Tim Tebow: Hero? Role model? Overbearing evangelist? All of the above.
Tim Tebow is many things to many people, in part because he has sparked a national conversation about religion's place in American life. Call it the Tim Tebow culture wars.
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Many evangelicals say they have drawn scorn for bringing faith into the public square, and in Tebow they see someone rebuffing critics who wish he’d stop talking about Jesus Christ. They see a courageous ambassador who leads an exceptionally honorable life – a virgin in adulthood, an advocate for disadvantaged children – and they credit the power of Christ within him.Skip to next paragraph
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“He has the following that he does, and people are interested in his story from a Christian perspective, because we [Christians] have been attacked in the media, in the entertainment world and in politics,” says Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, a Christian advocacy group. “This is a guy in the public arena, happens to be professional sports, and he’s one of us. And we’re cheering him on.”
Yet it is not only evangelical Christians who have found something to celebrate in Tebow's behavior. Other observers look past his Christian witness and see a figure who stands for strong moral values at a crucial time. For kids who’ve rarely if ever seen a powerful man be kind, humble, or sacrificial, Tebow offers an important alternative, says Dan Lebowitz, executive director of Sport in Society at Northeastern University in Boston.
“I happen to be Jewish … and it’s not Tebow versus other religions,” Mr. Lebowitz says. “I believe in a new construct of manhood. You can be tough as heck on the football field, but still be kind, compassionate, respectful of women…. He sends a message that there may be dignity in choosing partners carefully, or respecting your body and someone else’s body as a temple. I respect that.”
Some Christians worry, however, that Tebow’s faith-on-the-sleeve style might lead Christians to neglect their calling to be humble. Jacob Simpson, ministry associate at Our Saviour’s Atonement Lutheran Church in Manhattan, cites the Sermon on the Mount in explaining that Christians have a Biblical mandate to pray privately, not in front of cameras, and avoid ostentatious displays.
“As a Christian, I personally am a little bit offended because I feel what [Tebow] is doing is not only an unfortunate display of piety, but is also contrary to scripture,” Simpson says. “As Christians, we’re taught to pray humbly and to live for others. The best way to display piety is to show them how good God is, rather than to show them how good of a Christian you are.”
Evangelicals, however, bring a different take. Gary Schneeberger, spokesman for Focus on the Family, finds its basis in another Bible message: Don’t hide your light under a bushel. As long as God gets the glory, Tebow reportedly isn’t taking credit, but is instead humbly exalting God’s greatness as giver of blessings. That’s why God has given him a high-profile stage, Tebow supporters say, and many are proud to see him using it.
“People see the character with which Tim plays the game and say, ‘What is it that makes him different?’ ” Mr. Schneeberger adds. “The true impact of what’s happening right now with Tim Tebow and the Broncos winning those games won’t be felt for years as those seeds [of inspiration] begin to sprout in the people who are watching.”
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