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How a straight born-again Christian sports fan learned to love gay people

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"Being gay is not a choice. You’re born that way. Being a Christian definitely is a choice. You choose to be born-again."

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The author Joseph Mitchell, center, with his married friends Greg Zunkiewicz, left, and Rob Broadbent at a Columbus Crew game
The author Joseph Mitchell, center, with his married friends Greg Zunkiewicz, left, and Rob Broadbent at a Columbus Crew game

"God made Adam and Eve.  He didn't make Adam and Steve."

That was me a few years ago — a died-in-the-wool, card-carrying born-again evangelical Christian. This is what God's word said ... or so I was told and taught.

"He didn't make Adam and Steve."

Yes.  He did.  He made us all.

A few years back, it was simple to mind my own business. I just went about my life, bear witness to people about the good news of the gospel and go to church.  Rinse. Lather. Repeat. My exposure to a homosexual was "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" or Rock Hudson dying of AIDS or just someone to be tolerated for a bit and dismissed.

Then I started to see things differently. Seminal to changing my thinking was reading Justin Lee's book, "Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate." It was the very first I knew of how one could be gay and love God at the same time.

The genesis for this article came in October, when Jim Buzinski of Outsports wrote about how he disagreed with Daniel Murphy's Christian lifestyle. This was after the then-New York Met said he disagreed with the gay lifestyle. Reading through Buzinski's piece, my thoughts were, "I've heard this before..."

His sentiments echoed the normal diatribe against born-again Christians and their much-maligned impositions on those secular humanists who do not agree with their views.  However, it also sounded a lot like what Christians themselves verbalize against the alleged "Homosexual Agenda" for those whose sexuality is an unnatural choice into degenerate hedonism.

I sent an email to Buzinski asking him to look past Murphy's comments and consider that there are those of us who are straight, politically right-of-center, born-again believers in Jesus Christ who understand the argument the Mets player made.  But there are those of us who can be categorized in that same manner, who can follow Jesus and still see the case for same-sex marriage. He asked me to write this piece, which was given more fuel recently when boxer Manny Pacquiao used the Bible to condemn gay people. Here we go again, I thought.

For the uninitiated, what is a born-again evangelical Christian?  Someone who has said out loud that Jesus is the Christ, God incarnate, who came to Earth, lived a sinless life and died on the cross. He took your sins and mine and bore them on the cross to fulfill God's call for a sacrifice to atone for those sins. After his death, Jesus was buried in a tomb.  Three days later, He rose from the dead.  Thus, the gospel (a.k.a. the "good news") is that when Jesus becomes Lord of our lives, death is not final and that we as believers gain eternal life with Him. One has to be "born again" of the Holy Spirit to have one's sins forgiven and to spend eternity with God after our human death. The "evangelical" part is that we share this with the world and act as "witnesses."

It's what a Christian is.  We believe in the Bible as God's word passed on to us.  We believe that all scripture is "God breathed" and, while written by man, it is inspired by God. And that's where the ugliness begins, and ends as far as I'm concerned.

When a still, small voice came to me one day, it carried with it the message to bring the gospel to the gay community of Columbus, Ohio.  It was and is a struggle.  First, is this really coming from God or is this just an emotional buildup after watching Kurt and Blaine on "Glee"? Question one is usually answered by question two.  Sometimes these affirmations are taps on the shoulder.  Sometimes they're whacks to the head with a two-by-four.

In my business partnership, we bring on new advisors every so often.  A guy named Greg walked into my office with another guy for training.  Within five seconds of him being in my presence, I asked, "You're gay, aren't you?" Without batting an eye, he just looked at me and says, "Yep."

That was it.  We just went straight into the subject matter. There is no memory of what we spoke about next or if the subject came up again the rest of the morning.  Was this affirmation of the calling?

A final confirmation was an article in Outsports I came across in an Internet search.  It was by Josh Sanders, a counselor at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp who was well regarded and held as a role model until he came out.  He was then summarily dismissed from his job.

I got in touch with Josh and we connected as two people who spoke the same language. I was speaking to someone who believed as I did but is gay. He explained he was born gay. Another dagger to the heart of my prior education that being gay is a choice. I asked him if I should sit down with my Bible at a coffee shop in Columbus' gay center with a sign that says, "Bible Study for Gay People"? Josh replied: "Dude, I wouldn't do that even in a Starbucks." Ah. Point taken.

There is no Bible study at the Columbus gay center.  But Robbie Rogers has come out and is playing in the MLS.  Soccer has become my saving grace in sports.

In his book "Coming Out to Play," Rogers stated he believes in God and that he was born gay.  This notion has caused the biggest rift between me and other church members, other believers.  I have heard that "homosexuality is the result of bad parenting." I have been told "It's a choice. They got molested as kids and they just stuck with guys."

The greatest threat to a long-held notion is new knowledge. By taking the time to step out of my comfort zone and ask questions of these men and read about them, those "standards" are now exposed as ignorant myths.

I am not a Biblical scholar.  I am not versed in the study of Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic, the languages of the Bible.  But I was made with a brain and I do not check it at the door of the church when I enter on Sunday or when I leave a few hours later.  Being gay is not a choice.  You're born that way.  Being a Christian definitely is a choice.  You choose to be born-again.

And that guy from my firm who set off my "gaydar?" Greg Zunkiewicz and his husband, Rob Broadbent, came with me to see the Columbus Crew vs. Los Angeles Galaxy when Rogers made his first return to then Crew Stadium after coming back to competitive football.  We had dinner together and then went to the game. Greg turned to me when I pointed out Rogers and said, "I like that guy!" Me, too. Crew SC needs help in their backline.

Greg and Rob love each other.  Before they married, I found myself asking Greg, "Are you sure he's the one?  This is a lifetime commitment.  Do you think you're ready for this?  Have you thought this through?  If you're committed, I'll pray for you guys."

That was the moment when love was no longer defined by what I had been taught in the past.  That is what has prompted my wife and I to attend the recent Human Rights Campaign banquet in Columbus and invite a couple of fantastic woman as our guests who are legally married in all 50 states now. 

It has also prompted us to donate to the Tom and Jan Hodson LGBT fund at Ohio University to help gay students who want to continue their education but who have seen their funding cut off by parents unable to cope with their son or daughter coming out.  We will host a table next time and, hopefully, have a few of those kids attend.

There are born-again Christians who love our Lord and try to live to His standard.  There are also a few of us — a very few from my experience — who want to worship Him and study His word with those brothers and sisters who also love Jesus but also love another guy or another woman.

So thank you Robbie. And Josh. And Outsports. By taking the time to sit down and read and study and try to learn from viewpoints different than mine, this journey has been God's blessing to me.

To Greg and Rob, you guys have my heart and my prayers.

Just start rooting for your hometown Crew SC next time.

Joseph Mitchell is a financial advisor living in Marysville, Ohio. Don't tell anyone in Buckeye Country, but he roots for Notre Dame. He can be reached via email: joseph.mitchell820@yahoo.com.

Story edited by Jim Buzinski.