Tim Tebow is an evangelical icon. Christian young people read his books, buy his jersey and flock to his games. It is the evangelical sports fans that cause ratings and readership to rise every time he is featured in a game or a story. Countless churches, Christian gatherings and evangelical leaders have traded on his name and presence in order to draw crowds and media attention. Our sons want to be like him and our daughters want to marry him. But now Tebow is under serious attack.
Last week a sports firestorm erupted when the secular press became aware of Tebow’s impending speaking engagement at the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Pastor Robert Jeffress is known for being outspoken on prominent social issues, and his church had engaged Tebow and other Christian celebrities to help them open a new church building in downtown Dallas. Because Jeffress has been clear and vocal about his position on homosexuality and Islam, President Barack Obama and Mormonism, sportswriters such as Gregg Doyel of CBSSports.com and Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel decided to take Tebow to task for agreeing to speak at Jeffress’ church. Unfairly casting Jeffress as a gay-bashing bigot, those men and others called for Tebow to withdraw from the event.
Tebow, on the other hand, was laying low in Arizona, working out and trying to make himself more attractive to NFL teams by staying out of the public limelight. He withdrew from the speaking engagement in Dallas when he saw the wave of national attention his connection with Jeffress was generating. But instead of avoiding unwanted attention and tamping out the smoldering controversy, his withdrawal seems to have created even more heat.
Evangelicals and secularists alike have churned out numerous articles to define what the latest Tebow episode means in the context of the culture wars. Albert Mohler, writing for Christianity Today, says the Tebow incident signals the shrinking of the public space that religious people will be allowed to occupy. At CBSSports.com, Doyel considers Tebow's brand of Christianity to be despicable. Over at Slate.com, Paul Raushenbush suggests that Tebow's decision means the permanent cultural marginalization of the evangelical right. The American Family Association published an article under the headline, “Tebow Caves to Gay Activists.” The public commented on Twitter under the hashtag #tebowcaves.
Evangelical leaders have loved sharing the platform and the spotlight with Tebow when he was riding high. But a precious few evangelical leaders have come publicly to his defense in this current media skirmish. Add me to their meager number.
Speaking up for Tebow is easy for me – I just look at his track record. In 2009, Tebow did a press conference as a Florida Gator as a part of media day for the Southeastern Conference. He was asked the question: “Are you saving yourself for marriage?” He quickly and gladly answered, “Yes I am.” Most men reading this article would have been too embarrassed to say that in front of seven guys in their high school locker room. Tebow said it on a national stage. Still don’t think he is willing to take tough stands? And how much more “pro-traditional marriage” can he get?
Tebow and his mom starred in a pro-life commercial during the Super Bowl in 2010. Although the National Organization for Women viciously castigated him, he cheerfully made the ad and took a principled stand on a biblical issue. Sound like a coward to you?
Over the years Tim has spoken countless times in prisons and comforted scores of Make-A-Wish families before and after his games as a pro. His under-the-radar calls, notes and personal visits to sick children go unreported but brighten the day of hurting people. His charitable work is widely known, even though he has never sought out attention for his good deeds. Not sincere enough for you?
Here is what Tim Tebow has done with his public life – he has used it as a platform to do good works in the name of Jesus, to explain that all people have a need for Jesus, to tell all people that Jesus loves them, and to invite all people to trust Jesus as their Lord and Savior. And now he has decided not to speak at FBC Dallas.
Many Christians have been critical of Tim’s decision. Others have been critical of his explanation for his withdrawal. I’m sorry if Tebow can’t meet your standard for speaking in public. This young man stands up for Christ, tries to do what is right, and proves with his actions that his faith is more than words.
We should remember that Tim is a football player. He is not a trained theologian, philosopher, apologist or public policy expert. It is unfair to expect Tebow to speak competently and comprehensively to the complex and nuanced set of issues surrounding homosexuality. Certainly he has an opinion about God’s design for sex and marriage. I am confident that he will share his view at a time of his choosing.
I know Tim Tebow. I’ve been friends with his family since I was 8 years old. I was his friend before he got famous, and I'll be his friend after the media machine gets through with him. I am proud to hold him up as a role model for my sons. Because here is what I know about him – he isn’t a coward and he has not “caved” under pressure. Feel free to agree or disagree with his decisions about where he speaks. But for Pete's sake – cut the guy some slack.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Scroggins is pastor of First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach. This column first appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness, online at gofbw.com.)