I spent much of last week in Malibu, Calif., hanging out with the stars.
Actually, I was speaking at an event at Pepperdine University, but I wore dark sunglasses and did my best to avoid the paparazzi — just in case the tabloid press ever takes a sudden interest in GetReligionistas.
While buying deodorant at a local store (trust me, I needed it), I chatted with Mel Gibson (not really) and checked out the front page of the Los Angeles Times (really). Friday's Page 1 featured a "tale of two high schools" reaction piece on basketball player Jason Collins coming out as gay.
I'll copy and paste relevant chunks of the story, but here's the basic storyline: At the enlightened private high school that Collins attended, the basketball team couldn't be more giddy over his newly publicized homosexuality. But at a backward inner-city public school across town, black players raised in conservative religious households still get creeped out by "boys liking each other."
The story doesn't suffer from a holy ghost so much as a condescending refusal to take "religion" seriously and provide relevant dialogue that goes beyond easy stereotypes. Think crickets instead of ghosts.
Up high, we learn that smart rich people support gays, but ignorant black people do not:
At Harvard-Westlake — where tuition starts at $31,000 a year — gay rights are discussed passionately both on campus and at home. Collins learned how to be open-minded and have his own opinion, said the school's president, Tom Hudnut.
"He was taught to speak up when things were not right," Hudnut said. "His education here played a big part in that."
At Dorsey — where about 70% of students qualify for free lunches — gay rights aren't a focal point.
Sure, some of the players said, Collins is African American, just as they are, but he grew up in an affluent, mostly white culture that is more likely to accept homosexuality. It's hard for them to imagine a day when a young male athlete in the inner city would be able to acknowledge he's gay and be called a hero.
At the enlightened private school:
Religion isn't discussed much. If anyone were to come to campus expressing the view that homosexuals are sinners, they'd be met by outrage, said the school's longtime basketball coach, Greg Hilliard.
At the ignorant black school:
Part of the complication, the players said, springs from the conservative religious views held by many of the students and parents.
"I'm a Christian," said Dontrel Slack, 18. "So all we were taught was boy and girl together, that is the way to go. You don't really hear about boys and boys liking each other. Being a Christian, that is what we believe in, boys and girls."
All but one player agreed.
What might have helped the Times story? At the least, I would love to have seen a black minister with traditional Christian views on sexuality quoted.
Before I read the L.A. piece, I took a break from gazing at the beautiful Pacific Ocean and recorded the latest "Crossroads" podcast. Host Todd Wilken and I discussed my recent posts (here and here) on media coverage of the NBA's first openly gay player and highlighted a few reader reactions.