Tim Tebow's self-inflicted criticism

by Anthony Bradley
Posted on Wednesday, November 9, 2011, at 5:27 pm

Tim Tebow is a godly man and a good football player. There is no question about his character, the importance of his faith, and his development as a player in the NFL. But the young Denver Broncos quarterback has become a controversial figure because of the very public displays of his faith. For example, he has been recently mocked for his bended-knee prayers during games, which is now officially known as "Tebowing." But has he inadvertently brought this criticism on himself? Is praying publicly between plays what it really means to "be a Christian" in pro football?

Jesus said to his disciples, "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16). One has to wonder if Tebow's actions are a shrewd way to be a Christian in sports.

In a discussion about this on my Facebook wall someone asked, "How many Christians have you seen get down on one knee and pray at work? If he really wanted to live out his faith, he'd do his job well and love those he works with." Is there a difference, then, between living one's faith and acting it out in public? How many surgeons who are Christians get on their knees and pray in the operating room? How many Christians who are public school teachers get on their knees and pray at the beginning of each class? Or a mechanic? Or a bus driver? Is what Tim Tebow is doing even necessary?

It's also important to remember that Tebow's actions are set in a context of "secular fundamentalist intolerance," as one of my friends points out. "It's time for individuals under this banner to be treated as a rival orthodoxy and to be challenged and refuted on such grounds," my friend added.

As such, it makes sense, then, that Tebow is being mocked so openly. But how useful or wise is it for him to continue to put his religious practices on public display? What would be lost if he lived out his faith by simply working hard at being a better player and loving his teammates well? After all, this is what the rest of us have to do at work every day.

In the final analysis, it seems Tebow might help himself and the kingdom by getting off of his knees, taking the verses off of his face, and being faithful to Christ without the public acts like all the other Christians in the NFL have done for decades.

Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

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