Michael Sam and First Take: “Maybe Tolerance Goes Both Ways”

You need to watch this insightful dialogue between Stephen A Smith and Skip Bayless on ESPN’s First Take. They are reacting to Michael Sam kissing his boyfriend moments after becoming the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL and the suspension of a Miami Dolphins’ player who reacted negatively to it on Twitter. Here’s a clip from the conversation.     I’d encourage you all to listen to the conversation in it’s entirety. The link to the podcast and minutes are provided: Podcast  (Minutes 1:03:35-1:16:35)

I love the show First Take. I listen to the podcast almost everyday, and as funny as this may sound, I think these guys may be providing a great example for cultural dialogue in America. They model how to openly “embrace debate” on controversial issues that they often have profound and deep disagreement about, and yet at the same time they are united in their friendship with one another.

We have deep divides right now in the American cultural discourse, and the conversation has become heated, especially on issues like gay marriage. This show charts a different course. Here are a few of my observations about their conversation regarding Michael Sam.

  • Tolerance must go both ways- Stephen A. says that the gay community talks about tolerance and an elevated understanding, “but maybe tolerance goes both ways.” Right now tolerance seems to mean endorsement rather than kind disagreement and the call for diversity is actually a call for uniformity, and where those things are not present there is vitriolic speech. May the cultural dialogue be truly tolerant, but, even if that doesn’t happen, may we in the Christian community be truly tolerant – genuinely loving and kind to those who disagree with us.
  • We should treat each other with dignity and respect- In the conversation both men are clear that NFL players need to treat Michael Sam with kindness. Skip uses this phrase several times, “You can’t condemn, even if you can’t condone.” Now, theologians can parse that phrase, but I think it basically is a helpful rendering of what Paul says at the end of 1 Corinthians 5. We need to befriend, be kind to, and not judge the world. We need to seek to win them, and leave the rest up to God.
  • We should value freedom of speech- Stephen A. and Skip argue that someone should have the right to voice their opinion if they are not physically assaulting the other person. They recognize that might have repercussions in terms of endorsements from advertisers, but someone should not be fined for expressing themselves in a non-violent way. America was founded on the principles of free discourse, but we are now in an interesting time where that ideal is under threat.
  • Parents are responsible for shielding their children- They didn’t mention this on First Take, but I will throw it in for free. It is the parents’ job to shield their kids from things they don’t want them to see not ESPN’s.
  • The Church needs to stand up and make its case- Interesting that even on ESPN the church is called on to take a stand. Yes, the church needs to stand up and make the case, but that doesn’t mean screaming at those who disagree with us. Rather, it means the kindness of God in the gospel driving people to repentance, and it means modeling the gospel in our heterosexual marriages. We’ve stated neither case well in our recent past.
  • Contend for the faith- Skip and Stephen A. acknowledge that the church is divided on the issue of gay marriage. That’s kind of like saying that the early church was divided over Judaizing (Gal. 3:1-6) or Nicolaitanism (Rev. 2:15). Was there genuine disagreement on these issues in the early church? Sure. Was one group wrong and one right? Absolutely. It should not shock us that some in the church will bow their exegesis to the cultural errors of the day, and then act like we’ve misread the Bible the whole time. That’s always been the case. We need to contend for the faith that’s been handed down to us not an interpretation that showed up yesterday.

– Jon Akin