man who campaigns for the right to discriminate against anybody — gays, Asians or pregnant women — be employed at a state-funded university that has a specific policy against such discrimination?

The people who run the University of Nebraska think so. Brown is still coaching there. He was not fired or suspended. Brown didn’t return my calls or emails for comment, nor did Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne.

Before commenting on this, let me make the obligatory statement about myself.  I am a born-again follower of Jesus Christ.  I belong to an evangelical church, one of the biggest in our state.  But I don’t hate homosexuals.  And, I try my best not to discriminate against anyone, but you don’t know me and I’m sure you don’t believe me.

I realize “homosexual rights” is the hot-button issue of the day.  Reilly knows that too and I’m sure he wants to keep getting paid, so he writes about it.  The problem is, he just doesn’t get it right.  And that bothers me.  I know that what I write won’t matter to anyone, but I think the record needs to be set straight, at least the evangelical position does.

1) To imply that Brown is discriminating against “gays, Asians, or pregnant women” is totally misleading and intellectually dishonest.  The proposed ordinance that has since passed was dealing only with “sexual orientation and gender identity,” not Asians or pregnant women (unless there was a situation where an Asian man was dressed cross-gendered as a pregnant woman).

2) Because Brown was arguing against the ordinance doesn’t mean this is a discrimination issue for him.  He’s saying homosexuality is a sin and shouldn’t be promoted as an acceptable lifestyle.  Here’s another way to put this.  In the Bible, the book Brown believes to be “the inspired Word of God, without error in the original writings,” it says this:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 2:3-5 ESV)

Do you comprehend this obligation that is placed on followers of Christ?  There are no exceptions carved into this statement.  Christians are called to live in the world and engage the world in a way that honors Christ. That means you aren’t allowed to be mean to people.  That means you don’t go out with a white sheet on and think it’s okay to lynch people.  It means you don’t think it’s okay for a person of a different skin color to be made to ride in the back of a bus.

But this obligation to love others doesn’t mean that sin isn’t supposed to be called sin.  Ron Brown shared with Majors the greatest gift that could possibly be shared – how to have eternal life.  That doesn’t mean Brown should then look at him and say, “okay, now anything goes.”  In fact, if Brown shared the gospel message with Majors accurately (and I have no reason to believe it wasn’t), then repentance would have surely been covered.

3) Whether or not their son chose to be gay isn’t the issue.  What is the issue is what you do with what you know.  Here’s an excerpt from a letter written by Majors’ parents:

“As much as Ron may think otherwise, gays do not choose to be gay,” they wrote in a letter to Osborne and chancellor Harvey Perlman. “Gays can be raised in the ‘perfect’ family environment with parents active and nurturing, raised in the church to become lovers of the scripture. They are Christians — Brett is such an example.”

Whether Majors was born gay or chose that lifestyle isn’t the issue.  If Brett Major is a lover of the Scriptures, he will want to do what the Scriptures say.  The Scriptures indicate homosexuality is a sin.  A Christian will not want to (at least intellectually) sin more because of the reality that Jesus Christ bore their sins.  Metaphorically speaking, sinning more and more is like continuing to pound the nails into the hands and feet of our Savior as He’s on the cross.  A follower of Christ will not want to do that.  In the book of 1 John, this is written:

“But whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. ” (1 John 2:5-6 ESV)

Salvation is a free gift from God, but a follower of Christ will want to follow the example of Christ and the example of Jesus didn’t include sin.

4) When Majors made this statement, he was half right:

“I know God doesn’t make a mistake. He didn’t put me on this earth to be banished to hell.”

Truly, God doesn’t make mistakes.  But people do go to hell.

Now I don’t know Brett Majors and I surely don’t mean to attack him.  I hope this doesn’t come off that way.  But this is just bad theology and it makes me wonder if he really understands his need for a savior, Jesus’ fulfillment of that role and then the blessing of Scripture in living your life until you die or until Christ returns.

