Former Green Bay Packers safety LeRoy Butler sent out a tweet this week to express a simple thought: “Congrats to Jason Collins.”
Butler, as many current and former professional athletes did, was acknowledging Collins for coming out as the first active gay player in the four major American professional sports. But because of those four words posted to Twitter, Butler, who does speaking engagements at churches across the state of Wisconsin, now has one fewer church on his schedule after its pastor was outraged over the tweet.
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“I got a phone call, and one of the ladies from the church said, ‘Did you congratulate some gay person?” the four-time Pro Bowl selection explained to FOXSportsWisconsin.com on Wednesday. “I said, ‘Yeah!’ I thought she was happy about it. I told her I congratulated Jason Collins for coming out. She said, ‘Ohhhh, that’s not good because I don’t think the pastor wants you to talk about that in your speech.’ “
Butler’s speech is about bullying, using his own childhood examples to help kids who are victims of it. He had never addressed or mentioned anything about homosexuality in his speeches before.
“So why is this an issue?” Butler wondered. “Why is it a big deal?”
Butler, who describes himself as an every-Sunday church-going Christian, wouldn’t divulge the name or city of the Wisconsin church, saying he wasn’t trying to be a “devilish guy about it.” Butler also didn’t want to give specific attention to that church’s pastor, the same one who called him to officially cancel the speaking engagement about bullying.
“The pastor called me and he wanted to quote the Bible and all that,” Butler said. “I told him that I thought God loves everybody. I thought only God can judge. He just went off on me, saying, ‘We can’t have our kids knowing about that (Collins coming out as gay).’ I said, ‘Whether you like it or not, the kids are going to know about it. It’s all over the news.’ He didn’t think so. He thought the kids in the church would ignore it.”
Butler said the pastor called again later that day.
“He called back and said, ‘If you ask God for forgiveness and apologize and remove the tweet, we’ll let you do the speaking engagement,’ ” Butler said. “I told him, ‘No, I can’t do that. Someone needs to speak up for them, and you ask me to do something as a man that isn’t what I believe in just to make that money.’ “
Butler said the pastor then hung up the phone and canceled the church’s contract with him, citing a “moral clause.”
Butler, who has spoken at the same church in previous years, receives $8,500 every time he delivers his speech to an audience. That money does not come from the churches, though. It comes from sponsors. In fact, the churches where Butler speaks end up making a good amount of money from his appearance through donations.
“That’s what was so shocking; I helped them raise a lot of money,” Butler said.
Of the four church speaking engagements Butler had scheduled for this summer, only one has canceled. The other three churches have reacted much differently to Butler’s tweet about Collins.
“‘We can’t wait for you to come,'” Butler said the other three churches told him.
Butler has had four additional pastors reach out to him, all of whom have supported his public stance on Collins’ announcement. Butler also has spoken extensively with the pastor at his own church in Racine, Wis., about the aftermath of his congratulatory tweet to Collins.
“My pastor told me, ‘It’s a business, you have a speaking engagement to give your speech; They need to let you give your speech,'” Butler said. “And that’s another pastor telling me that!”‘
Butler’s church has a much different philosophy about homosexuality than the church that canceled his speech.
“At my church, we don’t worry about it; the door is always open,” Butler said. “I don’t cause anybody any problems. I love being part of the community and making appearances. If I had an agenda, it’d be different, but I’m not trying to do that.”
Butler later found out the specifics as to why the church canceled his speech.
“Some real conservative parent went to the church and said, ‘We heard LeRoy spouted off about gays on Twitter and we don’t condone that, and we don’t want him to speak,'” Butler said. “And the pastor folded under pressure. He folded under pressure, and it’s very disappointing. I don’t get upset about anything, but this one I couldn’t stay out of because I’m just congratulating the guy.”
The church’s response to Butler saying it was only a congratulations was to point out no other current or former Packers had acknowledged Collins in the same way.
“They said, ‘Well, Aaron Rodgers didn’t say anything, Donald Driver didn’t, so why did you have to?” Butler said. “I don’t know about those guys. This is just me. I’m not interested in knowing why Rodgers or Driver or other Packers did or didn’t, I’m just saying what I think.”
Considering his speech is about bullying, Butler might just have another talking point for his future appearances.
“To hold me hostage like that (and only let me give the speech if I publicly apologize) is a form of bullying,” Butler said. “I can see canceling it if I got in trouble or did something stupid, but that’s not what happened. I’m upset about this. I really am.”