In an astonishing turn of events, Tim Tebow has now cancelled his appearance at First Baptist Dallas; and in doing so he has officially placed the political religious right to the far margins of society.
Tebow's appearance was meant to be a pretty routine, if flashy event. First Baptist Church invited the football star, more famous for his prayerful pose than his forward passes, to be part of the reveal of their new church campus, which a press release calls "the largest church building project in modern history."
Tebow was scheduled to speak on April 28, at the 9:15 Sunday morning service. None of this seemed all that surprising. Tebow has spoken at many churches and Christian filled stadiums in the past years and First Baptist Dallas was surely thought of as just one more 'preaching' moment for the football player.
Just to be clear, First Baptist Dallas is not an outlier church. It is headed by Pastor Robert Jeffress, a very influential conservative Christian voice, who leads an 11,000 strong congregation connected to the Southern Baptist Convention. The theology and the constituency is squarely within the mainstream of contemporary right-wing Christian thought.
But what has changed is that the views of the right-wing Christians are now officially out of step with the growing majority of Americans -- including, apparently, Tim Tebow.
Dr. Jeffress has never been shy about his opinons and he offered up some great soundbites in the last election. First he called Mormonism a cult, then changed his mind when Governor Romney (Mormon) was the Republican nominee, and topped it all off on the Sunday before the election by saying that President Obama's reelection would lead to the rise of the anti-Christ.
Jeffress has also had a few choice words to say about the gays, namely that "homosexuality is perverse, it represents a degradation of a person's mind;" and Muslims who are following a religion that is a "heresy from the pit of hell."
While Dr. Jeffess has a tendency not to sugarcoat his feelings, in most respects he is simply voicing what 'bible believing' religious-right Christians have been saying for a long time. 'Jesus is the only way'; 'gay relations are sinful'; 'Catholic Church is satanic;' and 'Mormonism is a cult' (Billy Graham's website said this very thing, but was scrubbed in the run up to the 2012 elections.)
So, while it was not surprising that First Baptist Dallas would want one of America's most beloved and celebrated evangelicals to be part of their church opening, it was surprising that a petition began to circulate through Change.org urging Tebow to cancel -- and it is positively a miracle that Tebow decided to cancel.
As recently as yesterday Jeffress seemed certain that Tebow would speak at his church and told conservative radio host Janet Mefford: "I believe as long as he listens to the Holy Spirit and to God's voice and maybe not that of his handlers, you know, I think he will stand firm."
But I believe that Tim Tebow was listening to the Holy Spirit when he made the decision to not associate himself with Jeffress and his worldview. Tim Tebow has joined the ranks of many Christians who are refusing to be associated with a particular strain of religious faith that is publicly connected with an anti-gay stance and flagrantly hostile to other faith traditions.
Like many evangelical young people, Tebow seems to care more about loving and being loved by Jesus than the politics that too many automatically associate with Him.
In his press release Tebow mentions that he was looking forward to sharing "Christ's unconditional love" at First Baptist Dallas. Apparently Tebow, like so many of his evangelical brothers and sisters, now feels that the religious right is no longer a place where that can be done.
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