Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tim Tebow's Very Public Faith

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
Psalm 1:1-3
The most hated man in the National Football League right now is Tim Tebow, quarterback of the Denver Broncos, who has led his team to seven improbable, almost miraculous victories, in the last eight games.

It seems like every other caller on the sports talk shows is phoning in to say how much they despise him. Hating Tim Tebow has become a national pastime.

Callers are irate that Tebow seems to begin every interview by saying, “First, I’d like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” And they hate it that almost every success is quickly followed by dropping to one knee in prayer. This act of spontaneous prayer has been labeled, “Tebowing.” The Global Language Monitor, a website which monitors global language trends, has announced that “Tebowing” has officially entered the English language. One definition says that Tebowing is getting down on one knee and praying even if everyone around you is doing something completely different.

I don’t share Tim Tebow’s theology, and we would disagree on a wide variety of social issues, but as a football player, he is fun to watch, and I think the world could use at least a little more “Tebowing.” Wouldn’t it be great if more people would get down on one knee and pray when everyone around them was doing something completely different?

Given the variety of unpleasant things professional athletes have said in post-game interviews and the number of unpleasant gestures we see at football games, it is hard to see how Tebow’s public profession of faith can generate so much hostility. Praying on one knee is way better than a lot of the touchdown celebrations we see.

But the irate callers insist that it is simply not appropriate at football games. They don’t go to football games to see people pray. And they don’t need a football player telling them what to believe.

For his part, Tebow seems unfazed by the furor. When a reporter asked him how he felt about so many people saying they hated him, he said simply, “I’m living my dream. I’ve dreamed of playing professional football since I was seven years old. I don’t care what they say.” He is cheerful and respectful and polite.

Tebow’s pastor, Wayne Hanson, who pastors the Summit Church in Suburban Denver, says that the Broncos are winning because of their quarterback’s faith. “It’s not luck,” Hanson said. “Luck isn’t winning six games in a row. It’s favor. God’s favor.” He believes that the Broncos would not be winning if God had not decided to reward Tebow for his faithfulness.

Tebow himself seems to have a more mature theological understanding than his pastor, and he has consistently rejected those sorts of pronouncements. He is happy and he clearly delights in his faith. But he does not claim divine favor in his successes. He talks about a team that believes in itself and teammates who believe in each other. He talks about the strength of the Denver defense and about how he is just trying to do his part.

In the strange world of talk radio, callers at one end of the dial were calling the sports show to say how much they despised Tim Tebow’s religion on the football field, while at the other end of the dial callers were phoning the public affairs show to say how much they despised Lincoln Chafee for keeping religion out of the tree lighting at the State House.

How weird is that?

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