San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer made headlines over the weekend when he declined to wear a jersey supporting the LGBTQIA+ community before the team’s game with the New York Islanders last Saturday.
The jerseys were part of a weeklong series of events intended to “continue a long-standing commitment of allyship with the LGBTQIA+ community” and featured a Pride crest and “Love Wins” patch. Each jersey was then auctioned off after the game to raise money for Adolescent Counseling Services.
Reimer said of his decision, “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. 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 to 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.”
Reimer’s stance did not come as a surprise to his teammates or the team, with whom he began discussing Pride Night nearly a year ago.
In response to his decision, team officials said, “We 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.”
However, as the comment section on most articles or tweets about his decision reveals, the response from those outside the team has not been quite as understanding. And that response, in many ways, exemplifies the growing divide between our culture and evangelical Christianity.
America’s most disliked religion
A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that evangelical Christianity is America’s most disliked religious expression.
Of non-evangelicals, 32 percent have a “very/somewhat unfavorable” view of evangelical Christianity while only 18 percent looked at the faith favorably.
By contrast, the perception of mainline Protestants among the rest of the culture was 27 percent favorable and only 11 percent unfavorable. Catholics fell somewhere in the middle, with 26 percent viewing them favorably and 21 percent unfavorably.
While any such study should be taken with some reservation, the results point to a reality that has become increasingly clear in recent years: Most Americans don’t have a problem with Christianity as long as it can go along with their preferred system of beliefs. That truth is hardly groundbreaking, but it is interesting to see the numbers bear it out in such stark contrast.
The way in which evangelical Christianity has become closely linked with the Republican party in the minds of many explains at least part of that perception. For example, 47 percent of Democrats and “Democratic leaners” had an unfavorable view of evangelical Christians, by far the largest number of any of the religious expressions in the survey.
However, many mainline Protestants have—on a denominational level—also become far more affirming of LGBTQIA+ lifestyles, abortion, and a host of other issues with which evangelical Christianity differs from the larger culture. That approach of accommodation fits better within the larger culture’s understanding of love and tolerance than the evangelical adherence to biblical truth.
And the disconnect between what it means to be loving—especially when it comes to following the example of Jesus—explains much of the pushback we see whenever these issues come to the forefront of the culture’s consciousness.
We must all learn that disagreement is not hate
In a well-reasoned and nuanced look at the James Reimer situation, James Dator wrote that “Wearing a pride jersey as part of the ‘Hockey Is For Everyone’ campaign is not tacit support of an LGBTQIA+ lifestyle . . . it’s a small token that says ‘you matter, and I love you too.’ It doesn’t endorse or glorify the action, but rather reaches a hand out to individuals to say ‘those who hate you are wrong, and you are welcome here.'”
While I disagree with Dator’s assessment of the meaning behind wearing a Pride Night jersey—and Reimer’s statement accomplished that purpose well—his perception epitomizes the view of many in our culture, and their perspective is important for us to understand.
One of the temptations that evangelical Christians must avoid in our current social climate is to interpret people’s disagreement with our choices as hate for our faith. To be sure, there are some who have a genuine dislike and disregard for Christianity in all its forms. However, they do not represent the views of the majority.
For most people, our adherence to biblical truth on subjects like homosexuality, transgenderism, and a host of other topics is seen as a rejection of the love for which our faith should be known. They look at Jesus and the way he ministered to those the religious order of his day had rejected and see clear parallels to the LGBTQIA+ community today.
They are mistaken in that assessment, ignoring the fact that Christ’s love for people was always accompanied by a call to repentance and faithfulness to God’s truth. However, they are genuine in their belief, and we commit a similar error when we chalk up their rejection of our views to a rejection of our faith.
The real problem between Christians and the culture
The problem we face today is not that most people dislike Christianity. It’s that they misunderstand it. They have just enough awareness of who Jesus is to be dangerously misguided when it comes to how they think he would approach the issues that lie at the foundation of the disconnect between evangelical Christianity and the larger culture. They think us hypocrites for holding fast to Scripture, and the reasons why are perfectly understandable if we can get beyond our defensiveness long enough to look at it through their eyes.
Again, that doesn’t make them right, but it also doesn’t make them our enemies. And knowing that the former does not have to equal the latter is crucial for actually loving people as Jesus did.
James Reimer knew that his stance on wearing the Pride Night jerseys would be an issue for many people, but he stood for what he thought was right and did so in a manner that was both loving and faithful to biblical truth. He showed no disregard or hate toward those who disagreed and, in so doing, left us with a good example of what it looks like to follow Jesus in a culture that grows increasingly disconnected from his word.
How can you do the same today?