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Comer: Christians need to feel like they can be authentic as well


By Ryan Comer - | Mar 25, 2023

Adam Hunger, Associated Press

San Jose Sharks goaltender James Reimer (47) reacts after giving up a goal against the New York Islanders in the second period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022, in Elmont, N.Y. Reimer won't take part in pregame warmups, saying the team's decision to wear Pride-themed jerseys in support of the LGBTQIA+ community runs counter to his religious beliefs.

Another week, another NHL player making the news for choosing Christian beliefs over the agenda of those around him.

Pride nights in hockey have become a focal point of debate this year. It started in January when Ivan Provorov of the Philadelphia Flyers chose not to participate in warm-ups on the team’s Pride night and has continued since with players for the New York Rangers and the Minnesota Wild choosing not to wear Pride-themed jerseys on their respective teams’ Pride nights. Last week seemingly marked another inflection point in the debate when San Jose Sharks goaltender James Reimer chose not to wear a Pride-themed jersey during warmups.

Reimer cited his Christian faith when explaining why he chose not to participate.

“For all 13 years of my NHL career, I have been a Christian – not just in title, but in how I choose to live my life daily,” he said. “I have a personal faith in Jesus Christ who died on the cross for my sins and, in response, asks me to love everyone and follow him. I have no hate in my heart for anyone, and I have always strived to treat everyone that I encounter with respect and kindness. 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 my life. I strongly believe that every person has value and worth, and the LGBTQIA+ community, like all others, should be welcomed in all aspects of the game of hockey.”

Rather than focusing on the vitriol directed toward Reimer by those who think he should simply shelve his personal convictions and follow everyone else, which Reimer must have known would be inevitable, I wanted to address sentiments shared by Luke Prokop, a gay hockey player in the Nashville Predators’ organization.

Photo supplied

Ryan Comer

In a statement regarding the incident, Prokop said, “Everyone is entitled to their own set of beliefs, but I think it’s important to recognize the difference between endorsing a community and respecting individuals within it. Pride nights are an essential step towards fostering greater acceptance and understanding in hockey, and I strongly believe that by prioritizing diversity and inclusion, we can create an environment where every player feels comfortable bringing their authentic selves to the game.”

Many, like Prokop, feel like NHL players should be comfortable wearing Pride-related jerseys because, to them, it’s not a display of support for any specific behavior, but rather a display of support for inclusion. If you feel like those in the LGBTQIA+ community should be welcomed in any work environment and not discriminated against, you should have no problem donning a jersey in support of them.

It’s a fair point, but that’s clearly not how Reimer and many others look at it. They obviously see wearing a Pride-themed jersey as an endorsement of behavior, and they cannot support that. Reimer in his statement made it clear that he supports inclusion when he said “every person has value and worth, and the LGBTQIA+ community, like all others, should be welcomed in all aspects of the game of hockey.”

But the larger point to address here is that if we want everyone to feel comfortable “bringing their authentic selves to the game,” as Prokop stated was his desire, players should not be compelled to go against their personal religious convictions. In fact, players should be celebrated for holding to those convictions because it allows them to bring “their authentic selves to the game.”

But what happens when you cause harm to others by being your authentic self, one might ask. If wearing a Pride-themed jersey is simply a way of showing support of inclusion, and you choose not to wear the jersey, are you not causing harm to the LGBTQIA+ community by making it appear as if you don’t support their inclusion? Sure, you can say that you support it, but if you don’t wear the jersey, your actions don’t prove that you do, it could be argued. Shouldn’t that harm justify participation? What about the harm to the Christian community, many of whom agree with players like Reimer? Would the NHL appear to not support the inclusion of Christian players if those like Reimer are compelled to participate in events and activities they feel support the LGBTQIA+ agenda and go against Christian beliefs?

Frankly, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say you’re for inclusion and being your authentic self, but only for certain groups. You can’t take away one group’s ability to feel included and able to be authentic in order to enhance that for another group. Christians deserve a place they can feel included and able to be their authentic selves just like anyone in the LGBTQIA+ community.

The Sharks organization seemed to somewhat appreciate this balance in its statement about Pride night.

“Continuing a long-standing commitment of allyship with the LGBTQIA+ community, Sharks Sports & Entertainment is extremely proud to host our 2023 Sharks Pride night. This week’s events, culminating with tonight’s game against the New York Islanders, reinforce our organization’s values and dedication to an inclusive, welcoming, and safe environment for all guests in each of our venues. As we promote these standards, we also acknowledge and accept the rights of individuals to express themselves, including how or whether they choose to express their beliefs, regardless of the cause or topic. As an organization, we will not waver in our support of the LGBTQIA+ community and continue to encourage others to engage in active allyship.”

I’ve read much conjecture since Reimer made the news for this incident about what Jesus would do in this situation. It’s been said that Jesus would not support Reimer. I would be very cautious about declaring what Jesus would or wouldn’t do, especially if you haven’t immersed yourself in his teachings and made following him an integral part of your life. One thing we do know is although Jesus showed compassion for sinners, he also made it clear that sin could not be condoned.

“I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance,” he said in Luke 5:32.

We also know that he promised those who were persecuted because of him would be blessed.

“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you,” he said in Matthew 5:11-12.

We certainly know that Jesus didn’t have any problem going against societal pressure or saying things he knew could cause harm when he declared his Messiahship to those in the synagogue in Nazareth where he grew up. Addressing the idea that he should prove to his townsmen that he really was the savior, Jesus invoked Elijah, who was sent to a Gentile woman rather than to a daughter of Israel, as well as Elisha, who ministered to and helped cleanse a Syrian leper rather than an Israelite leper.

“Then great was their wrath,” James E. Talmage said in his book “Jesus the Christ.” “Did He dare to class them with Gentiles and lepers? Were they to be likened unto despised unbelievers, and that too by the son of the village carpenter, who had grown from childhood in their community? Victims of diabolical rage, they seized the Lord and took Him to the brow of the hill on the slopes of which the town was built, determined to avenge their wounded feelings by hurling Him from the rocky cliffs.”

Given the choice of conforming to the will of the people around him or being his authentic Christian self, Reimer chose the latter. Not everyone, including not every Christian, will come to the same conclusion, but that is irrelevant. All that matters is Reimer is following Christ in the way that he believes he should, and he should be respected and celebrated for that. All athletes who desire to emulate Reimer’s behavior in the future should feel welcome to do so. Authenticity either matters or it doesn’t.

Contact Ryan Comer at rcomer@standard.net.


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