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In the last few years, we have received several similar questions from elite athletes, students and parents of young sportspeople. They can be summarised in a simple question:
Dear Christians in Sport,
Should I wear rainbow laces?
This week in the UK is ‘Rainbow Laces Week’ – a campaign from the LGBTQ+ advocacy organisation, Stonewall, which says: “Our iconic Rainbow Laces have become a symbol of inclusion across sport.”
The use of the rainbow within sport has been seen in numerous forms in the last few years – some allow the players or clubs to ‘opt-in’, such as the laces, and some leave no option – such as the use of specific rainbow numbers on shirts.
In sport, this has led to some prominent stories when players have chosen not to participate in these campaigns:
It is a challenging issue to navigate whether you are an elite sportsperson with potential contractual obligations or, as in the case of one of those who have written to us, a parent of a young footballer whose team have all been asked to wear rainbow laces and donate to Stonewall.
At the start we need to state at Christians in Sport, we align (as seen within our Statement of Faith) with historic, orthodox Christianity, which holds that God's expressed design for sex is within lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual marriage.
So first, let us see what we can affirm in the Rainbow Laces campaigns and what we cannot before giving some practical advice.
We can affirm that all of us are equal as those made in God’s image, so all deserve fair treatment and an absence of harassment.
Talking about the campaign, the Premier League said:
“Clubs and communities are stronger when everyone feels welcome, and it's down to all of us to make that happen.”
We agree strongly with this statement. Christians should be at the forefront of any work to affirm and defend the right of life free from harassment, bullying and violence, and it is wrong when this has not been the case.
For the sportsperson, their selection in a team should not be related to anything except their ability to play the game. The best left-back is the best left-back irrespective of their beliefs or sexual identity.
We can affirm that all of us are sexually broken, so we are called to be humble.
As Christians, we have no basis for claiming to be better than anyone else. The Bible is clear that all of us fall short of God’s good design in all things, including our sexual desires.
As author Andrew Bunt writes:
“strikingly, the one person for whom this is not true, the one person who never sinned sexually and could legitimately have stood in judgement over others, exhibited the most incredible love and humility when he interacted with sexual sinners.”
As we look at Jesus, we are reminded of the right place for humility as we think about this issue.
We cannot affirm that sexual identity is our core identity.
Disagreeing with someone on this issue seems difficult because it is seen as if you disagree with who they are as a person. This is because the prevailing Western thought today argues that our identity is formed by what we are, what we think, what we feel and what we desire.
“The LGBTQ+ movement really rests on the idea that fundamentally definitive of who you are is not so much how you behave sexually, but the sexual desires you experience. Those are the things that define you as being who you are…it’s virtually unprecedented in human history that we now define ourselves in terms of our sexual desire.”
The problem is basing our identity around our sexuality is completely unstable.
As Andy Robinson of Living Out states:
“Even friends of mine who are happily married will acknowledge that there are ups and downs, times of joy and times of pain. It just doesn’t work to make sexuality and who we love the absolute basis for who we are – there are too many peaks and troughs. We need something more solid.”
The Christian message offers a better story, a more stable identity – one not found in something unstable like our sexuality but located in the unconditional love of a God who made us, who came to earth to offer us life to the full and who is still willing to receive us despite our failures. This is what the rainbow originally represented – it is a symbol of God’s grace and deliverance given by God to his people (Genesis 9:12-17).
When it comes to the issue of transgender participation in sport we have written elsewhere for further reading.
We cannot affirm that disagreeing with Rainbow Laces means you are intolerant.
Our secular Western society generally cannot separate love from affirmation. However, loving a person does not mean we need to affirm their actions.
Jesus is the perfect model of this, often spending his time with the outcasts from society whilst also being firm on his disapproval of their lifestyles. The story of Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman in John 4 is a good example of this.
The central message of Christianity is that whilst God does not approve of many of our decisions and desires, his love for us still took Jesus to the cross for us. We can love and care for all those we play sport with whilst still disagreeing with them on certain things.
It is a complex issue to navigate and so there isn’t an easy answer. Part of the decision-making on where someone may land in wearing rainbow laces is dictated by what someone’s club, team or league is and is not affirming, as outlined above. Ed Shaw, author of ‘The Plausibility Problem’ has written a helpful article for those in the world of
work, ‘Should a Christian wear a Rainbow Lanyard?’ which encourages Christians “to pray for wisdom (James 1:5), carefully listen to their consciences, and be relaxed about landing in different places to others” as he says “we would seem to be in Romans 14-15 territory here.”
For elite athletes they may need to take legal advice if they wished to make a decision contrary to their team or league and so we must pray for them to have wisdom in this.
So, some may choose to wear the laces and some not to. Wearing rainbow laces can appear to affirm what we might not want to, and equally, not wearing them may undermine what we want to affirm as Christians. We need to prayerfully consider the implications either way, and we’d encourage you to talk about this with your church leaders and trusted friends.
Whilst not saying this is the only way to go, we have heard of one player who chose to wear a rainbow lace on one foot and a plain one on the other. When asked, it provided an opportunity to speak of what he could and couldn’t affirm and gave rise to good conversations within his team. Of course, it could be a different conversation if the campaign is involving things you cannot opt-out of, such as rainbow numbers or all the branding seen in the Premier League this week.
As followers of a suffering saviour, we ourselves will need to be prepared to suffer for what we believe and who we follow. We’re not called to conform to culture but ultimately to bring the message of the good news of Jesus to bear on the culture of sport.
So wherever you land, we would encourage you to be prepared to answer questions (1 Peter 3:15) and see this as an opportunity to point towards Jesus in both your actions and your words amongst your sports friends and colleagues.
Do you have any questions about sport and faith?
Send them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or feel free to contact us via social media
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