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COMMON DECENCY | Have faith in sports

'It wasn’t until the 11th century that the Papacy insisted that the story was about sex.'

Hockey stories don’t often break out of the sports pages but that’s certainly not the case recently. The San Jose Sharks’ goalie, Manitoba-born James Reimer, decided not to participate in the warmups before Saturday’s game against the New York Islanders. The reason was that his team were wearing Pride-themed jerseys to show support for the LGBTQ community, and Reimer believes that this would be contrary to his Christian beliefs.

He has, he said, “always strived to treat everyone with respect'' but that, “in this specific instance, I am choosing not to endorse something that is counter to my personal convictions, which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in life.”

Reimer isn’t the first professional hockey player to speak out on the subject. In January, the Philadelphia Flyers’ Ivan Provorov also refused to wear a similar warmup jersey, arguing that he had, “to stay true to myself and my religion.” The same month the New York Rangers decided not to wear Pride jerseys or use Pride tape, after earlier announcing that they would do so.

Within the sporting world the issue isn’t confined to hockey, and back in 2019 the Australian rugby international Israel Folau went much further and posted that gay people were destined for hell. He was banned from the national team. Soccer has generally been more accepting, with rainbow flag armbands sometimes worn by team captains for entire games. But it’s less about sport, or James Reimer, than it is about Christian inconsistency and homophobia.

The fact is that the Bible is ambiguous about homosexuality — a word not actually coined until the late 19th century. The Genesis story of Sodom and Gomorrah is a particular favourite, yet Sodom isn’t really about the issue at all, and Lot, one of its heroes, offers the mob his two virgin daughters in place of his male guest. Hardly family values!

Ezekiel says: “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me.” It wasn’t until the 11th century that the Papacy insisted that the story was about sex.

When the Old Testament does refer to the subject it’s about the need to procreate so as to preserve the people — it’s the same reason that masturbation was condemned. Also, when God creates humanity the word “Adam” is used, and in Hebrew it’s gender-free and not specifically male. How interesting the Bible is when we look a little deeper.

As a Christian and a priest, I relish the Hebrew Scriptures but they require—demand— interpretation. Because they could be regarded as justifying slavery, ethnic cleansing, and selling one’s children into bondage. We can take the Bible seriously or literally, but we can’t always do both.

The New Testament, which should be central to the Christian life, says even less about homosexuality. Jesus never mentions it, and is much more concerned with those who judge others or are religious pedants. There is, however, one fascinating episode when Jesus is approached by a Roman centurion, who deeply loves his servant, and wants him healed. Jesus is impressed, and does so.

Two points. First, Jews at the time mocked the Romans as being gay. Second, the Greek used in this exchange describes something much more than platonic love. It could well be that onlookers of the scene and early readers of the story would have assumed this to be Jesus approving of a same-sex romance.

St. Paul does condemn straight men using boys for sex, but never comments on loving, committed, same-sex relationships. If we read the text carefully and properly it appears that he’s referring to pagan initiation rituals, and condemning illicit and immoral behaviour in general.

That’s really is about it. A fringe theme at best, and something that Jesus clearly wasn’t especially concerned about. There are, however, more than 2000 references to the poor in the Bible, and Jesus himself speaks about social injustice and the dangers of wealth and power throughout the Gospels. It’s almost as if some people are looking at scripture through the wrong end of the telescope.

I don’t expect hockey players to be theologians, but I do wonder who is teaching and guiding them. LGBTQ people are still persecuted in much of the world, still face discrimination even in good old Canada and especially in the US. Surely the Christian thing to do is stand, and play, in solidarity.


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Michael Coren

About the Author: Michael Coren

Rev. Michael Coren is an award-winning Toronto-based columnist and author of 18 books, appears regularly on TV and radio, and is also an Anglican priest
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