Monday, January 2, 2012

Public Faith & Responsible Communication: A Reflection on Tebow

Let me make this crystal clear: I genuinely like Tim Tebow. I think he's an awesome guy and I am happy for his success this season with the Broncos. He has shown a lot of class both on and off the field. I particularly commend him for the Tim Tebow Foundation, which aims to improve the lives of thousands here in the U.S. and abroad.

That being said, I do have an issue with Tebow's excessive, public displays of faith. It's not that I have any issue with prayer itself; or even praying in public per se. Nor do I have any doubt that Tebow's heart is in the right place.

My concern has to do with communicating one's faith in public in a responsible manner. Allow me to repeat: this post is not about Tebow's faith or Tebow's heart, it is about communication. The question I want to pose is this: What does a public act of faith communicate to others?

When the Bronco's QB takes a knee and prays before and after games, that is great. What does it communicate? To me, it communicates that Tebow is giving his all for his God and petitioning for the safety of others (I've heard him pray for this when he was mic'd). It might communicate that God is more important than football. Great. I like it.

But what about when his fingers point to the sky after a touchdown? What is being communicated? Once again, I am not judging Tebow's heart or his faith. This point deserves a digression.

There are many Christian billboards in the West. Some are good, some... not so good. The purpose of Billboards is communication. I would not want to challenge the motive of a church who pays to put up a billboard; nor would I challenge the heart of the pastor whose highway sign promotes creationism. I don't doubt her/his heart. But I do question what is being communicated. We must admit that a good heart doesn't always make up for poor or irresponsible communication. The question, then, shifts from motive to responsibility.

It is the same for Tebow's excessive public displays. I am concerned about what is communicated when he - and other players - point their fingers to the sky after a TD. Whether he intends to or not, he communicates through his actions. And what is being communicated is that God is to be thanked or praised for the touchdown (or the ability to throw the TD? Or the great opportunity to experience a TD? Or the amazing "platform" to praise God for throwing a TD?)

But I have yet to see Tebow - or any other QB for that matter - throw his fingers to the sky after an interception (neither would I). I have, however, seen Tebow remain positive and encouraging on the sideline post-INT. I commend him for that. I think he displays an incredibly Christian attitude all the time. It's awesome.

But, the question I am exploring here is: What is communicated when a QB points to the sky after a TD or an exciting win, but not after an INT or a loss? What is implied through such behavior? And are non-Christian critics somewhat justified in their perception of Tebow's public faith? (Don't get me wrong, I think what Bill Maher did just recently was terrible.)

Again: Not questioning his heart. I'm asking: How does this appear to audiences? What is communicated? And what is Tebow's responsibility to manage what is being communicated?

If you have watched the media and read the op-eds then you know that there is a mixture of what is communicated by Tebow's public displays. On the one hand it displays that he is more concerned with God than football. Great. But on the other hand, the excessive displays communicate that God is somehow responsible for TD's and wins. Tebow may not intend this, but it is what is communicated. Every criticism of his public faith cannot be dismissed as anti-Christian hate. Christians in the public eye have a responsibility to consider how they are perceived by others.

There is a saying in public speaking: It's not what is said but what is heard. Tebow and many others rightly see his "platform" as a way to speak publicly about faith. But I would encourage him to consider that it's not just what is said, it's also what is heard. There is an essential responsibility that comes with being a public "speaker."

I conclude with a story. 60 Minutes did a special on an Eastern Orthodox Monastery called Mt. Athos in Greece. During an interview with one of the monks the reporter asked if the interview bothered the monk because it took him away from his prayers. The monk began laughing. The reporter was puzzled. Why are you laughing? the reporter inquired. The monk replied that he was laughing because the reporter thought that a mere interview could interrupt the monk's prayer life. The monk explained that he cannot stop praying and was, in fact, still praying during the entire interview.

1 comment:

  1. It seems like Tebow could be just as dramatic and forward about his faith by his attitude and actions. While these things are obviously present, I could do without the during-game points, high five's to God and all that jazz. Basically anything that connects winning/victory/sports/worldly concerns with God's favor or God's involvement seem ridiculous and unnecessary. Tebow could do without those things and make a statement in other ways- his efforts to bring Make-A-Wish kids to games, his attitude, and then once PR asked how much better would his witness be?