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Religion in the NHL

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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Adam McQuaid says the NHL culture now allows players to be a little more open about espousing their faith. (Credit: Boston Globe/John Tlumacki)

In a recent Boston Globe article titled “Religion rarely on display across the NHL,” Amalie Benjamin speaks to several professional hockey players about their faith. She seeks to understand why it seems more difficult to be an outspoken believer in hockey than in the other major American sports. Boston Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid was one such player, recounting how recent injuries and illness have helped him become more serious about his faith and about sharing that faith. Becoming more vocal with those around him was a difficult decision though.

Mike Fisher, a center for the Nashville Predators, understands what McQuaid is trying to do better than most. He is among the most outspoken Christians in the NHL. Asked why more believers in the league haven’t been more vocal about their faith, he simply responded that it’s because they understand that doing so goes against the culture in hockey. Vancouver’s Dan Hamhuis echoed those thoughts in describing how anything that sets you apart is often fair game for ridicule. In that setting, a person’s faith is no more sacred or off limits than the clothes they wear or their haircut.

But locker rooms in every sport can be like that to an extent. So what makes it so much more difficult for players to be open about their faith in the NHL than in the other major American sports? A popular theory is that the NHL is comprised primarily of players from Canada and Europe, post-Christian cultures where religion is often marginalized to a greater extent than in the United States. Others say it’s because some, on both the player and executive levels, believe Christianity makes a person soft and that men of faith aren’t willing to battle the same way as non-believers. Some simply believe that religion is a private matter and that athletes in other sports that are overt about their faith are self-serving. Sadly it does often seem like there is a proliferation of athletes, and people in general, who use public demonstrations of their faith for their glory rather than God’s.

Honestly, I would imagine that the situation Benjamin describes in her article is going to become more common than less in the coming years. Perhaps you’ve already experienced something similar to the locker room Hamhuis described, where your faith is no more sacred than any other area of life and is fair game for jokes or ridicule. In a culture that grows more and more comfortable each day with the idea that religion’s place is on the outskirts of society and something that should be kept private, it doesn’t seem like that’s going to change any time soon.

But perhaps the new reality isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, Jesus did warn us that such a time would come (John 15:18-25) but God also promises to redeem it for a greater good (Romans 8:28). However those promises of a future redemption, even if it’s to take place sooner rather than later as it sometimes does, are not always a source of great comfort in the present. I imagine most of us would prefer it if we felt that our faith was respected. Moreover, I imagine that’s one of the primary reasons that most Christians tend to spend the majority of their free time around other believers.

However, as the costs of expressing our faith increase, the number of people who claim Christianity without intending to live it out is likely to wane. That’s a good thing. Christ didn’t die so that people could have something to do on Sunday mornings or to grant people a way to feel better about themselves. Christ died so that we could live lives that were truly transformed by his grace and mercy. But if that’s not the kind of life you’re interested in, or if you’re not willing to pay the cost to experience it, then it’s worth asking yourself why.

Augustine once said “The Church has some that God hasn’t and God has some the Church hasn’t.” It is a tragic reality that each week there are likely some people in your church that believe they are saved because they show up most Sunday mornings or because they live a good life. Maybe that’s you.

But the truth of the gospel is that apart from the kind of life-defining, personal relationship with Christ described in scripture, there is no salvation. Ultimately, you and God are the only ones that can truly know where you stand in that regard. But never take your relationship with Christ for granted and never doubt that it is worth whatever it might cost. God wants nothing more than to spend eternity with you and, for the redeemed, eternity can start today.

So I ask, how is your relationship with God? If you have accepted Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, are you willing to be intentional about letting others know? Your relationship with God came at a cost, but it was one that he was more than willing to pay. Can he say the same about you?