taking the words of Jesus seriously

Tonight, the Opening Ceremony for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia will air here in America – but the action has already started. Due to an increase in Olympic events this winter, the competition and television coverage got off to an early start yesterday – which meant my television was set to NBC for the majority of the evening.

My wife loves the Olympics – perhaps even more than Bob Costas himself. So, like many Americans and others from countries around the world, our television will be glued to the action and we’ll be cheering for our favorite Olympic competitors in a way that is eerily reminiscent of The Hunger Games.

As the host country struggles to put its best foot forward with the recent reporting on hotel conditions for journalists and athletes alike, there is an even more important issue looming over these Olympic games.

Russia’s anti-gay legislation, which I’ve spoken of in the past (at the dismay of some of my Christian colleagues) is at the forefront of international attention.

Companies like Google put up a subtle protest with making the homepage of their search engine the rainbow colors, and included this quote from the Olympic Charter:

‘The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.’

As promised, NBC’s anchor Bob Costas addressed the ongoing discrimination of LGBT people in Russia in their broadcast last evening, giving particular attention to the conversation on the front end of their reporting for the evening. Costas made headlines last month by claiming he was more interested in interviewing Russian President Vladimir Putin about Russia’s controversial laws than in offering his own commentary.

Related: Why ‘Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin’ Doesn’t Work – by Tony Campolo

I expect we’ll see more of that in the coming days of these Olympic Games.

While it’s true that we celebrate and are entertained by these athletes and the had work they have put into their Olympic dreams as they represent their respective countries, I believe addressing the human rights violations in Russia against LGBT people ought to take center stage of these games.

Not everyone agrees with me.

Already I’ve seen a number of folks complain via social media of a ‘left-wing, liberal media conspiracy’ promoting the mysterious ‘gay agenda.’

So here’s my not-so-subtle response to that…

I like the Olympics too. I don’t even mind watching hours upon hours of figure skating competitions. As I mentioned above, I’ll be watching these games while cheering with my wife and loving every minute of it.

And I’m sure Russia is a wonderful place, full of wonderful people. I bet there are even some good eggs within their legislature. I’ve got no issue with Mother Russia. The Cold War is over, and has been for years.

But LGBT people are systematically being mistreated,  beaten, tortured – and worse – with government complicity, protection and approval.

The anti-gay propaganda law makes it a crime to show any kind of public support of homosexuality – and vigilante groups take advantage of the laws to act with near impunity.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon rightfully condemned these attacks and laws against LGBT people saying, ‘We must raise our voices against attacks…We must oppose the arrests, imprisonments and discriminatory restrictions [LGBTI people] face.’

Russia is not the only country contemplating and legislating the criminalization of homosexuality – the same is taking place in Uganda,  Zambia,  Nigeria,  Cameroon and elsewhere.

It seems to me self-proclaimed Christians should be pro-actively speaking out against such atrocities – regardless of their theological perspectives on matters of faith and sexuality.

It seems to me any person who has studied and claims to follow the life, teachings and example of Jesus must choose to stand in solidarity with those who are (quite literally) being oppressed.

I can appreciate the opinions of those who hold traditional and conservative positions regarding sexuality and the beliefs that underpin them. Yet these beliefs do not provide support for the beatings and abuses being endured by people who are gay in these countries.

Also by Michael: Quack, Quack.

It is completely contrary to the example of Christ to single out a group of people for unfavorable treatment, no matter who they may be. Our Christian faith recognizes that all human beings have been created in the image and likeness of God, and Christ teaches that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. All acts of bigotry and hatred, mistreatment and abuse – of anyone – betray these foundational truths.

The bills passed and proposed in Russia and elsewhere in the world forcefully push lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people even further into the margins, and criminalize anyone (including clergy) who speak up and provide support for their LGBT brothers and sisters rather than reporting them to law enforcement. Persecution of this kind has no place in any community guided by the commandment to love one’s neighbor.

Regardless of the diverse theological views of our religious traditions regarding the morality of homosexuality, the criminalization of homosexuality – along with the violence and discrimination against LGBT people that inevitably follows – is simply incompatible with the teachings of our faith, whether from a conservative or progressive perspective. To suggest otherwise is at best tragically ill-informed and perhaps more likely, desperately misguided.

 What do you think?

About The Author


Michael Kimpan is the founder and Executive Director of (un)common good collective. Michael has a proven history of helping individuals and institutions think critically about matters of faith and culture through his writing, teaching, and consulting with churches, higher education institutions, community organizations, businesses, and NGOs. He holds a BA in Youth Ministry and Biblical Theology from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, IL and is currently pursuing his MA in religious studies at Chicago Theological Seminary. His revolutionary work in social justice at the intersection of faith, politics and society has been featured by Advocate magazine, Human Rights Campaign, The Huffington Post, CNN, and TIME magazine as well as a number of nationally syndicated radio and podcast shows.

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