Under media pressure, Tebow cancels appearance at Texas church


by Tim Ellsworth                                                                            Tim Tebow                                            

After recent criticism, New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow has canceled a scheduled appearance at First Baptist Church in Dallas. Tebow announced the cancellation in a series of tweets Thursday Feb. 21. “While I was looking forward to sharing a message of hope and Christ’s unconditional love with the faithful members of the historic First Baptist Church of Dallas in April, due to new information that has been brought to my attention, I have decided to cancel my upcoming appearance,” Tebow wrote. “I will continue to use the platform God has blessed me with to bring Faith, Hope and Love to all those needing a brighter day. Thank you for all of your love and support. God Bless!”

Dallas First issued a statement in response to Tebow’s cancellation: “The leaders and congregation of First Baptist Church Dallas are disappointed that New York Jets’ Quarterback Tim Tebow has announced he will no longer speak at First Baptist Church Dallas on April 28, 2013, as part of the month-long celebration of events surrounding the grand opening of our new $130 million, state-of-the-art campus on Easter Sunday,” the statement read.
According to the statement, Tebow called Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas, on Wednesday evening, “saying that for personal and professional reasons he needed to avoid controversy at this time but would like to come to First Baptist Dallas to speak at a future date.” The statement continued: “We are saddened that Mr. Tebow felt pressure to back out of his long-planned commitment, from numerous New York and national sports and news media who grossly misrepresented past comments made by our pastor, Dr. Robert Jeffress, specifically related to issues of homosexuality and AIDS, as well as Judaism.”

“As a Christian pastor, Dr. Jeffress takes a biblical approach to moral and social issues, closely following his duty to preach ‘the whole counsel of God,’ and not just address issues that are politically correct. First Baptist is a church built on the truth of Scripture, even though at times that approach can be perceived as controversial or counter to the prevailing winds of culture. The reason for the recent media firestorm is not because the Word of God has changed, but because society has changed. More important, contrary to editorializing in the media, Dr. Jeffress shares a message of hope, not hate; salvation, not judgment; and a Gospel of God’s love, grace and new beginnings available to all.”

Tebow had been criticized by liberal publications for scheduling the April 28 talk at the church, which the Huffington Post described as “virulently anti-gay, anti-Semitic.” In March 2012, The New York Times described Tebow as “a preacher in a football player’s body who wears his religion on his sleeve but rarely discusses controversial issues,” wrote The Huffington Post’s Meredith Bennett-Smith. “This polite strand of evangelicalism stands in sharp contrast, however, with the barnstorming, hate-filled rhetoric of the church where he is scheduled to speak in April.”

Likewise, CBS Sports columnist Greg Doyel complained about Jeffress, describing him as “an evangelical cretin … who does the work of the Lord sort of like Westboro Baptist in Topeka, Kan., does the work of the Lord. Not at all.” Doyel said that Jeffress wasn’t as bad as Westboro, because he doesn’t promote protesting at funerals of U.S. soldiers or have his church members yell things like “God hates fags. But he comes close,” Doyel wrote. “Too close. He believes, he has said: ‘It’s a fact that [AIDS is] a gay disease so there’s reasonable reason to exclude gays from the military. Jeffress is a bad guy,” Doyel continued. “He says Jews and homosexuals are going to hell. He says the Catholic church is a satanic cult. He says Islam ‘is a religion that promotes pedophilia — sex with children’.”

Doyel blasted Tebow for agreeing to speak at the church. “I’m ashamed to like Tim Tebow now,” Doyel wrote. “More specifically, I don’t like Tim Tebow now. I can’t. Liking him means liking someone who wouldn’t just agree with, but would support, Robert Jeffress. And I despise Robert Jeffress.”

Tebow declined to specify on Twitter what “new information” had caused him to cancel his appearance. He did not respond on Twitter to Baptist Press’ request for further comment.

James A. Smith Sr., editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, called Tebow’s announcement “ominous”. “If that church is now taboo for him, God help us!” Smith tweeted.

Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, also took to Twitter to respond to the development. “It is very very sad that Tim Tebow is bowing to the pressure of political correctness and cultural decay in canceling First Baptist Dallas,” Graham tweeted.

Denny Burk, associate professor of Biblical studies at Boyce College in Louisville, Ky., also commented. “I am a big Tebow fan — for reasons that have more than to do with football — and I think he’s more than earned the benefit of the doubt,” Burk wrote on his blog. “He left his reasons ambiguous, and absent further clarification. I don’t think this move should be interpreted as an expression of support for gay rights or some liberalized distortion of Christianity. In fact, I’m confident that he is an orthodox believer in Jesus Christ. I have a hunch that he’s probably just trying not to get entangled in the culture war. At the end of the day, I don’t know why he cancelled. Perhaps he will elaborate on his decision at some point.”

Burk added that the Huffington Post, Doyel and others were criticizing basic Christian doctrine “that Jesus is the only way of salvation, the certainty of eternal judgment for those who die outside of Christ, the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” as Burk put it. “These teachings,” Burk wrote. “are not the innovation of a single pastor but are the established consensus of the Christian Church over its entire 2,000 year history. If this church’s views on these matters cannot be tolerated … then we are in a scary place. In short, to marginalize this church for holding such views is to marginalize Christianity itself. It means that the tolerance police have finally achieved their ironic end — the intolerance of Christianity in American culture.”

Jeffress appeared on a radio show Thursday, defending his beliefs against what he said were “false, blatant statements about me. His church’s message”, he said, “is one of hope, not condemnation, for anyone who trusts in Jesus as Savior.” Jeffress told the morning show of 105.3 “The Fan” in Dallas-Fort Worth that he and Tebow “had a pleasant conversation on the phone” and had tweeted back and forth since then, according to a story from the Southern Baptist Texan.

After hearing Jeffress answer a series of questions about his beliefs, radio co-host Shan Shariff admitted to Jeffress, “I have a different opinion [about your beliefs] after speaking with you.” Jeffress responded that he has been misquoted and “mischaracterized in the press.” Jeffress told the radio station that he had spoken the day before with a Jewish friend who was bewildered by charges that Jeffress or the church is anti-Semitic. The Jewish friend acknowledged, Jeffress said, that the New Testament is contrary to his own beliefs but that historic Christianity teaches exclusive salvation through Jesus.

“Heaven and hell will include people from all walks of life — Baptists, Methodists, Catholics and others”, Jeffess told the radio station. “It is a personal decision to trust Jesus Christ for salvation that determines one’s eternal destiny and (my) message to homosexuals is one of hope in the Gospel message”, he said. “First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla., where Tebow is a member, teaches the same historic doctrines”, Jeffress noted. “The fact is, nobody goes to heaven in a group,” Jeffress told the station.

Asked if he thought being compared with Westboro Baptist Church would hurt his ministry, Jeffress said just because someone associates you with something doesn’t make it true. Jeffress said “I detest” what Westboro does and “it has no basis in Scripture.”

Noting that God invented sex, Jeffress said he does not single out homosexuality among other sexual sins and that marriage between a man and woman is “God’s best” for sex. Furthermore, he said he would not be surprised if a genetic link were found for homosexual tendencies, but it would not change God’s standard because all people have a genetic tendency to sin. “It’s not a hateful message; it’s a hopeful message that anybody can be saved regardless of their background if they simply trust in Jesus Christ,” Jeffress stated. — Baptist Press