Margaret Court’s legacy as the greatest tennis player ever is under threat from those who think the argument is about love and hatred. But why is she being judged in this way? And what is the argument really about?
Over the last couple of weeks there’s been quite a lot of talk about Margaret Court. The Australian Open has been on, and Margaret Court has been honoured for the 50th anniversary of her Grand Slam.
Now, let’s talk about her legacy. For those who don’t know, there are four Grand Slam titles every year in the tennis calendar: the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open.
Winning just one of those events means that you have a Grand Slam title, and the person with the most Grand Slam titles in history, whether male or female, is Margaret Court.
She leads with 24 singles Grand Slam titles.
Now, some people observe that there are players closing in on that record, but they often forget something.
They forget that Margaret Court also played doubles and mixed doubles, and if you count up her singles, doubles, and mixed doubles Grand Slam titles, she has an eye-watering 64 Grand Slam titles: 24 singles, as we’ve said; 21 mixed doubles; and 19 women’s doubles.
So there’s that, but then there are several other aspects of her achievements worth mentioning. Try on this one: to achieve the ‘Grand Slam’, as they say, you have to win all four of those Grand Slam titles in a single year.
Very few tennis players have achieved that feat.
Only two tennis players in all of history have done it twice, and they’re both Australians. One of them is Rod Laver, and the other one is Margaret Court.
Only one player has done it three times: Margaret Court. She did it once in singles and twice in doubles.
But there’s something else. Margaret Court did all of this whilst having and raising four children after retiring for a period of nearly two years when she got married.
Margaret Court is, without a doubt, the greatest tennis player of all time. And if Margaret Court Arena were to be renamed, it would be an absolute travesty.
But you know, I’m not ruling out the possibility that one day it could be renamed, in the same way that Israel Folau, one of football’s finest players could be effectively banned from playing in Australia. Because here’s the thing: a person’s view of the LGBT issue has become the litmus test of whether that person will be accepted in society.
More than that, actually: it’s become the litmus test of whether that person will be seen as a good person or a bad person in society.
You see, it matters not, anymore, that Margaret Court is a mentor, a counsellor, a founder of massive charities that do tremendous charitable work, a pastor, and someone who helps the community in so many profound ways – we’re supposed to know whether Margaret Court is a good person not by what she does, but by what she says and thinks about the subject of LGBT pride.
That’s as ridiculous as saying that we should decide whether someone’s worthy of being honoured for their skill and achievements or whether somebody’s done great and constructive things based on their opinion about religion or about people of faith.
You see, the media and the gatekeepers of public discourse say that this is important. Why? Because it’s about love and hatred, thereby implying that Christians or people who believe and say traditional things about sexuality actually hate LGBT people.
Some people accept that implication because they don’t understand religion and they’re pre-primed by society to accept it. Others accept it because it’s convenient.
They know that it’s not the real issue, but it helps them to push their political agenda.
But I want to be very clear about this. The two sides of the issue are not hatred and love.
Except for the tiniest fringe minority, none of the people with views on this issue are motivated by hatred.
Maybe it’s Joe Public who thinks that LGBT people have rights and need acceptance after decades of exclusion and marginalisation: he earnestly thinks he’s being loving.
But equally, Jane Christian, who thinks that LGBT people need to know God more intimately and understand that His plan for their life is different from what they might think, earnestly believes that she is being loving.
It is such a shallow thing to say that it’s about hatred and love. That’s simply a political tool; a means to marginalise and silence someone and cause them to be disliked.
To love someone – what does it mean? Well, it actually means that you serve their highest and best interests, and the real difference, the real argument, is that we disagree about what those highest and best interests actually are.
The average member of the LGBT community, or indeed the average Australian, particularly in younger generations, believes that a person’s highest and best interests are organised around principles like this: living for myself, living out my identity, expressing who I really am, following the whims and the desires and the longings of the inner person… more or less being empowered to be me, and living out who I think I really am from within.
That’s why we live in a generation of self-love, self-esteem, self-confidence, and the selfie, right? That’s why we live in a generation that uses the word ‘identity’ more than any other generation ever has.
That’s why we’ve started to make laws to protect identity – because that’s now the highest and most sacred thing. We once had blasphemy laws to stop people insulting God; now we have vilification laws. What for? To stop people insulting ‘my identity’. Notice how we’ve changed what is most sacred and praiseworthy?
But the Christian actually thinks that the inner self, the desires of the heart, and the identity are the last things we should live for.
The self and the identity are corrupt, they’re deceitful, they’re unreliable, they’re restless, they’re full of sin from which we need to be saved – “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life”, as the Apostle John puts it (1 John 2:16).
“That which flows out of the heart is what corrupts a person” says Jesus in two Gospels, and there’s no one who by nature does good or “seeks God”, says the Apostle Paul in Romans 3:10-11. “The heart is above all things desperately wicked” says the prophet Jeremiah (17:9). I could go on!
Paul expresses his realisation that he’s the chief of sinners, saying, “Oh, wretched man that I am” (Romans 7:24). Coming to that realisation of wretchedness is a moment in the Christian life that leads us to live a life of radical humility, not pride. It’s the world at large that marches under the flag of pride in ‘my identity’. That’s not the Christian way.
Christianity is a life of seeking God, not self.
Christianity looks up; it does not look within.
Christianity puts to death self, and puts on Jesus Christ, to use the biblical language.
Why? Because we’ve come to see the truth about God, and the truth about ourselves, and the truth about what is truly good, and the truth about what truly needs to be changed.
Sadly, we live in a society of people who have actually fallen in love with themselves to the degree that they see the beliefs that come out of this as ‘hatred’.
But it’s not hatred. It’s actually a different understanding of what love is, because it’s a different understanding of what is highest and most sacred; what is truly in our best interests.
When it comes to hatred, though, I want to raise something. I look at the possibility that the Margaret Court argument will never die, and that perhaps they will try to rename the arena. I look at the possibility that all this will go on relentlessly, and I say, you know what? Maybe hatred is coming from somewhere; but I don’t think it’s where they claim it’s coming from.