What do you do with public figures who wear their religion on their sleeves, who use their celebrity to extoll their beliefs, who advocate on behalf of political issues which speak to their faith commitments?
Let's call this the Tebow Quandary. Here we refer to incoming New York Jets' backup (?) quarterback and Evangelical icon Tim Tebow, who has somehow landed in one of the least Evangelical-friendly markets in the United States.
This is the question I ask on this week's episode of The Secular Center, a show devoted to thinking through basic issues of interest to those religious and non-religious people who consider themselves to be American secularists.
As I wrestle with this dilemma, I am pretty sure the answer to my questions above are: You don't do a thing. You exhibit tolerance. You shut your yapper. And you make noises only when certain lines are crossed.
This isn't France, after all. We don't have a long and hard-fought tradition of banning religious symbolism and iconography in public space (and I want to be very clear that the French have their profound historical reasons for doing so). Nor is there any constitutional requirement in this country that citizens refrain from openly discussing their faith.
But this does raise the question: What would be crossing a line?
Were Mr. Tebow to correlate his team's victories with some type of divine favor (as some of his fans seem inclined to do), we could accuse him of poor professionalism, not to mention having a shaky grasp of theology.
Were he to create a locker room atmosphere in which non-Evangelical athletes were made to feel uncomfortable, then that, too, would rouse the ire of secularists.
Were he to derisively call out or mock other faith traditions, that would clearly be a trespass upon the vaunted American tradition of religious tolerance and pluralism (i.e. secularism).
Were he to make noises about this being a "Christian nation," once again, we'd have cause for concern.
But the point I wish to make is that, up until now, we simply see a young athlete who is very serious about his faith and acting charitably in accord with the dictates of his conscience.
I render this verdict of "so far, so good," admittedly, with a lingering pessimism. The fact of the matter is that many American Evangelical icons have engaged in one or more of the aforementioned illegal procedures, personal fouls, and crackback blocks.
We have seen none of that in Mr. Tebow's behavior. What we have seen -- and I do wish all variety of secularists would consider his example -- is a commitment to building hospitals and helping sick children.
So while secularists may disagree with his extremely public exhibitions of faith -- I wish he would forego such effusions -- there presently doesn't seem to be much to complain about and a good deal to laud.
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