Merry Belated Christmas everyone!
Alright, you all already know that I can “hate” on stuff. But hear me out, I think I have a case to make.
Tim Tebow is a great leader, believer, and athlete. He’s a peculiar quarterback, but what I’m interested in is not who he is as a person or player, but Tebow as an aesthetic, a symbol. Not just as an Internet meme of “tebowing”, but in terms of representation.
I have long joked that football is America’s true religion and that our stadiums are houses of true worship on Sunday. Football fans inspire more passion, loyalty, excitement, and commentary than anything else that happens on a Sunday. The crowds are more diverse in age, ethnicity and race, and class than any church I’ve ever stepped foot in. And while I enjoy watching a good football game, I consider myself an agnostic when it comes to the American religion of the gridiron.
And while many professional athletes would claim Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, here comes this young man who puts his faith right on his sleeve, is not afraid to be mic’ed up during the game, and openly professes his belief in interviews. In the civil religion of football, Tebow honors a higher notion of God. Sure, he thanks God when he throws a touchdown pass, but he sings “Our God is an Awesome God” just before kickoff too. It’s rather unusual and therefore exciting. Here’s a Youtube clip of Tebow mic’ed up:
It’s attracting quite a bit of attention and this past weekend, Bill Maher, well-known atheist and political comedian took a jab on twitter (explicit language) after Tebow’s poor Xmas eve performance. And of course SNL mocked Tebow’s zeal with this sketch:
What do you make of Tebow’s effective witness as a Christian?
I know fans will cite his integrity, his courage, and his wholesomeness. All great qualities. Even his critics have taken a tone of respect when it comes to understanding that Tebow is all about winning. But what does it mean for us to flaunt our faith? What is at stake?
Well, if we can learn anything from high-profile pastors, the first thing is: don’t screw up. There will be vultures waiting to pick at your every bit of flesh. Second, you must be excellent. As the critics point out, Tebow has flaws as an athlete and while he has shown an extraordinary capacity for hope and optimism going into 4th quarters, he will have to continue to show progress and win in order to be relevant at that stage. But here’s the irony…the irony is that when it comes to Christianity in America, I think Tebow’s effect will be miniscule.
Here’s why: Tebow functions within the rubric of American conservatism as much as he does being a Christ follower. And when you mix politics or sports with faith, what you get is politics or sports. Unless his faith informs either — which it doesn’t (sorry, tebowing doesn’t count), it will be relegated. His “legacy” remains compartmentalized to that sphere of evangelicalism. And while he attracts a great deal of attention from mass media, Tebow remains a known quantity in the eyes of skeptics. In other words, while he might keep some defensive coordinators guessing whether he will run or throw, social commentators know his script once he’s off the field. Tebow doesn’t subvert any sense of “Christian” in anyone’s mind, and while his outspokenness may serve as an inspiration to evangelical kids that they could play (and pray) in the NFL as well as any pagan, the real problem is that his Christian faith needs to inform him to advocate for more than things which would be on a conservative political agenda.
If Tebow began to speak up for immigration reform or even dropped a line about how feels Christians can be “straight but not narrow” then we would see a far more interesting person who might put a wrinkle in what non-Christians think of Christians. Or what if instead he began to decry the profits of the NFL for not giving back enough to their communities? What if he began to call out churches for not being as welcoming as the game of football? Of course, this would mean evangelicals would find him reproachable, but what is the point of a platform to begin with? Is it to guard the evangelical talking points? or to extend the witness and challenge of the gospel to those who would never enter into the doors of a church to begin with? If every knee will one day bow, why just seek to please the ones who already know how?