Tim Tebow, unfortunately... intently prides himself on representing America's two great religions: Christianity and Football. But the way the young Denver Broncos' quarterback intertwines the two has made some followers of each faith extremely uncomfortable. His post-game interviews always begin with "I'd like to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," and he frequently drops to one knee on the field and bows his head in prayer— a posture now called Tebowing. But Tim Tebow's behavior on the field does raise important questions about prayer and how Christians ought to practice it. Andrew Sullivan criticized Tim Tebow saying his public prayers violate Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) where he taught his followers to pray in private: "And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you." (Matthew 6:5-6) Referencing Tebow's habit of praying during NFL games before millions of spectators, Sullivan asks, "Why does a Christian publicly repudiate the God he worships?" Is Sullivan right? Is Tim Tebow actually violating the teachings of Christ with his behavior on the field? The answer is more complicated than critics of publicly practiced religion may prefer.
I think a case could also be made that the emergence of digital communication and online social media has made religious hypocrisy a more dangerous temptation today than we often recognize. Lee Siegel in his book Against the Machine, discusses how we hide behind false, "phantom" identities on the internet. It's a medium I think fosters immediacy and authenticity, but in truth it breeds shallowness, hate and hypocrasy. It allows us to easily build and present a facade to the world; an image of who we wish to be rather than who we really are. And in the case of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, intimate relationships that peer behind our facades are nearly impossible to foster (despite what so many 16-year-old girls wish to believe). In other words, on the web hypocrisy is not only easy, it is now quite mandatory.
At the risk of taking issue with the Tebowers, I don’t think Denver Broncos’ Tim Tebow is "God’s Quarterback." I don’t even know if God follows the NFL or if God cares very much about football. I do know, however, that Tebow is a religious lightning rod and that much of the criticism surrounding him has to do with the fact that Tebow is pushing his beliefs on people who go to NFL games to watch football, not to hear sermons or watch a young quarterback spotlight himself, thus opening a very dangerous can of worms for himself. Of course, remember once again, Jesus referred to the Pharisees, a class of educated elites that emerged from the ranks of affluent scribes and sages— the pundit class of the ancient world. They were notorious hypocrites, famous for phony displays of sanctimony [Tebowing], which is why Jesus mocked them.
But now comes word from one of Tebow’s teammates that "God’s quarterback" may be taking himself a little too seriously. According to the Denver Post, Tebow told Bronco linebacker Wesley Woodyard before the game, “Don’t worry about a thing,” because God had spoke to him [Tebow]. And what exactly did God say? That Chicago’s Marion Barber would mess up and fumble in overtime? And that Bronco players Elvis Dumervil and Matt Prater would take it from there? And if there is no "I" in team, why is God speaking to just one guy about all this? Tebow was kind of coy.
"It's not necessarily prophesying." Tebow told the Denver Post. Really Tim? Then what exactly is it? If you start telling your fellow teammates not to worry and that God has YOU covered, what exactly are you doing? THAT my friends, is taking it all too far. It's a game. Tebow is not a warrior leading his men into a battle with guns and violence, he's a quarterback, a human being. He possesse no more power than any other mortal man or woman. No word from Tebow on whether the Big Guy gave him a heads up about the Giants’ own miracle win. A lot of Giant fans feel their team is kind of miraculous. Me? I was fine with the John 3:16 guy in the endzone of every game.
I believe in God's economy there is not a single thought, feeling, or moment that is lost. There is nothing that is unseen or unrecorded. But in our culture of digital voyeurism, we are tempted to believe things only become real when they are external... on paper, published, posted, tweeted, or displayed. All the more reason why we need to recapture the discipline of secrecy in order to foster our trust that God is indeed with us and witnessing every thought and reflection. In the privacy of prayer I discover that my life really does matter— not because someone read it, heard it, or saw it, or told me that I had to or I would fall into a pit of fire and brimstone... but because God is my witness. And I have never, nor will I ever, feel compelled to "drop a knee" to prove myself to anyone.