Tim Tebow has sure fired up the Denver Broncos and at the same time ignited a firestorm of response to his unorthodox style of play and his Orthodox display of Christian faith.  Tebow has become a flashpoint for supporters and attackers to clash over in our ongoing culture wars.  It’s a fascinating story to watch.  I keep wondering what greater understanding is coming out of this debate for us all.  Here are some thoughts on that subject –

A quick disclaimer or two – I live in the Denver area and have long been a Bronco fan.  I obviously like Tebow and want to see him succeed.  Also, I am spiritual (after all, I am a minister in a nontraditional faith!)  but my take on spirituality is obviously different from Tebow’s  faith.

I have been curiously following what people have been writing about Tebow online and saying about him in the media.  I have been surprised by how extremely negative some people have been in their criticism, more so than is truly called for based upon his performance or his religious statements.  The critics need to realize that their public proclamations and negative judgments really are a statement about themselves.  “Judge not least ye be judged” really is a warning that when we judge others we are really making a statement about who we are.  These critics need to take that to heart.

In my opinion, much of the support and vitriolic criticism of Tebow speaks volumes about the worldviews of these people.  Our modern culture has three predominant worldviews which have been clashing violently in recent years – the traditional viewpoint from which Christian fundamentalism springs, the modern viewpoint which denies the existence of the traditional God and places its value in science and materialism, and the postmodern or “cultural creative” viewpoint which seeks to understand humanity’s unique role in the world and recognizes the limitations in the “either or” thinking brought about by the other two worldviews.

A lot of criticism has centered around Tebow’s style of play.  His passing is erratic.  The Broncos use of a option style offense in the NFL is criticized for being gimmicky and doomed to failure.  Tebow seems ineffective until the final minutes of the fourth quarter.  As a Bronco fan, I have had my moments of frustration with some of Tebow’s passes and an ineffective  offense for long stretches of the games.  And, the Broncos use of the option has looked great at times and weak at others.  Yet no one can criticize that the games have been exciting and their recent win streak jaw-dropping.

Will it go on forever? Of course not – nothing does in professional sports.  No matter how far the Broncos go this season, they have already far outperformed anyone’s expectations.  Criticism of their play can be warranted obviously.  However I suspect we are going to see a lot of people saying “I told you so” when the Broncos eventually lose – smugly reveling in their self-proclaimed wisdom about Tebow’s ineffectiveness and the Broncos poor play calling.  Lost in their smugness will be that the Broncos and Tebow are already winners no matter what happens the rest of the season.

A lot of criticism has centered around Tebow’s display of his Christian faith.  When he vocally “thanks the Lord” or makes statements such as “I want to thank Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior” in media interviews, this obviously upsets some people.  Sure, it may be that were just not used to it being so overt in sports interviews, but the degree of anger displayed by some people in response to the most statements is downright scary.

Some people say that football and sports are not the venues for displaying your religious beliefs.  Why?  It’s okay to believe differently.  Someone can say that they are a Raider fan and  although I might question their judgment, ultimately I realize it’s okay for us to believe different things and I don’t have to attack them for believing differently!  So what if someone’s a Christian and says so?  So what if someone’s Jewish or a Muslim or atheist?  Does their professing their belief take anything away from me?  No, of course not.

However, if we realize that many people with a modern worldview have had to grow into that viewpoint by moving beyond the traditional viewpoint.  That is, as a part of that process they have had to look at religious proselytizing in a way so that they distanced themselves from it.  In other words, some religious zealots in their attempts to convince them to believe as they do have raised emotional responses in those with modern viewpoints who have run from the zealots.  I know a lot of people who have been wounded emotionally by traditional religions and their use of guilt to force their conformity.  Calls for individuals to believe as we do or you are “going to hell” has harmed a lot of people.  Buried within the psyche of these people are unhealed wounds emotionally linked to words and phrases like the ones that Tebow uses.  In my opinion when he says that “Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior”, these unhealed wounds are
invisibly rubbed open and the pain comes out in overly harsh attacks towards Tebow.  Again, their criticisms say more about themselves than they do about Tebow.  If they let go of their resentment towards traditional religions, they would realize that letting Tebow express his faith really causes no harm to their world.  Greater harm, in my opinion, would come in a world where we are not free to express our beliefs so long as they harm no one else.

Also interesting is this repeated asking of whether or not the Broncos are experiencing in their win streak “divine intervention”.  Is God helping the Broncos win?  The short answer is, of  course, no.  But even in the asking of the question comes a telling display of the worldview of the one asking.  When someone asks me a question and uses the word “God”, I stop and ask them to define what they mean by God.  The traditional viewpoint sees an old man in the sky – an external being who can intercede in people’s lives and possibly football games.  The  modern viewpoint denies that God exists, everything is statistical chance and luck – there is no old man in the sky who can intercede in lives or games.  The postmodern viewpoint recognizes the power of thoughts and belief to influence our actions – there are powers at play in our lives that are currently beyond the bounds of scientific knowledge which we are just now discovering – however there is no old man in the sky looking in on football games.

Simply stated – A traditionalist might wonder about if an external God is involving himself in the NFL because of Tebow’s visibility and success.  God is using Tebow and this moment to bring people “back to him”.  A modern materialist will either scoff at all of this talk of God or if they have unhealed wounds around religion might strongly attack such statements.  A postmodern cultural creative will wonder about how the individual thoughts of Tebow and the Broncos – the power of their positive thinking – might be upping their game or how our public collective consciousness and the power of all of our attention focused upon Tebow and the Broncos might be lifting them up to greater levels.

The bottom line – this entire story has been exciting to watch.  It’s an ongoing dialogue not only on the beliefs and faith of Tim Tebow but also each and every one of us.

Mark Gilbert

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Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his recent one Our Spiritual Rights and Responsibilities. In this book, he offers what he suggests are the 5 basic rights we all possess by virtue of our being these spiritual beings on planet Earth — and our 2 responsibilities we all hold in relation to one another! Check it out!