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Pride and tolerance



There has been much said in recent days about the refusal of a group of Manly Sea Eagles footballers to wear a special Pride jersey for a match against the Sydney Roosters. After the Pride initiative was announced, a group of seven players came forward to express their concerns about the lack of consultation. Those players are now boycotting the match, saying that wearing the jumper would clash with their religious and cultural views. The match and event will still go ahead, and the players have been asked not to attend for security reasons.

 There is understandably much unhappiness about the players’ actions. The purpose of the Pride event was described as ‘respecting diversity and inclusion for all’. Refusing to wear the Pride jersey, to many, feels like a fundamental rejection of all that the symbol stands for, which includes worthwhile social progress and greater recognition and acceptance of LGBTIQ+ people across society in recent years.

Reading commentary around this issue, however, one gets the sense that this is very much a litmus test. One either endorses Pride, and by extension the dignity and rights of LGBTIQ+ people, or one doesn’t endorse Pride, and by extension doesn’t respect the dignity and rights of LGBTIQ+ people. The boycotting players have been labelled as hypocrites (for taking a stand on this issue and not, for example, gambling or domestic violence) and even hateful for their actions. Many say they would be happy to see them sacked from the club entirely, and it’s not unlikely that the players will be subject to abuse from the crowd when (and if) they return.

It seems to me, though, that the attitudes of the Manly players deserve more consideration than this. A deeper look at Christian thought with regards to sexuality and sexual ethics shows there’s nuance at play that many don’t seem to appreciate.   


'Pride advocacy clashes with Christian thinking by prioritising, and indeed centering, people as sexual beings. For LGBTIQ+ people, this is a reaction to a very real ‘de-centering’ of their experiences that continues to take place in mainstream society.' 


One of the reasons people are attracted to Christian sexual ethics is because it doesn’t make sex a priority. It’s role is not dissimilar to that of eating. Sex is something that can and should be personally pleasurable, but that’s not the main reason for it. Rather, it’s a gift that’s given to us by God for biological and relational purposes – a gift to be shared with someone else in a way that leads to growth.

Just as over-indulging in food is not good for our health, sex that doesn’t take into account it’s deeper purpose is undesirable because it risks turning a gift into something that consumes our time and take us away from what’s important (e.g. porn addiction), or enmeshes us in unhealthy situations and relationships. Of course, we know even accepting this teaching doesn’t always prevent this from happening. But the existence of sin doesn’t negate the value of the ideal.

Christian thinking around sexuality, then, tries to confine sex to an ideal place – where it is intrinsically linked to procreation in the context of loving married life. In our society, and in our media landscape, this ideal is increasingly counter-cultural. Thus those who accept Christian thinking around sexuality are generally making a choice to do so, often because it feels good and true to their own experiences, both healthy and unhealthy ones. For many there might also be cultural factors involved, often reinforced by an attitude that Western ideas around sex and sexuality aren’t all particularly exemplary.

Pride advocacy clashes with Christian thinking by prioritising, and indeed centering, people as sexual beings. For LGBTIQ+ people, this is a reaction to a very real ‘de-centering’ of their experiences that continues to take place in mainstream society. Those who support Pride events rightfully feel the need to create a society in which LGBTIQ+ experiences are understood, respected and valued.

However for a Christian, focusing so intensely on sexuality and gender identity in Pride events can feel like an unhealthy distraction from what’s important. Indeed, it feeds into a fear of becoming more vulnerable to being consumed by sex and enmeshed in unhealthy relationships.

This is why Christians (and evidently other religious people) can have issues with Pride events, while still claiming to support and care for LGBTIQ+ people. It might be tempting to dismiss them as ‘hateful’, and certainly there are those who evoke Christian teaching to justify and express hatred. However for many it’s not about hatred of LGBTIQ+ people. It’s taking what they consider to be a principled stand about what sex – and it’s place in one’s life – means for them.

This comes, of course, from a place of privilege. I’m sure many LGBTIQ+ people would love to live in a world without Pride events because their acceptance and understanding is so ubiquitous as to never be needed. But it doesn’t come from a place of hate, and it’s not helpful when any pushback to these events is framed as hateful. All that does is reinforce to Christians (and other religious people who share their views) that they’re misunderstood.

That doesn’t mean the Christian viewpoint is beyond challenge. While some might contest it, there’s strong evidence that there’s a natural basis to same sex attraction and gender identity – which from a religious perspective implies that God has gifted people with these diverse experiences. If this is the case, then there is need for fresh theological thinking into the gift of sexuality and how it might encompass more diverse experiences. This would certainly be helped by a deeper understanding of the lives and experiences LGBTIQ+ people today.   

Bringing people into this discernment process, however, isn’t going to be facilitated by forcing people to wear Pride clothing against their will, or turning anyone who takes a different view into an outcast. It starts by building relationships based on mutual understanding. It starts with personal connection.

