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I’ve loved sports my entire life. I loved playing them, watching them, talking about them. I loved trying to master hitting a round ball with a rounded bat or fighting for a rebound against guys who were bigger and taller than I was. I fed off the challenge and the competition. I loved the fight. 

Sometimes, I enjoyed the conflict and aggression that intersected within the game more than the game itself. I loved the physiological high that came from the physical matchups on the court – outmuscling someone for a rebound, catching an elbow in the ribs, then giving one back, or absorbing excessive contact while scoring the ball after an offensive rebound. My intensity on the court always ran in the red, and many times, I let it get the best of me. That aggressive play bled over into poor decision-making – a few too many elbows to the ribs, a shoulder to the jaw, a technical foul here, and a flagrant foul there. I was always walking a fine line between competitiveness and recklessness.

I’m 44 now, nearly ten years removed from my last competitive basketball game. I’ve played a few pick-up games here and there since then, but nothing that warranted the label of “competitive.” I still miss those hotly contested league games or weekend tournaments I would play when I was in my 20s. I miss the vitality it took to play six or seven times a week at a high level. I miss running the floor on a fast break or making a length of the floor pass to a teammate. Some things, though, I don’t miss. 

I don’t miss my quick temper or the physical responses that ensued from it. I don’t miss the ejections and the technical fouls. But for all the silly and immature fights I found myself in, for all the stray elbows that caught noses, ribs, or jaws, I can proudly say that I never started any of it. I can’t remember one instance where I threw the first blow or talked the first bit of trash. I always played aggressively but never dirty….at least until someone provoked me. Revisionist history? Maybe. But what I’ve learned since then is that there’s a fine line between being aggressive and being belligerent; that balance can be tricky to strike when you fight back. 

My fuse is a lot longer now. You can chalk it up to brain development or hormone balance, but I try to think through my responses now rather than simply react. If something makes me angry, I honestly do seek to understand the other side. At some point, though, my understanding reaches its limits, and I can feel my heart rate quicken, my jaw set a little tighter, and my breathing speed up a bit – that familiar feeling of pushing back. I felt that this week, but the cause of that feeling was far more critical than any trash talk or stray elbow on a court.

For the last several months, Englewood Pastor Adam Dooley and former Vice-President of University Ministries for Union University Todd Brady have used their platforms as columnists for The Jackson Post to go out of their way to attack members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

In a column over the summer, Dooley needlessly and carelessly referenced the DSM-IV’s archaic inclusion of homosexuality as a mental illness, and most recently, Brady called transgenderism “silliness.” Brady cites a few cherry-picked scriptures to back up his assertion of silliness by saying transgender people are “darkened in their understanding of God.” Dooley noted in one of his columns that he believes “homosexuality is a harmful lifestyle” and that the “Christian community is being marginalized to the fringes of society.” 

While I believe everyone has a right to free speech and the freedom to voice an opinion, at what point does an opinion leak into speech that degrades and harms people for simply being who they are? Like my play on the court years ago, there’s a fine line here, too. As always, context is king.

Over the last two years, Tennessee state lawmakers have inserted themselves into the culture wars by legislating bills and passing laws that limit transgender healthcare, as well as laws that restrict same-sex couples from fostering or adopting children. These laws – introduced and passed by a supermajority under the guise of protecting children – ostracize members of the LGBTQ community in Tennessee and communicate the message that LGBTQ people aren’t capable of the same care or deserve the same rights as everyone else. Keep in mind same-sex couples couldn’t even legally marry in Tennessee ten years ago. If any people group has been historically marginalized in America and in Tennessee, it sure as hell ain’t the church.

While the hyper-conservative legislation surely must be a weight on the shoulders of a lot of LGBTQ people in Tennessee, religious shaming has the potential to be even more damaging. 