If people don’t go to hell, then there is no need for a savior.  If peoples don’t go to hell, then Jesus’ work on the cross and the suffering he endured as a human being was in vein.  It wasn’t needed.  He did it just for fun.

Again, we find our answers in the Scriptures:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”  (Matthew 7:21-23 ESV)

Hey, there are parts of this that scare me and that I don’t particularly like.  But these are the words of Jesus and He is clearly indicating that some folks are not going to heaven, even though they think they are.

5) Now about those comments from Pastor Finnestad:

There are millions of Christians who think Brown is wrong on homosexuals. “The Bible gives no account of Jesus encountering homosexuals,” says Pastor Craig Finnestad of the Water’s Edge Methodist Church in Omaha. “Jesus loved everybody and his love for others didn’t depend on their behavior or beliefs.”

Based on Scripture, those “millions of Christians who think Brown is wrong” are wrong.  This isn’t an issue decided by popular vote.  The majority of people in Alabama could vote and pass a resolution indicating that I’m seven feet tall, but I’m not (sorry to disappoint you).  Every person in the whole world could think Brown is wrong, but they would also be wrong.

Regarding Finnestad’s comments, to be fair, I’m not sure whether or not Reilly quoted him out of context.  That is entirely possible.  But as provided, the quote is not accurate.  Yes, Jesus’ sacrificial death and subsequent resurrection were enough to cover the sins of every person who ever lived, but His sacrifice is only applied to those who follow Him.  Finnestad is basically saying that it doesn’t matter what you believe, everybody’s going to heaven.  Scripture just doesn’t bear that out.

6) In his last couple of paragraphs, Reilly again twists logic to it’s breaking point:

No, Ron Brown shouldn’t be fired. He should quit. He works for a school that welcomes homosexuals as equals. Which means he’s being paid by people who don’t share his moral values. He’s living a lie. He should retire from football and campaign full-time for our right to fire each other purely for being gay.

But the question I have for him is: What is he going to do with Jesus?

This makes perfect sense, right?  Wrong.  Again, this isn’t about rallying for the right to discriminate against someone.  It’s about a municipality codifying sin.  There is nothing that I know of – and I’m sure ESPN would have pointed it out by now – that indicates Brown has treated people unfairly.  If you think that, you’re missing the point.  Brown is saying that the Word of God says that homosexuality is a sin.  He’s opposed to a sin being propped up as a right.  But nothing in this indicates he’s fired people or taken away playing time because someone is gay.   Again, to imply such is simply dishonest.

The bottom line is that people don’t want their sins pointed out.  Heck, I don’t either.  It burns for someone to say that you are wrong.  And that’s what Brown is doing.  He’s pointing out sin.  The easier route is to find company to support us in our sins.  If I have a sin problem, I’m not so eager to point out yours.  In fact, I may just work a little quid pro quo.  You look the other way for mine and I’ll look the other way for yours.

But that’s not the way God would have it.  He says this:

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:29-30 ESV)

And He says:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.  (1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV)

Aren’t those words a comfort?  Life is hard.  But we have access to a mighty God.  A God who trades your heavy load for a light one.  A God who will not overload you and will always provide you an escape.

I know some will find my words offensive.  That is not my intention.  My intention isn’t to call out Brett Majors or Rick Reilly.  I just think that so many people are seeing Ron Brown out of context.  If you want to understand his perspective, look to his source – in this case the Bible – and then see if he’s getting that right.

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One thought on “ESPN’s Rick Reilly and the Theology of Ron Brown

  1. Very, good thoughtful response. I was very disappointed that Mr. Reilly didn’t do a whole lot of research into religion in the first place. Instead, he found a gay person who considers himself Christian, and told us nothing about what kind of church he went to and what that church believes. Overly, I feel a lot of the writers for ESPN have misused their platform to preach to the rest of us “social justice.

    Here’s my first post on Brown’s testimony: http://derekjohnsonmuses.com/2012/05/27/ron-browns-testimony-wasnt-it-a-sports-issue/

    In the coming days, I’m going to write another about how Christians can properly respond to the homosexual movement.

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