Monday, July 23, 2018

Ron Brown's Return to Huskers Spurs Outrage from LGBT Community

This week's news that Ron Brown is returning to the Nebraska football program was simultaneously cheered and booed this week.  Depending on your perspective, this was either the greatest thing or the greatest outrage.  (Isn't that the case more and more these days?)

Ron Brown was a key member of the Nebraska coaching staff during the glory days, and just about every former player seems to have good things to say about the man. And many fans as well. But there always was one element of Brown that rubbed some people the wrong way: his religion.

Or maybe more accurately, his passion in his faith. Brown makes no effort to hide his faith; in fact, he celebrates it. And that rubs many people the wrong way, especially at a public university.  It is who he is.
"I am not a secular Ron Brown and a Christian Ron Brown. I am a Christian Ron Brown, period."
Many years back, Brown was passed over as a candidate to be the next head coach of Stanford; that quote came from an article that basically said that Christian Ron Brown wouldn't have been a good choice at a school like Stanford.

For some, Christian Ron Brown isn't a good fit for Nebraska either.  That's a controversial point as well. I don't believe Brown's critics target his beliefs, but rather his proselytizing.  That's a fine line, here.

It erupted when Brown drove to Omaha to testify against a proposed city law to expand civil rights protections to the LGBT community. He gave his address as "One Memorial Stadium" because, well, as a football coach, he spends more time there than anyplace else. But that also sent a message that he was acting as an official of the University, not as a private citizen. That's a somewhat silly argument in the context of the entire Lincoln campus, but in terms of the football program? There's a point there.

I'm not sure Ron Brown discriminates against LGBT individuals in and around the Nebraska football program. In fact, I really doubt he does. Why do I say that?  I start with Brown's relationship with Ameer Abdullah. From that World-Herald feature:
“We’re not proselytizing, ” Brown said. “We’re not trying to jack kids over the head with stuff. We’re just saying, ‘Hey, this is who we are. They go to school here. They’re hearing from professors all kinds of philosophies. Those professors aren’t apologizing for who they are. They’re saying, ‘There’s no God, ’ some of them. ‘There is no right from wrong.’ I’m saying, ‘Yes, there is God. There is Jesus Christ. And there is right from wrong.’ 
"You guys do what you want with it. You don’t have to believe me if you don’t want to. It ain’t gonna cost you a down of playing time. It ain’t costing Ameer any playing time.”

But that's not LGBT right?  Well, here's former Nebraska kicker Eric Lueshen, who was with the team about 15 years ago. Openly gay. And Lueshen describes Brown as having a "kind demeanor."

Now, Lueshen does say that Brown does owe an explanation of how his past statements can be reconciled with the likelihood that there are other LGBT individuals in and around the football program today.  For what it's worth, I think Brown answered that six years ago in a letter to the Lincoln Journal-Star.
I wholeheartedly agree with UNL's Non-Discrimination Policy. As a follower of Jesus Christ, and a UNL employee for twenty-two years, I haven't, nor will I violate this policy.
But it's probably worth reiterating now. There shouldn't be any discussion the LGBT community deserves the right to live, learn, love and work the way they desire, like any other U.S. citizen.

That also being said, Ron Brown's religious beliefs that that homosexuality is wrong also deserve respect as well. The two rights do not have to be in conflict.  In today's society, we should be able to tolerate diverse beliefs; isn't that the whole point of diversity anyway?  Vegetarians can believe that eating meat is morally wrong. They even can say so and try to convince me of it.  But they can't actually stop me from enjoying a tasty cheeseburger.

I do share the concerns that Ron Brown endorses discrimination against the LGBT community; I said so six years ago after he spoke to the Omaha City Council, and say it again. To be fair, he said he spoke because he wanted to make sure that the rights of Christians were protected.
"I was there because I realize that protection of one group of people as a class is going to unprotect another group."
That's a rather slippery slope. I get that two women can't sue a Catholic Church to become married, but sometimes, things get silly, such as the recent Supreme Court case over refusing to bake a cake. Some Americans are still too intolerant of people that look, behave and believe differently than yourself. Wrapping yourself in the flag and pretending that only your way is the way that should be accepted is offensive. It would have been offensive to our Founding Fathers, who fled Europe for just this very reason centuries past.

For what it's worth, that former gay Husker makes it seem that Brown was more accepting of LGBT individuals than it appeared at that City Council meeting.  Lueshen never made it into a game, but was on the roster in 2003 when Ron Brown was receivers coach for the Huskers. Of his experiences with Brown, he said Brown was always cordial to him despite being known as being a gay player.
Did Coach Brown ever treat me with disrespect or animosity during his time as a coach while I played? No.
I'm hoping that's how Brown has and will continue to treat the LGBT community in practice. People with religious concerns would be much better served by follow the lead of people like Jesuit Father James Martin, who preaches a message of respect. He doesn't mean that you should change your views on morality, but rather that you change your actions to open a bridge with those who believe differently.

I love that message.  "Building a bridge" could solve a lot of the problems in America today; not just in terms of LGBT issues, but all of the issues we face.  Understanding where both sides are coming from, and finding some room in the middle to accommodate more people would go a long way towards the divisiveness we see in society today. 

We don't have to agree on everything.  We don't have to believe in everything. But can't we just find a way to live together?

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