By Bob Allen
The New York media found headline material in NFL player Tim Tebow accepting an invitation to speak at a Southern Baptist mega-church in Dallas whose pastor has in the past created controversy with public comments on gays, Mormonism and President Obama.
The New York Daily News headlined Tebow’s scheduled April 28 appearance at two morning worship services at First Baptist Church in Dallas as a “hate date.”
The newspaper credited Tebow, on the trading block after one season with the New York Jets, with wearing his faith on his sleeve in on-field prayer gestures nicknamed “Tebowing” without offending teammates by his preaching. The article said that image could be tarnished, however, after Tebow shows up alongside First Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress, described in the story’s opening sentence as a “hate-spewing preacher.”
Tebow, a Heisman Trophy winner quarterback at the University of Florida and first-round NFL draft pick in 2010, is among speakers scheduled in April for a grand opening celebration of a new $130 million First Baptist Church campus that opens March 31.
Other scheduled guest speakers 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.
Jeffress, formerly pastor at First Baptist Church in Wichita Falls, Texas, became pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, once known as the flagship church of the Southern Baptist Convention, in 2007.
Outside the Bible belt, however, he is best known for comments like 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 is “paving the way for the future reign of the Antichrist.”
Tebow grew up attending First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., and has spoken at several large Christian events during the past year. New York’s CBS television affiliate said the hubbub about his upcoming visit to First Baptist, Dallas, isn’t over Tebow’s beliefs but rather surprise that “the PR-minded player would be on the schedule” alongside the outspoken pastor.
A Huffington Post commentary described the church as “virulently anti-gay” and “anti-Semitic” and known for the “barn-storming, hate-filled rhetoric” of its senior pastor.
Recently the Associated Press carried a story reporting that Jeffress has toned down the way he talks about homosexuality, no longer singling it out for special condemnation but addressing it as part of a larger issue of marriage that also includes harsh words for divorce, adultery and premarital sex.