(RNS) Michael Sam’s coming out party was no surprise to those who know him. Members of the University of Missouri football team suspected he is gay before he made the announcement to them last year. Students on the campus of the University of Missouri knew long before it was reported by The New York Times.
Sam, an All-American defensive end at Missouri, is projected to be a third-round pick in this year’s NFL draft. He was the Southeastern Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year. He had a better season than Jadeveon Clowney, who, before the beginning of the season, was considered the best player to step on a football field since Herschel Walker pretended to be Superman in cleats.
I discussed Sam’s announcement with students in my journalism class at the University of Missouri. They all knew someone who knew. It’s no secret on the campus of the University of Missouri.
How did a story like this fail to be reported on a campus known for having one of the top journalism schools in the world?
Because, in the minds of the students on campus at the University of Missouri, Michael Sam’s being gay is no big deal. Why is the press making this news, my students asked? Their response forced me to consider their context.
Youth don’t care because they know things adults are unwilling to hear. Youth aren’t eager to condemn their friends.
Put another way, they love their friends too much to call them sinners.
That’s hard for people of my generation to comprehend. We’re nurtured from a context of vast hostility related to homosexuality.
We’re familiar with the harsh treatment and verbal muggings endured by gay men and women. We’ve heard the teasing and harassment launched at those who claim love with a person of the same gender.
Sadly, far too many participated in the pestering.
We were taught homosexuality is a decision made out of disobedience to God’s will. That message was pitched in churches. It was a common theme in music, movies, plays and dinner party chat.
Young people are in a different place when it comes to loving — despite their gender. As they perceive it, love is love.
Things have changed over the years, and the open-mindedness of youth sheds light on the rapidly changing dynamics regarding positions on homosexuality. Given the views of youth, could it be that congregations will find it difficult to remain vital in providing spiritual direction? If Sam’s coming out is no big deal, what happens to institutions that cling to the notion that God demands condemning those who are gay?
Pastors adhering to old interpretations of the biblical text may find it difficult to convince youth that God censures homosexuality.
Youth are rallying behind friends who have shared their struggle with the juxtaposition between what we assume the Bible says and what their body desires.
What happens when youth see past the act of sex in measuring the message of their faith tradition? They see beyond the notion of prohibited sex, and celebrate the love between those who share a common gender.
Ministers who continue to fight the wave of love will face being labeled bigots. It happened when white congregations conceded the humanity of blacks. It happened again when the sexism of the church was exposed in a way that forced the inclusion of female leaders. It happens whenever scholars force us to consider the historical/cultural context of the Bible. When that happens, we are strained to reframe our sacred text in a way that considers the limits related to previous understanding.
Is it appropriate for youth to facilitate changes in the way we share the lessons of faith? That’s a question for deep debate. As congregations ponder theological implications regarding homosexuality, the norms of common culture have shifted. Young people are speaking, and many older folks have jumped on the wagon.
Michael Sam will be the first openly gay football player in the NFL. More will soon follow. Before long, this will be an issue collected in the bag of ancient historical views. It will be regarded as another bigoted position held by congregations imploring an archaic reading of the text.
Congratulations to Michael Sam for telling his truth. He is courageous.
The good news is his announcement isn’t considered news among journalism students on the campus of the University of Missouri.
What’s the big deal?
Let the youth lead the way.
(Carl W. Kenney II is an adjunct instructor in the journalism department at the University of Missouri. He holds a divinity degree from Duke University. This column was written for Columbia Faith & Values.)
YS/MG END KENNEY