For some it’s a one-knee kneel, for others it’s a fist thump on the heart and a “we’re number one” finger pointed heavenward.
I’m speaking about the football players who parade their religiosity after a success on the field.
Tim Tebow, the talented quarterback for the Denver Broncos, is the poster child for such behavior. But many others, such as Denard “Shoelace” Robinson, the unbelievably speedy Michigan quarterback, do it as well.
So, I’ve been wondering: What are they saying to God when they kneel so ostentatiously at the conclusion of a successful play? Maybe …
“I thank Thee that I scored a touchdown.” Fine, but does Heavenly Father root for one team over the other?
“I thank Thee that no one was injured.” Okay, then why not say that prayer after every play?
“I thank Thee that I can show others a religious example by praying on national TV.” Love to see the Gospel spread, but does this help or hurt?
“I’m not really praying to Thee; I just need to catch my breath before my teammates mob me.” Could be.
Or are they praying for further blessings?
“Okay, we’re up by seven. Please guide our opponents to three-and-out, and help us score again on our next possession.” Too crass.
“Next time, help my offensive line block #43.” But what if #43 is saying his own prayers for a sack?
“Please comfort the hungry in Zimbabwe who really don’t care who wins this stupid game.” Now that would be legitimate.
If every football player kneels and prays whenever he thinks he’s done a good job, things would get silly fast.
What’s the Purpose?
Here’s the question: What possible purpose could those prayers be filling that could not be covered in solitude before the game begins, or at one’s bedside later that night?
If God is so truly pleased at our successes that He expects us to drop to one knee and say a prayer when anything good happens, then why not in Wal-Mart when you find thumbtacks on sale?
Why not at the gas station when you fill your tank without spilling any? Why not thank God there and then for the free-market team that drilled, refined, and delivered the product for you?
Why not at PTA when they give you a “My Child Is An Honor Student at Fred Farkle Elementary School” bumper sticker (along with every other parent, as it seems nowadays)?
What Would the Savior Have Us Do?
I have read quite a few stories about Tim Tebow and his actions, and some have quoted the Bible chiding him about humility (Philippians 2:3 was a good one), but I have yet to see the most obvious scripture about such behavior, found in Matthew 6:
And when thou prayest thou shalt not do as the hypocrites, for they love to pray, standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.
(Any doubt what these targets of the Savior’s ire would have been doing in Jerusalem had TV cameras been around?)
Don’t get me wrong. I admire Mr. Tebow’s commitment to his religion. It’s a comforting departure from the antics of too many athletes in today’s culture, and I think his story and his advice to youth deserve wide distribution. But his religious showboating after a football play (let’s call it what it is) goes too far and does not advance Christianity, in my opinion.
And where will it lead? To more kids going to church, or only to the empty imitation of football heroes?
Mr. Tebow: Don’t embarrass the rest of us Christians. Follow the Bible and say your prayers in the privacy of your home.
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Dr. Lawrence is a political pollster and author of two books: “How Americans View Mormonism” and “Mormons Believe … What?!” He takes potshots at cultural oddities from his home in Orange County, California.