Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow has been a controversial sports figure ever since he agreed to do an ad for the conservative organization Focus on the Family; the spot aired during the 2010 Super Bowl. Feminists and other groups, who feared the ad would be overtly pro-life and anti-abortion, tried to keep it from running. In the end, the message turned out to be pretty innocuous, and those who tried to censor it looked downright silly.
Now Tebow is once again a target for illiberals who find his evangelical Christianity somehow threatening and offensive. The latest episode involves a recent column for The Jewish Week that bashed Tebow for symbolizing intolerance. But it was the writer, Connecticut Rabbi Joshua Hammerman, who put his own astonishing bigotry on display. Hammerman titled his piece "My Tebow Problem," and indeed it is Hammerman's problem — not Tebow's.
While claiming to want to root for Tebow, who has pulled off an unprecedented string of amazing consecutive fourth-quarter comebacks for his underdog team this season, Hammerman made the following prediction: "If Tebow wins the Super Bowl, against all odds, it will buoy his faithful, and emboldened faithful can do insane things, like burning mosques, bashing gays and indiscriminately banishing immigrants. While America has become more inclusive since Jerry Falwell's first political forays, a Tebow triumph could set those efforts back considerably."
And Hammerman's bigotry doesn't stop there. On his own blog, he responds to criticism from those who took offense to his original article, noting that Tebow's "entire life's work is also predicated on saving my soul for Jesus. He's not alone in this. Tebow has been affiliated with the Southern Baptists, who spend millions to convert Jews, often deceptively. I personally don't consider that exemplary behavior. Is it better than raping little boys? Absolutely. But is it admirable? I have issues with anyone determined to save my soul, be that person Christian or Jewish."
So, Southern Baptists want to trick Jews into becoming Christians? And Catholics (or is it priests only?) all want to sexually abuse children?
Apparently even Hammerman finally realized how outrageous these comments were, as he has now removed them from his own website, and The Jewish Week has taken his piece down as well. But erasing the words don't constitute an apology. And I'm not sure Hammerman is capable of understanding what he did wrong, which is the precondition for actual contrition.
Tim Tebow harms no one when he bends a knee to thank Jesus for giving him the athletic gifts that have served him so well. And he's never said anything publicly about saving anyone's soul. So how is it offensive that his piety inspires others — even his opponents on the field — to join him in prayer? In an era when other famous athletes are better known for sexting, criminal assault or even murder, it's a mystery why humility and faith would be viewed negatively.
True tolerance means allowing others to believe what they choose and to express those beliefs, so long as they do not interfere with the liberty of others. Tebow does not insist that his teammates join him in prayer, nor does he interfere with those who choose a different religious — or non-religious — expression of joy and gratitude.
But illiberals want religion out of the public square altogether. They want to reinterpret the First Amendment to deny religious freedom, not to protect it. They want to force religious people of all faiths to keep their religion in the closet, while at the same time enforcing the open acceptance — indeed, encouragement — of behaviors that conflict with traditional religious tenets. The illiberal religious bigots believe putting a creche on public property is unconstitutional; but displaying a crucifix in a in a tax-supported museum is just fine, just so long as it's stuck in a jar of urine.
Tim Tebow is not the problem. The real problem is our willingness to be bullied into thinking that prejudice masked as tolerance is acceptable.
Linda Chavez is the author of "An Unlikely Conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal." To find out more about Linda Chavez, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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