With millions of people watching, Denver Bronco quarterback Tim Tebow drops to one knee on the football field and prays to his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Tim Tebow is such a phenomenon that “Tebow” is now a verb. Whether it’s due to his public display of religion, or his ability to succeed (usually) as a quarterback who doesn’t throw the football well, Tebow elicits discussion about the public roles of religion and faith.
I respect Tim Tebow’s faith in and faithfulness to Jesus. Tebow walks his talk: playing flashlight football with his family while many football players are clubbing, visiting hospitals and prisons in his free-time, and traveling to the Philipines during the off-season to help in a ministry with orphans.
Tebow’s faith isn’t just visible under the spotlights, but in the shadows of the world, too. As I watch him pray, however, I’m always troubled by words from Jesus and Abraham Lincoln:
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven….And whenever you pray, do 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 tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever 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 6:1, and 5-6). “Both [Union and Confederacy] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his aid against the other….The prayers of both could not be answered–that of neither has been answered ” (President Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address).
I can’t help but wonder:
- What would happen if a Muslim player spread a prayer rug on the sidelines during major football games, faced Mecca, and prayed? Would we hail his faith and faithfulness as much as we do Tebow’s? (Imagine it, and see what your own gut response is.)
- Is Tebow praying that God will help Tebow’s team win, or that God will help Tebow do his best?
- What do men of faith on the opposing team pray during the game?
- Whose prayers and which prayers does God hear and answer?
“Can a Muslim Tebow?” On one level, the answer is an obvious “no,” if “to Tebow” means to pray publicly to Jesus as Lord and Savior. Muslims pray to Allah and consider Jesus a prophet. On another level, if “to Tebow” means to pray to the Divine publicly–seeking Divine help or giving thanks–according to the patterns and language of that person’s faith tradition, then maybe the answer could be “yes,” even if it means a prayer rug on the football field.
Another former U.S. President says,
“It is O.K. to say you believe your religion is true, even truer than other faiths, but not that you are in possession in this life of a hundred percent of the truth. . . . As the Apostle Paul says in talking about the difference between life on Earth and in heaven: ‘For now I see through a glass darkly; but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know even as I am known by God.’
“….Not that there isn’t truth; it’s just that we don’t know all of it. Most religions teach a lot of the same thing–a kind of spiritual integrity that is good for any society. We’d be a lot better off with an honest dialogue about our differences provided everyone ‘fesses up about not knowing the absolute truth” (President Bill Clinton, quoted in Madeleine Albright, The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God and World Affairs, 2006, pp 277-278).
One thing is for sure: this is the first playoff year I can remember when religion was discussed during halftime.