Religion stories don’t often make headlines, less so across multiple media expressions, but in recent days one has captured the attention of commentators across the spectrum, as well as a substantial public audience. San Jose Sharks goaltender James Reimer issued a statement citing his personal religious beliefs when he respectfully opted-out of wearing an LGBT-themed jersey as part of his team’s pre-game warmup. Several players on other teams and at least five NHL teams in entirety have made a similar decision.
Michael Coren opted-in to the media conversation with his TVO Today piece “What certain NHL players don’t understand about homosexuality and the Bible.”
For folks who read Michael’s words as gospel and truth, please bear in mind his columns are headed with the word “opinion.” Michael offers food for thought from the perspective of someone who has long been seeking answers to life’s questions through pursuing a personal faith in Jesus Christ.
As he has done for decades, Michael is certain enough of his opinion to state it to readers as fact. Along the path of his spiritual journey―from non-observant Jew to Roman Catholic to Evangelical to Roman Catholic to Anglican―this characteristic has been one of Michael’s hallmarks.
In 1 Corinthians 12 St. Paul addressed the issue of those in one part of the Body of Christ who assert other parts of the Body must be like them―agree with them―or they don’t properly belong. Paul concluded we need each other; all of us in the church are together Christ’s Body, and each member a part of the Body.
What then might we make of brother Coren and brother Reimer’s disagreement on a point of biblical understanding about a contemporary cultural issue? Whether assistant curate or NHL goalkeeper, the Bible is equally available to be read, studied, and understood. There is no advantage over another for reading, studying, or understanding Scripture in whether one wears a clergy collar or a neck protector to make a living.
Not surprisingly, the Bible has no definitive chapter and verse on the appropriateness of which hockey jersey a player should or should not wear.
As Michael notes in his article, Scripture requires interpretation. His spiritual journey has brought him to a place where he has resolved “the Bible is ambiguous about homosexuality.” But that statement is not “the fact” Michael asserts it to be. It is an opinion based on understanding and interpretation of Scripture.
James has expressed a different opinion, also based on understanding and interpretation of Scripture; one shared by the bulk of the church today, and theologians since Paul’s day.
It is an accepted principle of biblical interpretation that where there is no record of Jesus saying something does not mean he had nothing to say, or that the Bible has nothing to say. Jesus said he came to fulfill the Old Testament law, not to abolish it (Matthew 5:17). He presented a fresh perspective on understanding and interpreting the law. Applying this principle to situations in our current context helps inform how best to conduct ourselves.
In regard to homosexuality, this suggests to me two possibilities. The first, Jesus had nothing to add to the Old Testament instruction. Leviticus 18:22 commanded God’s people that a man “shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” Leviticus 20:13 says, “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”
The second? I’m not inclined to think Jesus’ perspective on the Old Testament would endorse the death penalty for homosexuals. If so, he would likely have executed the same death sentence found in Leviticus 20 for acts of sexual immorality against the woman caught in adultery we read about in John 8:2-11. Jesus was without sin but did not cast the first stone of condemnation.
To define “adultery” in the context of that day one must consider the definition of marriage. Then, as still broadly accepted by the Body of Christ now two millennia later, the definition established by God, long before instituting the laws on adultery or homosexuality, is one woman and one man in a marriage of one flesh (Genesis 2:24). In God’s design, sexual relations are not intended to take place outside of this relationship.
Although Jesus is not recorded as having had anything to say about sexual behaviour other than as between a man and a woman within or outside marriage, his compassion toward the woman caught in adultery suggests the death penalty no longer be applied for extra-marital sexual sin.
In context, the verses in Leviticus have to do with the holiness of God’s people. There are behavioural expectations for people separated unto God (Leviticus 20:22-26). As with the Greeks and Romans Michael mentions, there is a difference in expectations for the society and for the separated.
The issue of homosexuality was addressed by St. Paul for society―in Romans 1 in regard to those who do not consider themselves part of the church―as well as for those who separate ourselves unto God―in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 commenting on the difference in life choices for those who consider ourselves part of the church and in 1 Timothy 1:3-10 advising his protégé that affirming sexual immorality is contrary to sound doctrine.
The long-time criminalization of homosexual behaviour by societies influenced by God’s expectations for the separated represents an imposition onto the culture of expectations for the church. As people of their times, we might give grace to those legislators for having the best in mind although we today disagree with the resulting legislation and consequences. Holiness for the Christian is sought, personally and in community of the church―seek first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33)―not imposed on others.
For many commenting on James Reimer’s statement “choosing not to endorse something that is counter to my personal convictions,” lost in the emotions of the moment may have been the words James chose to provide context for his personal decision, how he treats others day in and day out because of his Christian faith. “I have always strived to treat everyone that I encounter with respect and kindness… 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.”
The church, and perhaps all of us in our shared society, might benefit from similarly treating others with respect and kindness whether we agree or disagree on matters of religion, belief, or conscience. On that point Jesus is unequivocal. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31). That’s not just opinion. No interpretation required.