Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Faith? Or Fear?: Tebow-Mania and the "War on Religion"

Fundamentalist evangelicals are rife with paranoia that Christianity is "under attack". Heck, Rick Perry is banking on it - even though he's done so in such a way as to make himself completely nonviable.

I call BS.

Secular Americans, by and large, have no problem with "Christianity". Some of them are probably extremely  welcoming of the idea of a loving Christ. The problem secular people have is with evangelical Christians forcing their version and vision of Christianity on them. Big difference. HUGE difference.

Since I have no local sportsradio channel to tune in, I always listen to NPR while I do my weightlifting. Today the topic being discussed was Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. I recently stated, in this post, my concerns with "Tebow-mania". Not so much Tebow himself as the response of the Christian community to him. Make no mistake, I DO have some concerns about Tebow individually - homeschooled, missionary kid, Gothard connection, et cetera, and his over-the-top wearing of his faith on his sleeve. I question the motive behind it - for reasons I'll get into in a bit. I don't think Tebow's a terribly bright guy (not a personal knock - just listen to him do an interview), and I think he's allowed himself to become fodder and ammunition in a ridiculous, largely manufactured cultural war, all while having no real grasp on the scope of it all.

The majority of the people commenting on the NPR show weren't evangelicals. They all conveyed admiration for Tebow as a competitor (rightly so), and not a single person among them had a problem with Tebow being a Christian. I mean, it's not like Tebow is the first professing Christian in the world of professional sports. There are TONS of athletes, professional and otherwise, who claim the Christian faith. The concern that arose was Tebow's perpetual, public, and very in-your-face way of wearing his Christianity on his sleeve. Constantly bowing to pray on the sidelines, telling every microphone stuck in his face just how much he loves Jesus, et cetera. Of even more concern was the irrational worship of and devotion to Tebow by evangelical Christians. I was almost compelled to call in and tell them, "There's a few things you should probably know about Tebow's brand of "Christianity"..."

The issue of Jake Plummer's (former Broncos quarterback) criticism of Tebow's overt religiousness came up. Some of what Plummer had to say...

"Tebow, regardless of whether I wish he'd just shut up after a game and go hug his teammates, I think he's a winner and I respect that about him," said Plummer. "I think that when he accepts the fact that we know that he loves Jesus Christ, then I think I'll like him a little better. I don't hate him because of that, I just would rather not have to hear that every single time he takes a good snap or makes a good handoff.

"Like you know, I understand dude where you're coming from ... but he is a baller. He knows how to win and when your teammates believe in you that you can do good things and that's what they are doing. They are winning. That's fun to see."

Plummer actually complimented him as a "winner", only taking issue with the in-your-face Christianity.

Tebow's response...

"If you're married, and you have a wife, and you really love your wife, is it good enough to only say to your wife 'I love her' the day you get married? Or should you tell her every single day when you wake up and every opportunity?
"And that's how I feel about my relationship with Jesus Christ is that it is the most important thing in my life. So any time I get an opportunity to tell him that I love him or given an opportunity to shout him out on national TV, I'm gonna take that opportunity. And so I look at it as a relationship that I have with him that I want to give him the honor and glory anytime I have the opportunity. And then right after I give him the honor and glory, I always try to give my teammates the honor and glory.
"And that's how it works because Christ comes first in my life, and then my family, and then my teammates. I respect Jake's opinion, and I really appreciate his compliment of calling me a winner. But I feel like anytime I get the opportunity to give the Lord some praise, he is due for it."

Now, to the average evangelical Christian, that seems like a "godly", level-headed response. They'll completely look past the lack of logic in it, the poor example he uses in his first paragraph, and the symptoms of religious addiction and "movement" indoctrination. Evangelicals are pretty gullible that way. Tebow should be listening to Plummer, and to the other people trying to tell him similar things, but he can't get past his indoctrination, which leads him to get defensive about his practice of his faith. What Plummer was trying to tell him was, "Dude, I respect you. Now it's your turn to respect me." It's not like Jesus needs a national television broadcast to get the message from Tim Tebow of "I love you, Jesus". Tebow is doing his duty - at least in his, and his parents', reckoning.