There is great value in Pride initiatives that create personal connections and help people see the fundamental dignity and humanity of LGBTIQ+ people more deeply. But Pride initiatives should be an invitation into dialogue and conversion of heart, not an imposition that a person has no choice but to accept.





Michael McVeigh is Head of Publishing and Digital Content at Jesuit Communications, publishers of Eureka Street.

Main image: Manly's Kieran Foran in the Sea Eagle's Pride jersey. (Manly Digital).

Topic tags: Michael McVeigh, Manly, NFL, Pride, Tolerance, Diversity



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Existing comments

I enjoyed this article and it raises salient points in relation to diversity and inclusivity but doesn't connect with the matter of choice by non-LGBTQI+ of how they include their support...does one need to wear "the rainbow ribbon" to demonstrate pride or more to the point, does one need to wear a "special" team jersey because someone else decided it was right? Does the imposition of one set of choices (wear this jersey in recognition of the choice of these individuals) counter the right of choice of another? Does it really diminish personal support by not demonstrating support? The article refers to values related to relationships, sex and sexuality... it is reasonable to suggest many turn to the internet for guidance of social opinions and inversely that opinion is formed inadvertently through exposure to social pressures, (e.g.:pornography) so it was necessary for the sake of studying "facts" that I investigate some porno sites... interestingly, most porn sites segregate into categories of "straight", "gay" or "transgender"; perhaps the question becomes IF one does decide to evaluate or develop their opinions of support through social network interactions are we going to choose Facebook, Tinder or Grinder? A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step...but which way does it head from there?

ray | 28 July 2022  

Having a LGBTIQ jersey foisted on players is the politicisation of football. It's a game.
Why should players be forced to wear the mantle of gay pride against their will and then be subject to derision and possible expulsion because the all powerful LGBTIQ lobby has its own peculiar agenda?
And why focus on Manley? They are subject to rank discrimination in this case. Or is this the thin edge of the wedge?
Why doesn't the LGBTIQ just fund their own football team (call it eg: "the Wagtails") and keep their ideological snouts out of everyone else's business?
Political correctness is one thing but I'd be damned before I'd wear it.
For Christ's sake, what is the country coming to?

Francis Armstrong | 28 July 2022  

A nuanced and thoughtful article by Michael about a complex issue in our society. A number of years ago the Manly player Ian Roberts revealed his sexual orientation as a gay man. Roberts wanted to live his life openly and not hide an important.aspect of who he is. It was also a brave revelation. It would be so beneficial for society to reach a place where we can appreciate and love each other for our diversity not our homogeneity. The Manly players are a diverse group, thankfully.

Pam | 28 July 2022  

Well expressed Michael. In so many ways.

If Manly want to express support for LGBTI+ people via their guernsey, great. But they can’t force players to wear it.

In government departments, staff can choose to wear a lanyard that features a rainbow ribbon. But they’re not forced to.

Paul Mitchell | 28 July 2022  

And then there is the almost total ignoring in the public space of the difficulties many people have with the alphabet line-up, lumping together as it does some people who consider their biological sex as basic, others who deny biological sex matters and that gender as an inner feeling matters more, and some who don't really belong in the line-up at all, being intersex at birth. There are Lesbians (and I am one) who wish the letter L was not in the mix and others who have stepped aside to form the LGB Alliance. With regard to the pride shirts, apparently this week was supposed to be one in which women involved in Rugby League were celebrated, but instead those interested in the sport are talking about men and their concerns, to the great disappointment of the women and their supporters. Seems the ideal of inclusiveness of all is not so easy to enact . . .

Janet | 28 July 2022  

I wonder what would have happened had the owner of the Manly Sea Eagles been a devout Christian and made a unilateral decision that the team were to wear a jersey with a large cross on it and the words 'Jesus Saves' at Easter? I think Pride jerseys and events are because the LGBTIQ+ Community and their supporters fear exactly the same ridicule and discrimination. Of course the press and social media have heated up the issue as is their wont. The dissenting players, without their consent, have been publicly named and shamed. I do not think this fair. My second question is are the owners of NRL or other sporting teams now able to dictate what moral stance their players must be seen to support and if these players dissent are they to be placed involuntarily in the public pillory and suffer the appalling consequences? I would be concerned for their mental wellbeing, as well as their future employment prospects. This sort of treatment has no place in sport.

Edward Fido | 28 July 2022  

As a gay man I think this could have been handled better. I am overjoyed this Manly club has highlighted its support of the LGBT community after decades/centuries of stigmatisation. Yet we have provided society with many brilliant and talented sportsmen; never been celebrated as deserving models but living in a hidden self-loathing and fearful secrecy.
The question is what do you do with sportspeople who on personal social/moral/religious principles would rather not support this?
What we wear expresses powerfully who you are personally. Would it be wiser for them to wear the same jerseys BUT with the rainbow strips replaced with some other color?
That said I do see the irony of the situation. How do we feel if someone expresses phobias of racism and male chauvinism? Is this oppression any different?

