David Testo opened the box.
The box was 15 years old, and inside was a person he had long forgotten. Not an actual body, you know, just metaphorically speaking.
There were pictures of Jesus, Bible verses he had written down, Christian things, memories from his North Carolina childhood—before homosexuality and hell went hand-in-hand, before his soccer skills allowed him to leave the Bible Belt and travel the globe and play 10 years of professional soccer (including three years with the MLS’s Columbus Crew and a brief stint with U-23 U.S. national team where he played with Landon Donovan), before last November when he announced on Canadian television that he was gay, becoming the first active male athlete in a major American professional league to come out.
Before he was accepted, he was told he needed to change.
“It’s interesting to go back and see that perspective because I think I ran away from it (Christianity) for a long time because I was like, ‘If you don’t accept me, then I don’t accept you,’” Testo says.
Testo, 30, is a nice guy, a humble guy, a spiritual guy. He’s a happy guy. I’m sure he’s not a perfect guy, but neither am I. I’m sure he has flaws, but so do I. He’s not a fighter. He doesn’t claim that his beliefs are superior. All he does is wake up every day with one goal in mind: be a better person than the day before. He says that’s what drives him.
Now, he lives in Montreal, where every corner has a cathedral and every street is named after a Saint, yet government and religion operate as two separate entities. He likes it that way.
He’s a coach, a yoga instructor, and an LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) activist. He’s glad he came out because it’s allowed him to mentor other homosexuals who feel alienated by society—who don’t feel loved, who don’t feel accepted. He likes to help.
The thing I like most about Testo is that he has every right to hate Christianity, but he doesn’t. Now, I’m not condoning homosexuality or gay marriage or anything, for that matter—that’s not the point of this column. The point is that I think there’s something Christians can learn from a guy like David Testo. You see, if homosexuals said that straight people went to hell, I think it would make me hate them. Those types of comments are what drove him away from Christianity and embrace universalism, but he doesn’t hate Christians. He said that everyone, even the picketers and misguided pastors who say gays should be herded in electric fences until they die off, are entitled to their own opinion. That type of love and acceptance fascinates me. To use a church term, that’s “Christ-like” to me.
For example, whenever he talks to his extended “deeply rooted” Baptist family, though they disagree with the way he lives, he says their faith is awesome because it gives them “ambition and motivation to be better people.”
Or whenever he sees picketers with “God hates fags” signs, he sees right through it. “The sign should just say ‘I hate fags,’” he says. “Don’t project that idea onto God because God is love, and I don’t think love has anything to do with hate.” Even the ugliest form of “Christianity” (if you can call it that) doesn’t make him hate it.
You see, Testo doesn’t try to change people. Would he like for everyone to believe that homosexuality is right and normal? I’d imagine he would. But he realizes that you can’t change people. You can’t. All you can do is love and accept people as people.
“If I were to say that they were wrong, if I were to put up that wall, I’d do the same thing they were doing to me,” Testo says. “It’s a paradox. I’m not there to tell you what is right or wrong. I’m not going to put that wall there and fight back. If they want to fight, they can fight, but I’m not going to.”
When I look at the Christian culture, I see much more of a push to change and fight, and less of a push to love and accept so that God can do a work in people’s lives. Christians say they love and accept homosexuals, but first, they tell them they need to change.
Since when is it my job to change someone? Isn’t that God’s job?
I want to love homosexuals like David Testo loves Christians.
“The whole idea of changing someone else, I don’t go there,” Testo laughs. “I think we have enough internal work on ourselves, I don’t think I have the capacity to change someone else….Once you break down the barriers of rules and rights and wrongs and just act like the God you believe in—the God of love—it kind of melts all these other kind of irrelevancies away.”
I wasn’t sure how to write this column, to be honest. I thought about writing about how much I hate the way Christians act sometimes—like when I was in downtown Charlotte the other day and I saw one of those whacko evangelists carrying around an obnoxious banner reading “HELL AWAITS” with “HOMOSEXUALS” bigger than every other “sinner” on the banner. (“SPORTS NUTS” was one of the sinners, too, and I thought about all my co-workers who were going to hell. Then I thought about Sports Spectrum operating in hell. Then I wondered if I’d be able to keep my back-page column in hell or if best-selling author Tony Dungy would replace me. I pictured the two of us dueling with tridents for the back-page column in Sports Spectrum in hell.)
When I asked Testo whether he’s bothered by the Christian culture, he intriguingly answered that he doesn’t like to group all Christians together. He’s right. The truth is, Christians aren’t always saying that sports nuts and homosexuals go to hell. The fact that he wasn’t bothered by Christians, again, fascinated me.
When I hung up the phone and started thinking about the column, all I could think of was this: I wanted to think more like David Testo, not because of his religious views—I disagreed with some of the things he said—but because he loves and accepts Christians (who are sinners who have harmed him) like Jesus would. Jesus reached out to everyone.
Testo emailed me later: “…being gay isn’t a choice, and that’s where a lot of the confusion and ignorance lies…again, I’m not trying to change anyone but be a role model of love and equality.”
Testo focuses on loving people. He says he allows the “universe” to grow and change people.
And I can’t help but feel like there is a lesson there.
We love and accept. God changes.
This column was published in the Summer 2012 issue of Sports Spectrum magazine. His column tackles sports and faith from another angle, whether it’s humorous, personal or controversial. Follow him on Twitter-@steve_copeland or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.