Tim Tebow announced on Twitter that he will no longer appear at First Baptist Church of Dallas after it caused a national uproar among journalists and gay marriage supporters. The announcement blindsided church officials and led some Christian leaders to wonder if Tebow was appeasing those who don’t support the biblical definition of marriage.
“While I was looking forward to sharing a message of hope and Christ’s unconditional love with the faithful members of the historic First Baptist Church of Dallas in April, due to new information that has been brought to my attention, I have decided to cancel my upcoming appearance,” Tebow wrote in a series of tweets Thursday morning. “I will continue to use the platform God has blessed me with to bring Faith, Hope and love to all those needing a brighter day. Thank you for all of your love and support. God Bless!”
Tebow did not elaborate on what that “new information” might have been.
But sources close to First Baptist Church tell Fox News the NFL quarterback cancelled his appearance in part over the uproar surrounding the church’s position on traditional marriage.
Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church, has been an outspoken leader in the nation’s culture wars – affirming from the pulpit traditional marriage and salvation through Jesus Christ.
The national media labeled Jeffress as anti-gay and anti-Semitic – charges that were vehemently denied by the pastor, the church and many national religious leaders.
Tebow’s decision has been met with praise among the nation’s gay and lesbian community.
“He was smart to cancel,” wrote Wayne Self, a prominent blogger of LGBT issues. “Tebow has never been a serious theologian or moral arbiter, but instead a popular evangelical Christian. But being associated with such a virulently anti-gay pastor would only tarnish his image.”
Jeffress told Fox News that he received a telephone call from Tebow last night informing him of the decision.
“He explained to me that because of things going on in his personal life and his professional career – that he really needed to avoid controversy right now,” Jeffress said. “We are disappointed.”
Afterwards, Tebow sent the pastor a text message saying that he wanted to pray about the decision before making it final and would contact him Thursday morning.
Instead, Tebow tweeted news of his decision without notifying the church – a move that caught the pastor off-guard.
“To me, the real issue here is the controversy this has generated,” Jeffress said. “It’s amazing that a church that believes faith alone in Christ is what saves a person and that sex should be between a man and a woman in a marriage relationship – that somehow those beliefs are considered hate speech? That is historic Christian doctrine for the past 2,000 years.”
So did Tebow cave in to pressure from gay activists?
“People are going to have to make up their own mind about that,” Jeffress said. “The Bible hasn’t changed. Culture has changed and that’s why our beliefs are now considered hate speech.”
Jeffress said Tebow felt badly about cancelling.
“He felt pressured,” Jeffress said. “It was a very affable conversation. I think Tim is a wonderful Christian and we are not going to disparage him at all for this.”
But others believe Tebow not only put the church in a difficult position – but also validated concerns by gay activists.
“Tebow put the church in a tough spot,” one source told Fox News. “His decision basically validates the unfair attacks being made on First Baptist Church of Dallas.”
Denny Burk, a cultural commentator and professor at Boyce College in Louisville, Ken., said Tebow’s decision is a significant event for the nation’s Christian community and could serve as a troubling bellwether.
“This moment will appear to many as another marker of Christianity’s cultural marginalization,” he wrote on his website. “In the broad tolerance of views in our public discourse, who’s in and who’s out? What voices are allowed in the cacophony that is American democracy? Which voices should be excluded? Christian voices have long been a part of the din but moments like these make it seem like those days are coming to an end.”
Other evangelical Christians are wondering if Tebow has denounced his Baptist-upbringing – knowing that the teachings at First Baptist Church of Dallas are traditional beliefs shared by most Southern Baptist churches.
“Is he now going to say that Baptists are wrong on the issues that Dr. Jeffress preaches about?” the leader told Fox News. “If so, is he going to denounce his own faith and become a Unitarian Universalist or a religion that teaches that all other religions are equal?”