In the 4th century, Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in the Western half of the Roman Empire, allowing all to practice their faith openly. However, his co-ruler did not make the same judgment for the Eastern half. In 320 A.D., a legion of soldiers was commanded to offer pagan worship to the emperor as a show of loyalty. One company of 40 Christians refused because that would have been a “betrayal of the faith.”
As it was the middle of winter, the governor ordered them to be stripped and marched into the middle of the lake. He surrounded the lake with hot food, blankets, and great fires to coax the men into surrendering. But they stayed strong, singing and praying, “Lord we are forty engaged in this contest. Grant that forty may receive crowns of glory.” And as they prayed, one of the guards in charge of holding them, Aglaius, claimed to see crowns appear above their heads. As one of the forty gave in and exited the lake to surrender, the temperature change proved too great a shock and he died.
But the forty were not to be denied their crowns. Aglaius the guard stripped off his clothes and armor and entered the lake with the remaining thirty-nine. By dawn, they had frozen to death. Their martyred bodies were burned and thrown into the river, but Christians recovered the relics. They have come to be known as the forty martyrs of Sebaste.
While that may seem like a dramatic and distant story of inspiring, ancient courage, we can draw some similarities from that story to the things that are happening in today’s culture. It’s strange, but in a world teeming with God’s beauty, love, and influence, a creeping amorality has gotten a hold of our belief and solidified a firm grip.
Recently on Trending with Timmerie, Timmerie welcomed Hugh Brown of the American Life League to talk about a case where this battle between faith and immorality came to the forefront.
At the beginning of June, it was announced that sports teams across the nation would be donning badges, insignias, and new color arrangements to celebrate what is known as “Pride Month” in recognition and support of the LGBTQ community. The NHL, NFL, NBA, and MLB all have Pride versions of team jerseys and they all sell official Pride merchandise.
And so, in line with their peers, the Tampa Bay Rays announced that they would be donning Pride jerseys on June 4th for their matchup with the Chicago White Sox. All players would be receiving the same jerseys and caps from team management. And presumably, all of them would suit up and play. But five Tampa Bay Rays players did not comply. Jason Adams, Jalen Beeks, Brooks Raley, Jeffrey Springs, and Ryan Thompson declined to wear the rainbow-colored gear, citing their religious beliefs as Christians.
Adam, who was chosen to speak on the matter for the five said that wearing something like that would show their support for a lifestyle that they don’t want to promote. Jesus Christ teaches that men and women should abstain from such lifestyles, just as they are called to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage. Timmerie pointed out that so often, Christians are criticized for being hypocrites, saying that they’re welcoming but not including the LGBTQ community. However, Adam nor his teammates were making a stand against welcoming anybody.
“It’s not judgmental. It’s not looking down. It’s just what we believe,” said Adam. “But again, we love these men and women, we care about them, and we want them to feel safe and welcome here.” Thompson reiterated Adam’s points, clarifying that their decision was no slight to anybody and that they’re just following their faith which is the most important thing in their lives. He said he can promise that he would hold nobody to a different standard because of their lifestyle.
These were some of the headlines the next day: Tampa Bay Rays players’ decision not to wear Pride jerseys stirs up fans (NPR), Gay baseball pro calls out ‘hate’ after Rays pride uniform controversy (Insider), An Attempt at Inclusion Proves There Is More Work to Do (The New York Times), Rays pitcher Jason Adam’s homophobia undercuts Pride Night message (SBNation)
Even after explaining their motives and intentions with love and kindness, the news outlets came for them.
Obviously, this situation is not exactly analogous to the forty martyrs of Sebaste because the martyrs paid with their lives, but the similarities are striking. Societal structures are asking them to support something immoral. And when you are asked to do or support something immoral and your career, status, or reputation is at stake, you have reached a crossroads. And at that crossroads, the poignant question of your priorities comes into play. What do you value more: Your God, or the temporary things that you have, all of which were given to you by God?
“That takes courage,” explained Hugh Brown. “It takes courage because they knew that the minute they said – they did it in love – that they didn’t want to put that symbol on their body, that it was in opposition to their commitment to their faith, they’d be ridiculed for it.”
These five Rays players chose to make a stand where their Christian faith informed them to, and the public will cast stones because the players refused to comply with what society deemed was the right thing. Peer pressure used to be faced on a smaller scale, but now it’s faced on the grandest stages in America.
“We know that 2000 years ago, far worse was done to Christ. They spit on Him. They beat Him. They did things to Him that if you did to a young man today, his first reaction would be to punch you right in the mouth. But Christ showed us the way,” said Brown. We should ask God to grant us the strength to face our challenges with the grace and kindness necessary, even when most difficult.
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