Sunday’s roar of excitement in Denver and living rooms across the country over the Broncos’ 11-second overtime victory over the Steelers – the National Football League’s best pass-rated defense – drowned out the Tim Tebow-haters and fired up Tebow-mania.
If football is a moralityplay, then this game was a 21st-century morality play of the first order. After all, how many morality plays are the “highest-rated National Football League wild-card playoff game in 24 years” with some 42 million viewers?
The game was a struggle between good (Tebow) and evil (Ben Roethlisberger). A God-crediting quarterback, who critics said could never win in professional football, was struggling against a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, who was suspended in 2010 for violating the NFL’s personal-conduct policy for an alleged sexual assault against a Georgia college student.
After the game, a CBS Sports columnist wrote, “I’m not comfortable with the deification of Tim Tebow, but I’m much more troubled by the demonization of Ben Roethlisberger.”
Of course, defending Roethlisberger is a way to disparage Tebow.
Now granted, not every practicing Christian genuflects before Tebow and not every atheist is as habitually vulgar as Maher.
Plenty of Bible-thumping Georgia and Tennessee fans are rabidly anti-Tebow. They criticized his piety at the University of Florida, his eye black with John 3:16.
They ignored the piety of their own athletes, many of whom gathered after every game to kneel at midfield with players from the other team – to pray. If you can’t beat him on the field, beat up on him for his religious expression. So his college-era detractors did.
Make no mistake: Many of the biblical or divine attributions assigned to Tebow are distortions.
Saying Tebow’s 316 yards of passing or that his 31.6 yards-per-completion rate Sunday somehow encodes John 3:16 is a stretch.
Remember when folk played numerology with 666? They found the mark of the beast in the six letters of the three names of Ronald Wilson Reagan.
Some of the theological distortions result from reporters who reportedly got their facts wrong, facts that were repeated by mainstream media outlets.
Take, for example, what happened when a celebrity gossip “news” source, TMZ, wrongly identified and mistakenly quoted Wayne Hanson, pastor of Summit Church in the Denver area.
It identified Hanson as Tebow’s pastor and cited Hanson saying God was on Tebow’s side.
“I don’t think God cares about who wins a football game,” Hanson told the Denver Post after the TMZ story misquoted him and spread everywhere. “I do think he cares about people, and people care about football. I think Tim has favor from God in his life, but that is there win or lose.”
Sounds theologically sound to me.
As for what Tebow has actually said, some of it is not too bad.
Tebow told Sally Quinn at the Washington Post that he played football “to honor God. But I’m very competitive. You can play to win and still have high character, integrity. You treat others the way you want to be treated.”
Given the substance abuse and female abuse in the NFL, given the grotesque narcissism and materialism, modesty and integrity are in short supply.
Asked about fans with T-shirts that connected Jesus with him, Tebow told Quinn: “I don’t know what to think about that, because I don’t know where people’s hearts are. It’s important to not judge without knowing their hearts. If their heart is to love the Lord, then it’s a good thing. Only God can judge because only God knows what’s truly in a person’s heart.”
So what explains all the Tebow-hating?
Some of it is simply anti-Christian. It’s hostility toward an evangelical faith that gives God credit for success and names Jesus as Lord and Savior.
The same crowd that demands tolerance for everything under the sun, save dog-fighting, is completely intolerant of Tebow’s explicit expression of evangelical Christianity. That, of course, is both bigotry and hypocrisy.
Tebow-mania, on the other hand, is troubling, especially if fans seriously believe that Tebow has a divine anointment. That problem is not limited to evangelical football fans, however.
Some liberal Democrats projected messianic expectations on Barack Obama in 2008. Some Republicans have worshipfully shifted from Donald Trump to Rick Perry to Herman Cain to Newt Gingrich, all in search of a political savior to slay their adversary.
Projecting divine favor on human beings is a far different thing than human beings pointing out their dependence on, and expressing gratitude to, God.