I’ve mostly ignored Tebowmania. He was a Florida Gator, I’m a Tennessee Vols fan. He plays for Denver, I live in Dallas. He’s an Evangelical Christian, I’m a Druid and a UU Pagan. Whatever side he’s on I’m usually on the other side. But recently I’ve seen a lot of folks on my side of the religious spectrum taking shots at him, shots I don’t think are fair to Tebow or helpful to us.
Most start with a picture of Tebow’s signature one-knee prayer with Matthew 6:5-6 superimposed. In that passage, Jesus says:
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and 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.
The logic is simple – Jesus told his followers not to pray like the hypocrites, who loved to pray in public. Tebow prays in public, therefore he’s a hypocrite.
If our logic is that simplistic we are no better than the fundamentalists who cite Leviticus 20:13 or Deuteronomy 23:17 to bash gay people.
A hypocrite is a person who says one thing and then does another, a person who pretends to be something he’s not. A politician who campaigns for smaller government and then earmarks pork for her district. A preacher who condemns homosexuality from the pulpit and then picks up gay men. A Baptist who dutifully votes against alcohol sales and then buys liquor in the next county. A Pagan who talks about loving the Earth Mother and then can’t be inconvenienced with sustainable living.
According to various internet sources, Tim Tebow’s parents were Baptist missionaries and he’s a member of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida. I grew up in a Baptist church, was at least a nominal member of a Baptist church till well after I became an adult, and I live in Baptist-dominated Texas – I’m very familiar with Tebow’s religion. Its highest emphasis is on salvation, which it defines as a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” Its greatest practice is “witnessing” – telling others about Jesus so they’ll “get saved” too.
Is that what Jesus taught? I don’t think so. I think Jesus taught his followers to love God and love their neighbors, to care for the sick and the poor and to build the Kingdom of God here and now. I think the doctrine on which the Baptist / Calvinist / Evangelical ideas of sin and salvation are based is an intellectual house of cards that textual criticism and modern science knocked down over a hundred years ago. In short, I think Tim Tebow’s religion is outdated and ultimately unhelpful, even though it is clearly meaningful for him and many others.
That makes him mistaken. It doesn’t make him a hypocrite.
Tim Tebow is polite and respectful. I’ve seen him share his faith numerous times, but I’ve never seen him be aggressive, much less obnoxious like so many hellfire preachers and pandering politicians. He works hard to promote his religion and he works hard to improve his craft… even though most people (including me) don’t think he has what it takes to be a successful NFL quarterback.
Ordinary people see this. When we take shots at Tebow for living out his faith as he understands it we look ignorant, petty and intolerant.
We do not have to share his faith to respect his dedication. I wish more Pagans and UUs were willing to live their faith as openly as Tim Tebow lives his. I wish more of us had Tebow’s passion for winning. I wish more of us had his work ethic. I wish more of us had his confidence in our faith and in ourselves.
Tim Tebow is many things – good and bad – but a hypocrite is not one of them.