In another segment, Tebow responded to the issue of his overt displays of "faith" by saying, paraphrased, "I take every opportunity I can to witness about Jesus Christ. I do this because I love the Lord." And that's a problem. A big one. Bigger than big. Children of the movement can tell you how much of an emphasis is placed on "witnessing" (my ex thought she should be able [in the sense of willingness and preparation] to "witness" to anyone - anytime and anywhere). Tebow is doing it because he "loves the Lord" (same as my ex - Christian duty and obligation). We shouldn't witness because we "love the Lord". We should communicate our witness, in whatever form, because we love other people. This love respects the personal rights - the physical and intellectual space - of those it encounters, and recognizes that not everyone wants to "talk about Jesus", nor does everyone care how much we "love Jesus". It doesn't impose itself.

All of this really suggests that Tebow is doing what his fundamentalist, homeschooled indoctrination prepared him to do - to be a cultural warrior for Jesus, and when the stadium is full and all attention is on him, or when the cameras go on and the mic gets shoved in his face, it's "Showtime, baby!" for his version of Christianity - and screw you and your personal intellectual space. Rather than letting it be evident in his life simply by living, he has to purposefully let you see the rituals.

THIS is the kind of stuff that turns people off to Christianity. People aren't turning so much away from God as they are away from those who claim to be "God's people", and for good reason. Fundamentalist evangelicals look at a rejection of them, and their message, as a rejection of God Himself - a gross error on their part - and this skewed vision of religious reality leads them to see any word or action against THEM (not against God) as a "war on religion". They seriously need to get over themselves. Those who have spoken out in criticism of Tebow's overt religiousness aren't at war with Christianity. Like Jake Plummer, they're essentially saying, "Enough already. We get it. You 'love Jesus'. Just shut up and play football."

It's like the issue of "prayer in school". As I've said before, NO ONE can stop someone else from praying in school or anywhere else, short of knocking them out cold. Evangelicals aren't content with a silent personal prayer that no one else but God knows was prayed. They want it to be PUBLIC, and they want everyone else to reverence the "Christian" God. Think about it. It's the only thing that makes sense. This ignorant attitude and selfishness is what people are at war with, if anything. I mean, I'm certainly at war with it, and I have faith in Christ. I can see how infuriating it could be to non-Christians. They should be infuriated by it.

I think back to a situation in the late 80s in a town about an hour west of here. A fundamentalist church over there was openly pushing young kids - like 8 year olds - to do street preaching on the sidewalks of the small downtown area. The town had to put a stop to it. I mean, imagine it's lunchtime, and you're walking up the street to the local diner to find a hamburger, and some little kid jumps out in front of you and starts screaming, fists clenched and veins popping out on his neck and forehead, "If you ain't accepted Jesus, you're a sinner, and you're going to Hell!!! Repent of your sins!!! Do you want to go to Hell?!!! Repent!!!" I saw the footage on the news of these kids "preaching". Sickening. All they needed to add to their sentences was "Damn you!" and it would've been perfect.

The public line of this church, in response to the city's action against the street-preaching, was something about being "persecuted because of their faith". Actually, they were being regulated because of their ignorance and their disturbance of the public peace. The regulations had nothing to do with their faith. They probably got off relatively lightly. How would I fare if, let's say, I took a boom box and blasted every person who I passed on the street with AC/DC (for those of you from the homeschool world, that's a heavy metal rock band that was popular in the 70s and 80s...Some evangelicals thought they were "devil-worshipers") - and did so right in their face? I'd be arrested.

In the end, they turned a LOT of people off to Christianity, and understandably so. Some street-preaching still goes on around here occasionally (I know of a couple of locals who've done it), but it's pretty heavily it should be. It's ridiculous. 

Men like James Dobson, with his aggressive forays into the political realm, turn people off to Christianity. When religious zealots like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell declare 9/11 to be "God's judgment on America", people reject them. When Benny Hinn calls Katrina "God's judgment on the city of New Orleans", people reject him - especially knowing that Christians died there too.

