Tim Tebow was praying in tongues yesterday. Not a joke. I'm almost certain of it. I saw him on the sidelines late in the loss to Kansas City, kneeling on the turf, head bowed, lips moving remarkably fast. Unless he was reciting the Lord's Prayer over and over at blistering speed making all his lip movements unreadable in terms of real words, he was praying in tongues. I've tried to discover whether or not he's a charismatic. I assume he is, and I just don't care about that. I'm not going to hate Tim Tebow. He's not done anything hateworthy. He's a remarkably good guy by any account, and he defies the odds occasionally. Four things happened—two before Christmas and two yesterday—that make this a topic I'm finally going to get to.
Here are the four things: I went to a very nice holiday wine party with a very hospitable Christian family and happily avoided a conversation about Tebow. Bill Maher raised a storm of controversy (no shit) when he tweeted:
"Wow, Jesus just fucked #TimTebow bad! And on Xmas Eve! Somewhere in hell Satan is tebowing, saying to Hitler "Hey, Buffalo's killing them"Yesterday, Bronco punter Britton Colquitt pointed godward with both hands when a Chief's return man (Arenas maybe?) failed to field an otherwise average punt. The ball rolled twenty more yards making it a very good punt. Colquitt assumed this was part of the divine mystery instead of shitty football and responded accordingly. Fourth, Tim Tebow prayed in tongues.
I'm seriously okay with public expressions of faith that respect the Constitution, as in no faculty/admin-sanctioned prayer in public schools, no prayers at inaugurations, etc. Praying over your meal in a restaurant seems oddly normal to me. I don't find it offensive, so long as you don't pray so loud that I have to listen, and then it's not offensive, just annoying. Want to wear a Christian tee shirt or a brooch of the Buddha? Not a problem. I don't want you wearing a "Muhammad was a pedophile" tee shirt to my class and call it religious expression, but if yours says "Jesus is Lord," I'll understand why you feel that way.
All that to say that Tebow's public expressions of faith don't trouble me. I do think it's worse than stupid to assume god gives two shits about the outcome of a game, but I understand why some fundangelicals believe he does. Tebow sports a Bible verse on his eye-black. So? At least it's not Leviticus 18:22. He prays. Billions of people pray. He prays publicly. You get the point. He's acting like a very committed, outspoken man of faith. Give it a rest, people. If you hate Florida, say so. If you don't like that he's big and goofy and gives all the credit to his god, say so. I will admit to some glee at watching his evangelical fan base gnash their teeth when I mock them with tweets about Dagon being god of Denver, just as Maher annoyed millions with his tweet. There seems to be this strange ability amongst certain people of faith to say that they know something isn't true (God cares about football games) while still holding onto a belief that it is true. Mocking them along that axis leads to anger and/or a bit too much celebration when Tebow wins. As one recent poster said: "Go Tebow! Go Jesus!" Yeah, words fail.
Where I get annoyed is with people who simply believe nonsense or when sports are portrayed as spiritual warfare. First, the party. A very nice lady said, "Tim Tebow doesn't talk openly about his faith. It's the media that keeps talking about it." This is willful ignorance or outright lying. She was nice, so I'll go with the former. Her follow-up statement was even more ridiculous: "The Bible says the Gospel is offensive. That's why people hate Tebow." The Bible verse she is referencing is in Romans, and it refers back to Isaiah, and as usual, it's Paul's updated version of the Tanakh. Isaiah warns the people that YHWH will become a stone of offense to them because of their disobedience. In view here is the coming punishment of the nation of Israel at the hands of Babylon. How any of this applies to Tim Tebow being a tad grating is clearly beyond my comprehension. Maybe it's one of those things that must be "spiritually discerned."
Sports as spiritual warfare. For those of you unfamiliar with praying in tongues, it's a common practice in churches known as Charismatic. The churches are a later form of Pentecostalism inasmuch as they believe in the ongoing gifting of the Holy Spirit in extraordinary forms (tongues, prophecy, healing, etc.). If I don't know how to pray, as Paul says, the Holy Spirit will help. Add to that the "though I speak with the tongues of men and angels..." and you have a rationale for praying in tongues. Why Tim Tebow is praying in tongues rather than watching the game is beyond me. Is the Holy Spirit supposed to help him pray that he can defeat the other team (and its Christian players), or is he perhaps praying to accept God's will for this game? Sigh. Evander Holyfield was the first athlete I remember practicing a prayer language during his events. He prayed in tongues when he fought Tyson, about whom an argument for demonic possession can surely be made, especially post face tattoo.
It's an odd cosmology that assumes a sporting event is the battle ground between the forces of good and evil. It's more than a little narcissistic, but that goes hand in hand with the evangelical worldview. I am important. Jesus died just for me. God has a plan for my life. They are taught to study David and Solomon and Peter and Paul and pray for the plan of God for their lives, all the while ignoring the untold millions who simply lived, worked, loved, prayed, and died. Tebow is following in his father's footsteps. His father runs the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association, a ministry that focuses on the Philippines to "bring the Gospel to the whole country." The ministry web site claims:
In 1998, BTEA began to implement a plan to preach the gospel in every barangay (village) in the Philippines. In a country of 92,000,000, it is estimated that over 65,000,000 Filipinos have never once heard the gospel of Jesus Christ.Who is doing the estimating? According to the CIA World Factbook, the population of the Philippines is roughly 83% Catholic. Now my math sucks, but I'm pretty sure 65 million is more than 17% of 92 million. Right?
It's conceivable that people raised to believe nonsense like this (the above quote) might have a slightly elevated view of their own importance. God has chosen them to make an impact, or some other such construct. The problem with any story like this is that it's only waiting for you to interpret it along whichever axis you prefer: theist or non-theist, skeptic or believer, fan or hater. Please, pray in public all you want. Cheer for Tebow. I too enjoy watching sports commentators scratch their heads when he wins on determination, athleticism, and love of the game. He's fun to watch, primarily because of his unpredictability. He's a little like Roethlisberger in that way. What I don't need is a well-meaning if deluded believer explaining that God is using the Broncos and Tebow to bear witness. It's football, folks. Football.