Culture Wars Update: The Tebow Test

As you’ve seen by now, it  looks like we have a new litmus-test question for America’s continuing culture wars.  This one packs a lot more punch than its cultural logic would seem to suggest.

Even if we aren’t really sports fans, we are now supposed to have some opinion about the hyper-public, hyper-Christian persona of Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.  If you haven’t been following this story at all, there are a couple of wrinkles that make it interesting.  First of all, on just a sports level, there’s the question of whether or not Tebow can handle the pressure of pro football.  He had a great college career, but some sports nerds insist he does not have the goods (yet?) to make it in the NFL.  But a series of improbable last-minute wins seems to prove otherwise.  Check out some of the mainstream sports coverage here and here.

I like the NFL as much as the next guy, especially if the Packers are on and there’s food and beer involved.  But ILYBYGTH readers and everyone interested in culture-war issues have been more interested in Tebow’s loud and repeated public professions of his Christian faith.  This isn’t new.  He has been celebrated among conservative Protestants since his college days.  Tebow is certainly not the first big sports star to push evangelical Christianity into the public spotlight in ways other evangelists haven’t been able to.  But his combination of insistent public evangelism, combined with his meteoric rise as an unlikely NFL star, seems to have focused public attention in a new way.

So now we have a Tebow Test.  For some culture warriors, Tebow’s posturing has seemed nothing short of a prelude to a pogrom.  In a news post on The Jewish Week, pundit and blogger Joshua Hammerman attracted a lot of attention for his claims that Tebow’s in-your-face proselytizing could have some terrifying implications.

Hammerman wrote that if Tebow’s football success continued, it could encourage his Christian followers to do “insane things, like burning mosques, bashing gays and indiscriminately banishing immigrants.”  Hammerman also described his cultural opponents as the side of the “Moral Majority and ‘Hee Haw.'”  Hammerman’s intemperate language caused The Jewish Week to take down the article, and Hammerman apologized on his blog.

But it was not only Hammerman who got overheated about the Tebow Test.  Tebow’s supporters have been just as quick to defend and celebrate Tebow’s insistence on using his fifteen minutes to forcibly inject some Biblical Christianity into the public sphere.  Among some evangelical Christians, for instance, Tebow’s activism has been uniquely heroic.

Other conservative Christians have interpreted the Tebow Test as just another example of the ways conservative Christians represent an unfairly demonized cultural minority.  As Elizabeth Scalia argued recently on First Things,

Were Tim Tebow using his on-camera time to swagger and preen and lecture the nation on green energy, greedy millionaires, and gun control, his Christ-fixation would not only be permitted, it would be held up as a gaudy rebuke to uncool Christians everywhere, and his pronouncements—as long as he kept his mouth shut on abortion and gay marriage—would never be challenged.

So how do you fare on the Tebow Test?  Is his public religiosity a sign of the resurgence of Hee Haw Red State Pogromism?  Is it a sign of hope for a public culture that has gone too far to the dogs?  Is it more evidence that Biblical Christians can’t get a fair hearing in a public sphere dominated by secular materialism?  Or, perhaps, you hope that we can just get back to the food-and-beer part of NFL football.  Maybe you side more with the writers of the satirical Onion, who have concluded that Jesus doesn’t think Tebow has enough arm for the NFL.

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  1. The Wide Wide World of Creationist Sports | I Love You but You're Going to Hell

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