"God has smiled on Gators."
On Thursday, Tim Tebow, another iconic UF alumnus, sent an even broader, more benevolent message.
God not only smiles on the Gators, he smiles on the Seminoles, too. And the Catholics. And the Mormons. And the Jews. And the Muslims. And the heterosexuals. And the homosexuals.
God roots for everybody and turns his back on no one.
At least that's how I choose to interpret Tebow's decision Thursday to cancel his scheduled April appearance at the First Baptist Church of Dallas, where head pastor Robert Jeffress preaches a message of hate and intolerance. I wrote about this issue in Wednesday's Sentinel and wondered why Tebow would agree to speak at this particular church and provide a tacit endorsement of Jeffress, who has spewed hate language against seemingly everybody who doesn't believe exactly what he believes.
Jeffress once called Muslims and Mormons the followers of religions born "from the pit of Hell." He attacked Catholicism, calling it a "counterfeit religion" perpetuated on the world by the "genius of Satan." He said President Obama is "paving the way for the future reign of the anti-Christ." He has portrayed the gay population as "perverse" child molesters who represent "a degradation of a person's mind."
Said Tebow in a classy statement released on his website Thursday: "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. 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!"
Cynics will simply say Tebow bowed to public and media pressure, and maybe that's partly true, but I believe Tebow's handlers did him a disservice. Two people in Tebow's camp confirmed Thursday that the quarterback's reps scheduled the public appearance at the First Baptist Church of Dallas without checking on the pastor's background.
From anybody else, I might roll my eyes at this explanation, but I buy it coming from Tebow. More than almost anyone in the public eye, he's earned the benefit of the doubt. Besides, his appearance at Jeffress' church made no sense from the beginning.
Tebow has always said and done all the right things and been careful not to offend anyone. He would never so publicly tie himself to such a divisive, inflammatory pastor. Fortunately, Tebow realized he was being used to bring his national appeal to Jeffress' altar and make the mega-church even more popular and profitable than it already is.
Jeffress, as you might expect, tried to save face in the wake of Tebow's decision Thursday by portraying himself as the true messenger of God's word.
"I think as pastors we have a duty to preach 'the whole counsel of God,' and not just discuss those that are politically correct," Jeffress told the Dallas Morning News. "It's my role to speak clearly on the issues on which the Bible speaks clearly. It's my role to preach what the Bible says, and that includes the controversial issues. … The reason for this firestorm is not because the word of God has changed. It's because society has changed."
If this truly is an indication that society is changing then we should all rejoice because it's clearly changing for the better.
"My faith in Tim has been restored," one Tebow fan tweeted Thursday, "and I'm a Seminole."
See what I mean?
God smiled on the Gators Thursday.
And the Seminoles and the Hurricanes. And the Republicans and the Democrats. And the blacks and the whites. And the Catholics and the Jews. And the Muslims and the Mormons. And the homosexuals and heterosexuals.
In the end, Tim Tebow did the right thing.
Doesn't he always?
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