Even in a down year for our beloved sport of college basketball, I don’t expect too many of my fellow Kentuckians to follow the latest happenings in the National Hockey League. But last week controversy visited the NHL when Philadelphia Flyers defenseman, Ivan Provorov, chose not to participate in pregame festivities for his team’s LGBTQ+ Pride Night. Provorov, who is Russian Orthodox, chose to sit out the festivities to, in his own words, “stay true to myself and my religion.” Anticipating the ensuing controversy, he added, “I respect everyone. I respect everybody’s choices.”
Just so everyone’s clear, Provorov very quietly chose not to participate in a night celebrating homosexuality because his personal religious convictions state that homosexuality is wrong. He didn’t declare his hatred for homosexuals. He didn’t even try to push his views on anyone else. In fact, he went out of his way to declare his tolerance for the choices of others, even when those choices contradict his own moral values.
At that point, the story should have ended. In fact, it should’ve never been a story in the first place, for this scenario illustrates what ought to be an unremarkable daily occurrence: disagreeing people living peaceably together in a world of competing values.
But I am writing about it, because, as you may have guessed, the gatekeepers of cultural acceptability, the priests of our new secular religion, couldn’t allow him to get away with it. Provorov must be publicly scolded as a villain. He must be made an example of so that he can serve as a warning for anyone else who may be thinking about refusing to bow down to the emperor of inclusion. You see, in the United States, there’s only room for one set of values. The land founded on religious liberty for all only tolerates one religion now.
I want to be very clear about who exactly is being intolerant here. After Provorov’s decision, Kurt Weaver, the COO of the organization that sponsored the event, criticized his coach for not disciplining him. He also offered to come in and run “education sessions” for the team or for individual players, because, obviously, education must be the solution to such problems. Provorov’s personal convictions on the issue of homosexuality must arise from some backwoods cesspool of uneducated idiots. Weaver cannot entertain the possibility that someone could be highly educated and simply disagree with the prevailing orthodoxy.
Finally, Weaver took it upon himself to define religion for Provorov and the rest of us. Religion, according to Weaver, is about “charity and inclusion.” Of course, Weaver gets to define what those complex terms mean—for everyone else.
In 2012, theologian and New Testament scholar D.A. Carson argued in his brilliant book, The Intolerance of Tolerance, that the word “tolerance” was undergoing a massive cultural shift in meaning. He showed that the word has traditionally meant “accepting the existence of different views.” However, the new tolerance means believing contrary views to be true, or “at least as true as your own.” He documented a shift from “allowing the free expression of contrary opinions to the acceptance of all opinions.” In our new definition, all views must be equally valid.
But Carson didn’t stop there. Not only have we changed the meaning of “tolerance,” but we have also adopted one single moral absolute: no one deserves to be offended. When we combine this new meaning of “tolerance” to our new moral absolute, the end result is, ironically, intolerance. Hiding behind vacuous “virtues” like tolerance and inclusivity, any position that may offend someone else must be silenced. It turns out we can’t tolerate everything after all. The one thing that simply can’t be tolerated is any view that doesn’t accept the new definition of “tolerance.” So, let’s apply this to the NHL controversy. In the name of tolerance, one hockey player cannot be tolerated because he holds a view that someone else might find offensive.
Who’s the real religious bigot here? Believe it or not, it’s not Ivan Provorov, the man who quietly chose not to participate in an event celebrating values that offended his religious conscience. No, the real intolerant bigot is Kurt Weaver, the activist who believes its acceptable to treat the religious convictions of others as trivial, as if they simply don’t matter. Ivan Provorov doesn’t need education; he deserves an ovation. Like many others before him, he was willing to pay a price to stay true to his convictions. He refused to violate his own moral conscience. May the rest of us take note.