I've been waiting for the latest Tim Tebow controversy to make a lick of sense. And now that it seems to have pretty much played out, there's only one part of it that does: His initial willingness to speak at First Baptist Dallas.
Much of the rest of it, from the overheated media reaction to Tebow's explanation for why he canceled, is as logical as a third down punt from midfield. What the what?
To review: Tebow, an NFL quarterback whose conservative Christian faith is as much a part of his public persona as his college triumphs, was scheduled to speak in Dallas at the church that was once considered the most important in the Southern Baptist Convention. Its star has faded, but First Dallas is still a major pulpit.
It's a church that Tebow is surely sympatico with. His home church in Florida is led by the prior pastor of First Dallas. The current pastor in Dallas, the Rev. Robert Jeffress, is a theological twin of his predecessor but is better at coming up with pithy quotes that get headlines.
Cue the outrage. A headline in the Huffington Post stuffed pretty much all the objections into one suitcase: "Tim Tebow, Jets Quarterback, To Speak At Virulently Anti-Gay, Anti-Semitic Church First Baptist Dallas."
Sigh. Anti-semitic? No more so that any other conservative Christian church. Yes, Jeffress thinks Jews are going to hell. Ditto for Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Bahai, Wiccans and, if you get him on the right day, he might share a question or two about Catholics.
That doesn't make him anti- any of those other religions any more than soccer is anti-football because it outlaws the use of hands. Every exclusivist faith asserts that it's the only right one, with dire eternal consequences for the outsiders. Unless that belief translates into mistreatment of those outsiders in this life, Jeffress' opinion of the Great Perhaps is utterly irrelevant outside his pulpit. And I've seen nothing to indicate that Jeffress discriminates against Jews.
"Anti-gay" is a stickier wicket. Gay, Jeffress has famously preached, is not OK. The basic theology that homosexuality is frowned on by the Almighty is briefly but unambiguously set in the Jewish and Christian scriptures and in the historical understanding of those scriptures. If you're the sort who believes that every word of the Bible is literally true and unchangeably understood, there's not a lot of wiggle room. (Which is also true for Christians and divorce, but that's another column...)
Like the earlier disagreements about religion, this only matters if Jeffress, et al discriminate in this world against gays and lesbians. In this instance, the critics have a case. Political opposition to secular same-sex marriage and assertions that gay men are more inclined to pedophilia than straights, and are overwhelmingly infected with the AIDS virus are part of Jeffress's portfolio.
But Jeffress is hardly the only Southern Baptist or Christian preacher to hold some of those views. Heck, the Catholic Church says that homosexuality is an "objective disorder," which is a fancy way of saying "not OK." Should, say, President Obama never be seen with Catholic leaders?
Tebow wasn't likely to speak on this subject. His standard stump talk is about his own story. And he planned to talk to people of his own religious flavor -- not like he was planning to stand up in an NFL huddle, turn to the TV camera and start preaching. Why was this a issue?
Besides, nothing about Jeffress's positions are remotely secret. Quite the contrary. If there's anything notable about Jeffress within his denomination, it's his ability to show up on TV. Which makes Tebow's announced reason for backing out hard to understand: "Due to new information that has been brought to my attention, I have decided to cancel my upcoming appearance."
About what information that might be, Tebow remains silent. For his part, Jeffress says Tebow told him the cancelation was "because of personal reasons and professional reasons, I need to steer clear of controversy right now."
Which leads to two more questions: If Tebow's handlers think this is a problem, why did they allow him to accept the invite to begin with? And why do they think this might be a problem? Do they really think there's an NFL GM who is going to say "that boy can sure play football, but we don't want no Southern Baptists around here"?
Hmph. If a quarterback showed up in Dallas with cloven hooves and smelling of brimstone, and Jerry Jones thought the kid could guarantee a Super Bowl, he'd schedule a signing ceremony and turn the Cowboys star upside down. A Southern Baptist would be even less of a problem.
I'm thinking Tebow's handlers need to work more on his throwing motion and worry less about how people perceive his faith.
Jeffrey Weiss is a veteran religion writer and RealClearReligion columnist from Dallas, Texas.
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