- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The celebration continued Wednesday for the U.S. women’s soccer team after its historic Women’s World Cup title, even as questions resurfaced about why one of the best players in the nation wasn’t there.

Jaelene Hinkle, a 26-year-old star for the North Carolina Courage professional team, has been called the top left defender in the U.S. game, but she wasn’t selected for the national team — a decision that may have had more to do with politics than prowess.

In 2017, Hinkle turned down a call-up from the national team for a pair of international friendlies after learning that the players would wear rainbow-themed jerseys in honor of Gay Pride Month. She said later that the uniform conflicted with her Christian faith.

“I just felt so convicted in my spirit that it wasn’t my job to wear this jersey,” she told “The 700 Club” in a May 2018 interview. “I gave myself three days to just seek and pray and determine what [God] was asking me to do in this situation.”

Hinkle has not played for the national team since. After she was left off the World Cup roster, coach Jill Ellis told reporters that the decision was “solely based on soccer,” an explanation greeted with widespread skepticism.

Conservative pundit Erick Erickson said Monday that she was “shoved aside” in a sport known for “feminist virtue signaling,” while The Irish Times ran the June 12 headline “Religious clash leaves USA’s best left back an observer of World Cup bid.”

“You do have a very activist team. It’s very much a part of the program,” said John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “And if we were talking about just any player, it wouldn’t be really clear, but just because of her abilities — Jaelene Hinkle is a heck of a player — it makes it that much more suspect.”

He said the episode offered a warning to Christians seeking to live out their faith while pursuing their professional dreams: Chances are that they, too, will face a choice. It could be whether to wear the jersey. It could be whether to bake the cake.

“We know that increasingly there is going to have to be conformity on your viewpoint to be able to participate,” Stonestreet said. “I think that’s inevitable. We use the phrase ‘the theology of being fired’ — in this case, it’s the theology of being cut.”

Obedience comes at a price

Growing up in Colorado, Hinkle played for Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch before winning an athletic scholarship to Texas Tech. She has earned eight “caps,” one for each of her international games, and her pro team won the 2018 National Women’s Soccer League championship.

She landed on the LGBT movement’s radar in 2015 for her social media posts the day of the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing gay marriage.

“This world may change, but Christ and His Word NEVER will,” Hinkle said on Instagram. “My heart is that as Christians we don’t begin to throw a tantrum over what has been brought into law today, but we become that much more loving.”

Her revelation that turned down a chance to play for the U.S. team rather than wear the jersey shook the women’s soccer world. At a club game last year in Portland, Oregon, she was booed by fans waving rainbow flags, even as her Courage coach and teammates defended her.

“She’s never said anything bad about me. She never said anything bad about anybody,” forward Jessica McDonald told The Oregonian. “So, for people to pass on that kind of judgment on another human being, I think it’s sort of uncalled for.”

Even so, Hinkle likely would have been a fish out of water on the uber-woke women’s national team, some of whose biggest stars are openly lesbian, raising questions about whether she would have thrown off the squad’s chemistry.

Ellis, who is married to a woman, did call up Hinkle last year for the Tournament of Nations but then cut her and one other player a few days later, fueling speculation that she was invited only to stave off a religious freedom lawsuit.

The World Cup team’s activism is well established. Team captain Megan Rapinoe, who calls herself a “walking protest” against the Trump administration, accused President Trump of “excluding people” in a Tuesday interview on CNN.

“Your message is excluding people. You’re excluding me. You’re excluding people that look like me. You’re excluding people of color,” Rapinoe said in a message to the president.

Excluding Hinkle, however, made the team less diverse, both ideologically and racially. Not only does she hold conservative religious views, but she also would have been one of the few black players on a predominantly white team.

Criticism of Hinkle has been fierce. SBNation sportswriter Kim McCauley called her a “vocal homophobe” while acknowledging that “there isn’t a better pure tactical fit available than Hinkle.”

BuzzFeed reporter Molly Hensley-Clancy on Monday tweeted, “Let’s take a second to think about how Jaelene Hinkle might have missed out on winning a World Cup bc she is homophobic.”

In the “700 Club” segment, Hinkle acknowledged that she knew the risks when she declined to wear the jersey. “I’m essentially giving up the one dream little girls dream about their entire life.”

“It was very disappointing,” she said. “And I think that’s where the peace trumps the disappointment, because I knew in my spirit I was doing the right thing. I knew I was being obedient. Just because you’re obedient doesn’t make it easy.”

The Resurgent’s Jay Schwartz praised Hinkle for standing up “for what she believed in without resorting to name-calling and hatred like so many in our culture do today.”

“It’s good for parents to teach their children how to compete,” Mr. Schwartz said in a June 2018 post. “It’s even better for parents to teach their children how to stand on principle, even when it costs them their dream. Thank you, Jaelene, for graciously showing us what that looks like.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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