January 30, 2012
By William McKenzie
The Denver Broncos may be out of the NFL playoffs, but Denver QB Tim Tebow is not out of the news. In fact, the art of Tebowing , where people record themselves bowing in prayer on one knee like Tebow does, has become a phenomenon. The online world has plenty of examples of Tebowing. And the mainstream media has published article after article about Tebowing and the football player's public display of faith.
Of course, Tebow's explicit display of religion has led to a fair share of criticism. He's seen as too proselytizing or violating the biblical injunction to pray in your room.
Tebow told Fox Sports last fall that he knows about the criticism, but he's more focused on those who draw inspiration from his public prayers. Said Tebow:
"It's not my job to see people's reasons behind it, but I know [of a kid] with cancer that tweeted me, 'Tebowing while I'm chemoing' -- how cool is that?" Tebow said. "That's worth it right now. If that gives him any encouragement or puts a smile on his face, or gives him encouragement to pray, that's completely awesome."
With this phenomenon swirling around us, and the Super Bowl approaching, here is this week's question:
What is your view about his public praying and the Tebowing phenomenon that has built up around it?...
WILLIAM LAWRENCE, Dean and Professor of American Church History, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University
It seems odd for anyone to complain about an athlete's overt religiosity as if it were something rare or new. Perhaps sports writers can be accused of poor journalism, but have they noticed that NASCAR races start not with engines but with prayers? Have they not realized how many high school and college football games precede the kickoffs with some chaplain offering prayer? Have they been in such a post-game rush to file their accounts of football games that they forgot about the players from opposing teams who knelt on the field in prayer after the game ended?
Possibly there is one difference between Tim Tebow and some others who make public displays of faith. He actually practices what he believes. It is true that he sings songs of faith, recites scripture, and offers prayers during games. But it also is true that he devotes generous amounts of his time and money to care for kids suffering from terrible diseases. If anyone would prefer professional athletes who use illegal substances, become obnoxious at shopping malls, or commit sexual assaults, there are plenty of examples available. Mr. Tebow is doing his thing. He is not imposing it on anyone.
It could be that Americans prefer religious behaviors that are superficial and inconsequential. Mr. Tebow's are deeply felt, serious, and sincere. The complaints about him might say more about the way our society wants a tame, domesticated religion than it does about Tim Tebow's faith.
At the same time, nobody who supports his right to sing and pray should interpret his actions as a sign of God's favor, leading him to victory. It may, however, be a sign that his faith is connected to his capacity for using his considerable gifts as an athlete to perform at his best. In the marvelous film about British athletes in the 1924 Olympics, Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddle is shown to be someone whose athletic performance derives its energy from his spirituality. Mr. Tebow's likely is similar.
I say let him play and let him pray....