Chances are, every culturally aware American has heard of Tim Tebow, the Denver Broncos’ quarterback who openly displays his religion. A devout Christian, Tebow strikes a prayer pose on the field and leads prayer meetings after games.
More information than anybody wants to know about Tebow greets anyone who reads, surfs, watches or listens to any form of news media. If one Googles “tebowing” (the description of Tebow’s prayer pose that looks something like Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker”), there will be millions of hits. There is even a “Jews for Tebow” page on Facebook.
Not everybody adores Tim Tebow. In fact, Rabbi Joshua Hammerman wrote in the Jewish Week, “If Tebow wins the Super Bowl, against all odds, it will buoy his faithful, and emboldened faithful can do insane things, like burning mosques, bashing gays and indiscriminately banishing immigrants. While America has become more inclusive since Jerry Falwell’s first political forays, a Tebow triumph could set those efforts back considerably.”
The paper’s editor expressed regrets for running the piece. While the conjecture was more than a trifle extreme and certainly required an apology, I suspect that many Jews are not exactly comfortable with someone who unabashedly makes an issue out of his religion in a public venue. It may be the separation of church and state issue, it may be the showiness of the gesture (tebowing) or it may be the particular evangelical nature of the football player’s actions.
In any case, it brings to mind the debate between various Jewish institutions thirty-some years ago about whether public displays of menorahs were appropriate. Some people felt uncomfortable about bringing their own religion out in the open, although it seemed that every inch of public property in December had symbols of Christmas, some more religious than others, and every song heard for a month had something to do with Christmas.
Originally the idea of Chabad, the menorahs are now an accepted part of the December landscape, sponsored by institutions all over the Jewish spectrum of belief and gracing public squares all over the country. Today’s public menorah lightings may be accompanied by singing and doughnuts or by an extravaganza. If it gives Jewish children – and their parents – an upbeat attitude about the December dilemma, what’s the problem?
Separation of church and state gives everyone the option of celebrating religion or not. There are those who would prefer to keep all religion out of the public eye or have a “Chrismukah” approach to the December holidays. While I would never want to be coerced into saying someone else’s prayers or following someone else’s traditions, I am happy to see some recognition of my own beliefs.
That’s why I can live with what Tim Tebow does – or simply choose to do something other than watch football games on Sundays. If this is a free country and a big tent, why can’t he do his thing? Nobody has to join him or watch him. And who knows? With the bigger-than-life value people give to sports, if Tebow takes the Broncos to the Super Bowl, maybe people of all religions will understand the power of prayer.