Englewood Baptist Church is one of the largest churches in Jackson – a city that is heavily saturated with multiple houses of Christian worship. Not only does Englewood have thousands of members, but it also has various satellite campuses, including one in Medina and one near Beech Bluff. The tendrils of Englewood reach far and wide in the community. When the leader of the church writes in the local paper that “marriage can only exist between a man and a woman” and that “gender dysorphia (sic) should be met with kind, gentle correction instead of affirmative psychotherapy” Dooley casts a wide net of undeserved guilt over the LGBTQ community while at the same time undergirding inequitable laws passed by the state legislature. Dooley and his flock aren’t the ones being marginalized at all. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. 

“Privilege” has become a lightning rod of a word over the last few years. It’s a word that’s misused and often misunderstood. Privilege doesn’t necessarily mean someone has been given something that’s unearned; privilege simply means not having to think or worry about something that someone else might have to think or worry about. Privilege is being able to say or do certain things without risk. In fact, I’m afforded a particular privilege by writing this article. There’s no risk involved for me. I don’t go to church; I won’t be ostracized by anyone I care about for writing this. I can write it, publish it, take some hits that come with it, and move on. Dooley and Brady do the same damn thing, but their unprovoked attacks against the LGBTQ community are read by people who live in our town, who shop at our stores, and who simply just want to be left alone to live their lives as their authentic selves. The words of religious bullies can carry a lot of weight with no risk on their end. 

Dooley and Brady have lazily laid out their points ad nauseam for months. They stretch their analogies to negatively generalize a community with which they have no context or understanding. They hurl ignorant ideas masked as Truths against people who are simply trying to live their lives in an area of the country that hasn’t made enough room for them yet. I have had multiple people I know who fall under the broad umbrella of LGBTQ tell me that these particular columns by Dooley and Brady published in the local paper are hurtful to them as a person. 

I’m not simple-minded enough to believe that all Christians feel the same way Dooley and Brady do. And if some people do happen to feel that way, I can also keep some space open to accept that as long as those people don’t spew hate publicly or demean someone for simply being who they are. There’s that fine line again. It’s hard to see but easy to cross.

Without going into every detail all over again, I spent a lot of time in a Southern Baptist Church. I was raised in one, worked in one, and served as a deacon in one. I know the fundamental dogmas that run through a lot of that world. I also know, however, that there are truly good people who attend those types of churches. Some people may not understand or even agree with a person who is LGBTQ, but those church members, despite their personal beliefs, would also never go out of their way to publicly ambush a transgender person or a homosexual; they would care about who that LGBTQ person was as a human and would want them to pursue their inalienable right to happiness. 

One of the most embarrassing instances I had on the basketball court was a situation that had nothing to do with me…until it did. 

I was standing at the top of the key and watching a player from the other team gather himself and rise off the ground for a jump shot. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the point guard of my team – a 5’7, 160-pound 22-year-old – flash into my line of sight as he rushed to defend the shot from the help side. Just as the shooter was off the ground, my teammate undercut him. The shooter was about 6’6 and weighed around 250, but he was off the ground in a split second and had murder in his eyes. I had to choose: do I intervene or just let things play out? That fine line between competitive fire and immature behavior was blurred, so I allowed my emotions to take over. This wasn’t a fair fight, so I intervened. 

There was some throat grabbing, a little shoving, and maybe a punch or two, but when the dust settled, my teammate wasn’t hurt, and neither was I. Our opponent was fine, too. We were ejected and suspended for the next two games, and 25 years later, I still feel embarrassed that it happened the way it did.

I’m not embarrassed about this column, though. No one asked me to write it, and I don’t think any of my friends in the LGBTQ community NEEDED me to write it. But I wanted to. I wanted to intervene because this isn’t a fair fight, either.

There are a lot of thoughts and beliefs I have about fundamental religion based on my experiences in those settings, but I would never consider writing a generalized attack on every member of that community or make careless cliched remarks without basis regarding who they are as people. 

Everyone has the right to pursue their own happiness as long as that doesn’t harm anyone else. Maybe Brady and Dooley should consider that before their next column.


November 22, 2023

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