You may have heard of Tim Tebow. Sometimes he’s in the news. Pretty much anyone who has even a passing knowledge of the quarterback has an opinion (and that's pretty much everyone).
Tebow is known for being a ball of energy, having poor throwing mechanics and being a very openly self-identified Christian. People are supportive of the first, critical of the second and very divided on the third.
Recently NFL players have been given to imitating—mocking—Tebow’s penchant for spontaneous kneeling in prayer. Sack Tebow? Kneel and “pray.” They call it “tebowing.”
Now, two issues are raised by this. Is Tebow praying in such a way as to be simply seen of men, something Jesus condemns in Matthew 6: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven....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, that they may be seen by others.”?
The other issue is whether or not it is acceptable to openly mock someone’s religious practices. This is an issue I think we can decide rather quickly. No, it’s not okay. While Tebow is the immediate target, it’s really an attack on public expressions of faith.
There was a time when people would really have given no second thought to Tebow's prayers. It was once commonplace for public gatherings, including sporting events, to begin with a prayer broadcast over the PA system for all to hear. It was simply accepted that this was the normal thing to do. I remember my father being asked to lead the prayer at a football game when I was in high school.
From all indications Tebow is genuine in his faith and his expressions of it. Certainly if he desired praise in our society he’s chosen a less traveled route to get it, especially in professional sports. Religion and the religious are not popularly celebrated. Instead some of the highest paid athletes in the world—the kind that kids around the country have posters of on their bedroom walls—are making fun of his religion on national television in front of millions.
Scripture tells us “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Matthew 5:11) No, we should not invite persecution, but neither should we fear it.
Daniel prayed unselfconsciously in his room, although openly so that any could see. He was thrown into the lion’s den for it. Although Tebow is no Daniel, he likewise seems simply to be living out his faith as he sincerely believes it ought to be lived out. Are we willing to do the same?
We may not be inclined to spontaneously bow and pray, but are we ever engaged in public displays of our faith outside of the walls of the church building? Do people at work ever see us pray before lunch or see the Bible on our desk that we read during our coffee break? And if they mocked us for that, how would we react?
Jesus tells us, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:25) Again, we aren’t interested in provoking the ire of the world for its own sake, but if we’re really living in this world as a Christian we must understand that we will pay a price for it.