We’ve heard of the phrase separation of church and state, but separation of church and sports?
That’s what a Florida sports columnist is calling for.
Sam Cook of the Fort Myers News-Press says he can’t stand Tim Tebow – superstar quarterback of the University of Florida Gators – faithfully praising the Lord and displaying “John 3:16” on his black under-eye markings.
Cook wants Tebow to play football and “forget about us sinners for 3-1/2 hours every Saturday.” As the title of his column states, Cook prefers that Tebow make his mission about winning games, not souls.
“Somehow, we’ll survive without him displaying a ‘John 3:16’ Bible verse under his eyes,” reads Cook’s column in the Fort Myers News-Press last week. “We separate church and state. Why not church and sports?”
The Florida sports columnist’s displeasure with Tebow was spurred by a USA Today column by Tom Krattenmaker, author of the new book Onward Christian Athletes: Turning Ballparks into Pulpits and Players into Preachers.
In the USA Today column, Krattenmaker heaped praises on Christian athletes, saying they are among the “best citizens” in their profession who are committed to performing good deeds in their communities.
Regarding Tebow, the religion and public life expert wrote:
“What’s not to admire? He plays with a rugged, infectious enthusiasm. He’s a born leader. He's a Heisman Trophy winner and a two-time national champion. He spends his off time speaking at prisons and doing missionary work in Asia.”
But then Krattenmaker changed his tone and started to attack the ministry of the football star’s father.
The Web site of Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association, the author claims, reveals the group’s “far-right theology” because the ministry makes statements such as, “We reject the modern ecumenical movement” and 75 percent of the people in the Philippines “have never once heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” The columnist points out that over 80 percent of the country’s citizens identify themselves as Roman Catholic.
As a result, Krattenmaker interprets the statements as exposing the Tebows' intolerant view of any non-evangelical Christian traditions.
For sports players who are in the public eye, the author argues that it is inappropriate for Tebow and other evangelical sports stars to use the game as a platform to promote a “one-truth evangelical campaign.”
But prominent theologian R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., pushed back noting that the postmodern mind is offended by the belief in the exclusivity of the Gospel of Christ.
Mohler said the belief that Jesus is the only Savior and the only way to salvation is a fundamental, biblical-based belief in Christianity.
“Tom Krattenmaker suggests that Tim Tebow should adopt a ‘more generous conception of salvation,’” Mohler wrote Friday in a commentary. “And now we all know the price of being seen as ‘more generous.’ Just abandon the Gospel.”
Krattenmaker, who said he has researched Christianity in sports for about a decade, in his book called the management of professional sports to welcome other religious organizations to express their beliefs. He also urged Christians to use “discernment” when trying to evangelize teammates.
But the Portland, Ore.-based writer did not go as far as Sam Cook in calling for the separation of church and sports. Krattenmaker repeatedly expressed support for athletes expressing their faith. But his problem is with athletes who believe their faith is the only way to salvation.
In addition to Tim Tebow, Krattenmaker also used the Christian ministry Baseball Chapel as an example of evangelicals in sports who teach the exclusivity of Christianity.