The Story: New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow is once again making national news after canceling a scheduled appearance at First Baptist Church in Dallas.
The Background: Tebow was scheduled to share his testimony on April 28 as First Baptist’s monthlong celebration of the $130 million expansion and renovation of its downtown campus. But yesterday Tebow announced the cancellation on Twitter:
While I was looking forward to sharing a message of hope and Christ’s unconditional love with the faithful members of the historic First Baptist Church of Dallas in April, due to new information that has been brought to my attention, I have decided to cancel my upcoming appearance. I will continue to use the platform God has blessed me with to bring Faith, Hope and Love to all those needing a brighter day. Thank you for all of your love and support. God Bless!
According to a statement issued by First Baptist, Tebow called the church’s pastor, Robert Jeffress, on Wednesday evening, “saying that for personal and professional reasons he needed to avoid controversy at this time but would like to come to First Baptist Dallas to speak at a future date.”
What It Means: Last February Tebow canceled an appearance at a revival organized by prosperity gospel preacher Rod Parsley without explanation. This time, though, the speculation is that the quarterback caved into pressure because of Pastor Jeffress’ comments on homosexuality.
But such remarks by Jeffress are certainly not new and it’s hard to imagine that Tebow was not aware of them. While I’m hesitant to add to the speculation, I think it is possible that Tebow made his decision after being apprised of Jeffress comments on Catholicism. In 2010, Rev. Jeffress said the Roman Catholic Church was the outgrowth of a “corruption” called the “Babylonian mystery” and that “Much of what you see in the Catholic Church today doesn’t come from God’s word. It comes from that cult-like pagan religion. Isn’t that the genius of Satan?”
Catholic groups had previously been critical of Tebow’s father because his ministry, the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association, is active in the Philippines, a country that’s predominately Catholic. Because he had given money and and volunteered for his father’s ministry, Tim had also been criticized for being “anti-Catholic.” (The Jets quarterback was also reported to have dated Camilla Belle, an actress who is said to have been raised in a strict Catholic family and had attended an all-girls Catholic school.)
But whether it was because he would be perceived as being opposed to homosexuality or Catholicism, it’s understandable that the young athlete would want to avoid getting embroiled in controversy. His prospects of remaining in the NFL are unclear and the speaking engagement at First Baptist was turning into more of a distraction than opportunity to share the gospel.
While Tebow has been an admirable witness for the faith, both secular and Christian media have reduced him into a culture war symbol. That’s no way to treat such an honorable young man. Perhaps its time we all give Tebow some space to just be a Christian athlete again rather than scrutinizing him as if he were the embodiment of American Evangelical Christianity.