I've been asked many times what's behind the radical shift(s) in my own views and the practice of my faith in the last few years, and my answer is always the same: Christians. Contrary to the opinion of a lot of fundamentalists who visit here, I haven't rejected God, nor have I turned my back on Christ. I've simply rejected their version of Christianity. I don't claim to have all the right answers, I've just been able to discern a few wrong ones. I've discovered that a lot of people who profess Christ are actually more concerned with protecting the perceived institutions of Christian religion (often confused with patriotism by the religious right) than promoting the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives or the lives of others. It's disheartening. I saw a lot of the same in the world of Christian music - people making moral choices not based on right or wrong, but rather based on how it would affect the "industry" and the lifestyle they so dearly loved. I reject that lack of a moral compass in the same way I reject the perceived institutions of Christianity. When a religious movement or endeavor is more highly valued than the people involved in it, God has long since vacated the premises. 

Believing this to be a secular nation (that just happens to have a lot of Christians in it) which recognizes the right to peace, liberty, and the religion of personal choice for ALL people isn't a waging of war on religion. It isn't a rejection of God. It's reality.

Only a very few radical atheists openly and aggressively fight against the idea of faith. Even most secular people generally marginalize such voices. There's really only one side fighting a cultural war in this country. 

Don Quixote would be proud.


  1. "The public line of this church, in response to the city's action against the street-preaching, was something about being "persecuted because of their faith". Actually, they were being regulated because of their ignorance and their disturbance of the public peace. The regulations had nothing to do with their faith." - That really sums it up in a nutshell. As a pastor I am realizing what an uphill battle this is because of years and years of wrong teachings in the church. It is like the groups that claim persecution when they have a Bible study in a neighborhood and are told they have to many cars present and they must stop. They always claim things like garage sales, block parties, etc without ever looking at the qualifiers: weekly vs. one time event, etc.

    The protection of the institution is first and foremost and it should not be so in the church of Christ. They can have the institution, and I'll take Christ and his work on the Cross.


  2. As Jesus himself said,, "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray ...on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matt 6:5-6)

  3. This is incredible. Thank you.

  4. Brilliant analysis of the Tebow issue, Lewis. Thank you.

    I am a Christian (although I am Catholic, so most Tebow worshipers would define me as not--which is part of my issue with them) and I am offended by Tebow's displays for precisely the reasons you stated.

    One of my favorite quotes ever: "Preach the gospel always; if necessary, use words"--attributed to St Francis of Assisi. (Incidentally, I was reprimanded for having it on a poster when I taught in a Christian school...)

  5. Well said, Lewis. Jesus never said, "And you shall be my salesmen, first in Judea and then to the ends of the earth, so go forth and advertise my name."

  6. Lewis,
    Whatever happened to.....

    "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God."??????????

  7. Not a thing, as far as I'm concerned.

    Where Tebow-mania is concerned, it seems to have lost its way somewhere between the passage from Matthew 6 and the Jesus jerseys.

    I wouldn't take it quite so literally, btw. Do we, for instance, "give God the glory" when we have a bowel movement, when we comb our hair, when we're playing Uno, or when we watch an NFL game? Should we spiritualize everything?

  8. If Tebow is practicing hard, encouraging his teammates, and humbly sharing the credit with them, then doesn't that meet the standard of doing it all for God's glory, even if he doesn't mention Jesus?

  9. Jesus specifically preached against making sure that somebody is watching us pray. Whatever "doing all to the glory of God" means, it doesn't mean that.

    Jenny Islander

  10. True dat, Jenny! It's so plain in scripture that open displays of religious devotion are NOT pleasing to God.

  11. Is it to the glory of God that we market the faith as if it were a product? That we push it at people as if we were used car salesmen doing a commercial? That we talk at people rather than to them?

    Proverbs talks about speaking with discretion, which means taking heed to the needs of the listener. It talks about how "greeting someone with a loud voice early in the morning" is like giving them a curse. In other words, talking at someone, without regards to their state of mind, is not loving or using discretion. None of this is to the glory of God-- best intentions notwithstanding.

  12. Brilliant! Very insightful, Lewis.

  13. I think the phrasing "let your light shine" is subtle and beautiful. Mr. Tebow, please quite flashing your light in my face.



    Hilarious and appropriate. Predictably followed by: