Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has gotten lots of attention of late – not only for his dramatic last-minute victories, but also for his very public demonstrations of faith. He regularly kneels on the field in prayer, gives glory to God in postgame interviews, and points to the heavens after every score.
These things are nothing new. Athletes have been acknowledging God for years. But thanks to Tebowmania, the TV networks are beginning to give these moments of public devotion more airtime.
Before Tebow, directors would quickly cut away from athletes who struck devotional poses. But now cameramen are lingering on these shots, and directors are putting them into the broadcast. And it’s not just Tebow. We’re getting longer looks when players point to the sky or bow their heads after touchdowns. Sideline reporters seem a little less irritated when players give glory to God. Broadcasters are even showing more shots of the postgame prayer circles that follow every contest. Praying men seem to be getting almost as much screen time as jiggling cheerleaders.
Which brings up two questions: Why did the networks feel it was necessary to censor expressions of faith for so long? And why are they suddenly letting them through? A little history lesson reveals much.
Before 1800, religious identity was public. But during the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, society underwent a “public/private split,” according to Prof. Nancy Pearcey of Biola University. The public sphere included tangibles that could be measured and proven, such as science, academics, commerce and politics. The private sphere included intangibles, such as family, intuition, feelings and religion.
Ever since the split, people have been free to discuss public matters in public, but were expected to keep the private matters private. If a man violated this code, he’d be ridiculed. “Tebow is wearing his religion on his sleeve,” critics sneer. Of course, we’d never think of criticizing someone for wearing his political views or career goals on his sleeve, because these belong to the public sphere.
Tim Tebow is changing the 200-year-old bargain. He’s forcefully breaking through the don’t-talk-about-your-faith taboo like a burly fullback crashing through a defensive line. He’s serving the role of lead blocker – clearing the way for thousands of other athletes to be more open about who they are – and whom they serve. The media is following Tebow’s lead. And so is the larger public. In an era when everyone’s being encouraged to “come out of the closet” it seems silly or hostile to insist that Christians remain there.
I believe Tim Tebow’s boldness is a very good thing for men and church. As Christian men see more and more athletes speaking boldly about Jesus, I believe they’ll be empowered to do the same. And that bodes well for the future of men in church.
God’s hand may well be behind Tim Tebow’s miraculous success on the gridiron — not because the Almighty cares about football, but because he cares about men.
Photo: Tim Tebow and David Murrow at a men’s event in Houston, February 2011.