By Bob Allen
New York Jets backup quarterback Tim Tebow has changed his mind about speaking at a Dallas mega church whose pastor has in the past made news with controversial comments about homosexuality, other faiths and political leaders.
Tebow announced on Twitter Feb. 21 that: “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, an outspoken Christian athlete who grew up attending First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., was originally announced as the featured speaker for April 28, part of a month-long grand opening celebration of the new $130 million First Baptist Church campus that opens March 31.
Since then, the First Baptist, Dallas, website has been changed to list scheduled speakers through Sunday, April 21.
The 2007 Heisman Trophy winner and former University of Florida star known for displaying Bible verses on eye-black and an on-field kneeling prayer posture that earned the nickname “Tebowing,” didn’t say what “new information” caused him to change his mind about speaking at FBC, Dallas.
Since original news of his plans to do so, however, media attention focused on past public comments by First Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress, including those labeling Islam a “false religion,” describing Mormonism as a “non-Christian cult,” warning that homosexuality leads to pedophilia, and declaring President Obama’s re-election to a second term as “paving the way for the future reign of the Antichrist.”
Critics said appearing to endorse the outspoken preacher could tarnish Tebow’s squeaky-clean image of wearing his faith on his sleeve without offending teammates who don’t share his beliefs.
The celebrity website TMZ quoted a church spokesperson as saying Tebow was unjustly forced to withdraw by media who “grossly misrepresented” statements by the pastor. The spokesperson indicated Tebow called the church Wednesday night to say he could not afford to get involved in controversy but would like to speak at First Baptist sometime in the future.
Other speakers scheduled for the building dedication celebration include David Jeremiah, founder of Turning Point Radio and Television Ministries; Jim Cymbala, an author and pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Church in New York City; and James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family who after his retirement launched a new Family Talk radio program in 2010.
Tebow said in his Twitter message that he intends to “continue to use the platform God has blessed me with to bring faith, hope and love to all those needing a brighter day.”