Ivan Tchernegovski | 28 July 2022  

"Diversity and inclusion" has a certain affected ring to it in the way that being "in relationship" became an anodyne for an extramarital sexual liaison; a phrase that expresses morally neutrally, a state of affairs - but does it not sound ever so judgmental, and therefore so politically incorrect as to be heinous? More seriously, making a fuss about seven players acting on conscience (I doubt very much it's out of bog bigotry) simply betrays the LBGTIQ+ lobby's own hypocrisy. Be honest, LBGTIQ+ people: what you want is unstinted approval across the societal board. And well you know it can't happen without, as you see it, an unrelenting war of cultural attrition against arrant mediaevalism. Frankly, what is done, and how, in the bedroom or wherever is not my business (or even that God minds too much as long as it's never exploitative), not my business to pray over, should not be my business and that of our government, and in no way should be a distracting political issue when in this era all of our beds, conjugal or not, are burning - to cite Midnight Oil. In short: methinks the lady doth protest too much - to get the attention held to be an obligation on the rest of us. Meanwhile we face a real turn to dog-eat-dog feudalism as the earth's bounty is eaten away daily.

Fred Green | 28 July 2022  

Thank you for such a clear and balanced approach to this very contentious issue. It is amazing how the Manly managers and policy makers talk about inclusion but in a major decision like this one - asking the players to stand for some corporate policy constructed by the “higher ups” the players themselves are excluded. It seems to me that in this instance, inclusion is being used as a tool to coerce others into change. A modern civil society strives to work towards a win-win. This requires conversation and dialogue and is never achieved by orders from above!

Patty Andrew | 28 July 2022  

As a male same sex attracted older person I see that the writer has pinpointed the issue: being compelled to conform.
It’s taken me until now (78) to see the bigger picture.
Brought up as a Catholic Christian my struggle has been hearing the reported words spoken at the baptism of Jesus.
The sense of being ‘other’ creates many deep fissures in the developing human psyche.
Now I claim the following: UNITY IN DIVERSITY.

Martyn Robinson | 28 July 2022  

This might or might not have been a good idea - opinions will vary greatly on that - but the implementation - without any consultation with or input from the players -was unbelievably inept. But for Michael to assert that 'Christian sexual ethics ... doesn’t make sex a priority' is equally unbelievable. You only have to read the posts on ES to see the obsession which so many Church members have with sex in all its dimensions.

Ginger Meggs | 28 July 2022  

I feel that this article fails to appreciate the nuances of sexual ethic it claims to articulate: Identifying as LGBTQIA in know way indicates that someone is living a lifestyle that priorities sexual activity above everything else. It's merely an orientation, bit the mere factor the author presumes a certain level of promiscuity is telling in itself.
Heterosexual culture are prone to the same 'sin'.
Even the Catholic catechism states that sexual orientation is neutral - it's our actions bring morality into play.
As far as I can see, wearing a rainbow motif says nothing about what I might do in the privacy of my bedroom.
And considering LGTIQA also includes A for asexual, doesn't that also embrace celibacy and abstinence?
Surely Eureka Street can do better than this.

AURELIUS | 29 July 2022  

Thanks Michael for giving readers a different perspective to focus while trying to understand why we find ourselves having this conversation at all.
I’ve found all the negative publicity circling this week around the Pride jersey quite a concern, although not surprising ! I applaud the young men in question for standing up for their beliefs and values. The Manly Club Management have let all their players down on this one, given the lack of consultation from the beginning, and for putting the mental well-being of all players at risk in the weeks ahead. What this topic highlights however, is that there is a very unhealthy thread emerging in our society when people express an opposing opinion on a subject matter. In my day, it was called having a debate, or a conversation of ideas; now it seems if one opposes the opinion of another, the conversation quickly turns negative, and those on the opposite side are quickly cancelled out of the conversation altogether, or threatened with expulsion. If our nation is to thrive and live together in harmony as people of goodwill we all need to respect diversity, and tolerance of those who may offer a different point of view than ours.

Anna | 29 July 2022  

"While some might contest it, there’s strong evidence that there’s a natural basis to same sex attraction and gender identity – which from a religious perspective implies that God has gifted people with these diverse experiences."

There's a logical gap here, apparently unnoticed by the author. Just because there is a natural basis for some trait or characteristic, it doesn't mean that God has actively created or nurtured it. Different forms of mental illness, for example, seem to have some grounding in biology -- but would we want to say that God has given (even "gifted") such conditions to the people who experience them? I think the NT scholar, Richard Hays, is correct: a claim like this seems to reflect a certain doctrine of creation, but steps over any doctrine of sin.

Scott Buchanan | 03 August 2022  

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