He gained a few unexpected fans in the gay community today, but notoriously God-fearing quarterback Tim Tebow may have scared off the very supporters who saw him as a Christian celebrity even as his NFL career has fizzled — they're calling his about-face on an anti-gay marriage pastor "disastrous," and declaring "his street cred with the evangelical community" all but gone.
On Thursday morning, via a string of tweets, the backup QB for the New York Jets (for now, at least) cancelled an upcoming appearance at the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Tebow's second-guessing followed reports that First Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress attacked gay marriage, Islam, and Mormonism in several recorded sermons. The turnaround surprised many of Tebow's critics — who have noted his support for the vehemently anti-gay organization Focus on the Family — and, in equal measure, left some of his more vocal supporters on the Christian right more than gobsmacked. The influential conservative radio host Bryan Fischer, for one, called Tebow a "coward":
Does he disagree with him when he says that homosexuality is a sin? Does he disagree with him when he says that Islam is a false religion? If Tebow does not in fact disagree with Jeffress on any of these points, then his decision looks like nothing more than craven capitulation to the nattering nabobs of negativism and intolerance.
The pastor of First Baptist, Robert Jeffress, shared Fischer's sense of betrayal — according to Fox News Radio, he interpreted Tebow's cancellation as an affront to his church's values:
“To me, the real issue here is the controversy this has generated,” Jeffress said. “It’s amazing that a church that believes faith alone in Christ is what saves a person and that sex should be between a man and a woman in a marriage relationship – that somehow those beliefs are considered hate speech? That is historic Christian doctrine for the past 2,000 years.”
Tebow has long enjoyed the steadfast support of America's growing evangelical community — a relationship cemented by on-the-field Tebowing and eye black with Bible verses, but also with a Super Bowl ad for Focus on the Family — for which Fischer serves as a prominent, if persistently controversial, mouthpiece. What's more, Tebow has been steadfast with the press, a Christian figurehead who rarely "flinches under pressure," as Fischer accuses him of, and actually keeps his relationship with God pretty private, despite outward appearance. Well, at least he doesn't flinch under pressure in post-game interviews; on the field is a whole separate story.
Meanwhile, Tebow's turnaround on the speech in Dallas has earned him accolades from outlets like the gay-themed sports website OutSports, whose founder wrote today:
It’s hard to believe the decision comes from anything but a revelation about Jeffress’ anti-gay preaching that flies in the face of Tebow’s (generally) more positive and inclusive messages. Whatever the reason, good for Tebow for saying “No” to this anti-gay church.
None of this means that Tebow is stepping out of the spotlight. On Twitter, he vowed to continue his Christian ministry elsewhere:
While I was looking forward to sharing a message of hope and Christ's unconditional love with the faithful members of the historic...— Tim Tebow (@TimTebow) February 21, 2013
... First Baptist Church of Dallas in April, due to new information that has been brought to my attention, I have decided to cancel my...— Tim Tebow (@TimTebow) February 21, 2013
...upcoming appearance. I will continue to use the platform God has blessed me with to bring Faith, Hope and Love to all those...— Tim Tebow (@TimTebow) February 21, 2013
...needing a brighter day. Thank you for all of your love and support. God Bless!— Tim Tebow (@TimTebow) February 21, 2013