There is no shortage of controversial players in today’s National Football League.
- Green Bay Packers linebacker Erik Walden was involved in a domestic altercation with his live-in girlfriend and spent a recent weekend in jail, though he was not charged.
- Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was caught giving “the finger” to Chicago fans.
- Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is in trouble with the league office for stomping on a competitor.
- Tim Tebow, quarterback for the Denver Broncos, has been called the most polarizing player in the NFL.
Why is former Heisman Trophy winner Tebow both the most loved and most hated figure in sports? Unlike the players noted above, Tebow has never been on the police blotter or shamed by bad behavior, on or off the field. All he does is carry himself as a role model, engage in ministry for the less fortunate, and proclaim his love for and commitment to Jesus.
Like many Christian athletes, Tebow is quick to credit his successes to the Lord. When the camera is on him, Tebow often appears to be praying or pointing to the sky.
Apparently his very public faith has pushed many observers into the anti-Tebow camp — both in and out of the NFL. After slamming Tebow to the turf earlier this season, two Detroit players took a knee in a mocking parody of a Tebow prayer (now dismissed as “Tebowing”). Such a response is at least somewhat surprising, given the widespread influence of Christians in sports.
Columnist Jen Floyd Engel describes some of the opposition as “viciously funny, yet downright mean and very sacrilegious.” And certainly a good chunk does fall under the “anti-Christian” rubric. But not all of it, surely.
Former Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer spoke for some when he told a local radio station that he wished Tebow would not talk about his religion all the time. Tebow responded that he would praise the Lord at every opportunity, saying it is like a man who declares his love for his wife.
Plummer replied, “If I jumped up after every game and said, ‘First and foremost I want to thank and say I love my wife,’ people would get tired of hearing that. Even my wife would get sick of hearing that.”
Does Plummer have a point? As much as Tebow’s boldness thrills me in a culture that continually seeks to marginalize the Christian faith, I must admit that he does.
Undeniably, many people appreciate Tebow’s vocal witness. I’m one of them. And that’s part of the problem. Too many of the folks who want to hear Tebow’s Christian testimony are already Christians. Too many who don’t … aren’t. Unfortunately, the more Tebow talks about his faith, the angrier some people get. In this case, sadly, familiarity does breed contempt.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Tim Tebow should close his mouth. We have too many Christians already who are overly concerned with what others will think if they try to evangelize.
I’m sure Tebow has led more people to God than I have, and the Lord has blessed him with a unique platform to share the gospel. To his credit, like the hard-nosed player that he is, Tebow is bulling ahead on his God-focused mission.
But if he wants to be maximally effective, I’m just suggesting that he do what any good quarterback does — pick his spots. We don’t cheer a signal caller who continually forces his throws into coverage and gets intercepted. We appreciate the one who takes what the defense gives him, who mixes the run with the pass, who gets the ball, somehow, into the end zone.
No way should Tebow back down, but maybe he could occasionally change the play at the line of scrimmage. Besides telling us to go into the world and preach the gospel, after all, Jesus warned us not to cast our spiritual pearls before swine. He told us to pray in secret. He counseled us to let our light shine so that others would see our good works and glorify our heavenly Father.
Is Tebow prepared to call an audible? Are we? Such a patient evangelistic approach can involve just as much faith as always speaking out. As Jerry Root and I point out in The Sacrament of Evangelism, good witnessing requires good listening. The apostle Peter, no stranger to public preaching when the time came, nonetheless said that sometimes we Christians should simply wait to be asked about our faith:
“… In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:14-15).
Good words, especially in the current controversy.
Stan Guthrie, a Christianity Today editor at large, is author of All That Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us and coauthor of The Sacrament of Evangelism. Stan blogs at http://stanguthrie.com/blog.
Publication date: November 30, 2011