Tebow’s Tears: Is God Really A Gators Fan?

Louis Ruprecht

The Focus on the Family Super Bowl ad in which Tim and Pam Tebow and star is certainly not the first time Tebow has worn religion on his sleeve - or in this case, under his eyes. A religion scholar analyzes his own feelings about Tebow's choice.

The following is reprinted, from December 2009, with permission from Religion Dispatches. You can sign up for their free daily newsletter here.

First, the “full disclosure”: I am not a Florida
fan, nor am I a member of the “Gator Nation.” More to the point, I
refuse to accept the cosmology I saw on a bumper sticker last weekend,
while driving home from Florida, one suggesting that “If you’re not a
Gator, you’re gator bait.

 

So I bring some baggage, if not actually a prejudice, to this topic.

On Saturday, one of those rare sporting convergences took place,
almost on the order of a solar eclipse for sport. The two top-ranked
college football teams met in their SEC Conference Championship game,
and barring some sort of overtime scrim, the loser would drop out of
contention for the National Title this year. There was no such scrim
this year; Alabama won in convincing fashion, beating Florida by a
final score of 32-13 (while they led throughout the game and led at
halftime, Alabama scored 13 points in the second half while their
impressive defense held Florida scoreless).

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Still, the media story all year long has been Florida, and in
particular Florida’s remarkably gifted quarterback, Tim Tebow. It is
very difficult to watch Tebow play without being impressed by his
uncanny combination of athletic skills—among them, speed and agility,
raw physical power, boldness, and creative intelligence—and his evident
skills as a team leader.

But another story has been brewing for the past year and a half; it
became a far more prominent and visible news story in the immediate
lead-up to yesterday’s game. That story concerns Tim Tebow’s eyes.

To be more precise, it concerns Tebow’s decision, roughly in the
middle of last year’s football season, to punctuate the dark stripes
under his eyes with biblical verses. Throughout the remainder of the
2008 season, it was Philippians 4:13 (“I can do everything through Him
who gives me strength”). But for the 2008 title game, he selected a
more predictable gospel verse, John 3:16 (‘Jn’ under his right eye,
3:16’ under his left), and thus created the precedent of picking a new
verse each week.

…Strengthen Your Weak Knees.”

Throughout the 2009 season, it has become something of a parlor game
in the media to determine what verse Tebow has selected for each week’s
game, and why, then try to decode how the verse in question did or did
not fit into the dynamics of that week’s game.

Last week was “rivalry week” and that meant that Florida played
Florida State, still coached by a game octogenarian, Bobby Bowden. That
game was a drubbing, not a grudge match, with the 37-10 final score
scarcely indicative of how one-sided a performance it was.

Tebow selected Hebrews 12:1-2 for last week’s game.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of
witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, sin which clings so closely,
and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the
joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and
is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

In a comical touch, some television announcers at last week’s game
misread Tebow’s eye-paint, and read from Hebrews 12:12 (“therefore lift
your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees”), correcting
themselves just before one of Tebow’s rare missteps: a long run from
scrimmage in which he tried to do too much against too many, and in the
course of attempting to manhandle three defenders, had the ball knocked
from his hands. That fumble led to Florida State’s first score.

This week, Tebow’s choice was John 16:33.

I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In
the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome
the world.

The word that John uses in this verse, a verbal form of Nike, is the
Greek word for victory, or conquest. “I have conquered the world” is
another perfectly plausible way to translate what John was saying.

In that sense, the verse was a strange selection. The first half
speaks of tribulation in the world; the second half speaks of
overcoming the world. No doubt many will speculate that Tebow sensed
the tribulation that was to come in the Georgia Dome on Saturday and
chose the verse accordingly: On the gridiron, tribulation; but peace in
Christ Jesus.

Still, that seems more like reading omens than Christian Bible study.

Bumper-Sticker Spirituality

I have struggled in the past several weeks to come to terms with my
own apparent prejudices. Something about these painted Bible verses
offends me, and I have not yet been able to articulate a way for that
reaction to be consistent. To be sure, as a scholar of religion, I am
frustrated, when I am not dumbfounded, by the happy-go-lucky and
freewheeling scriptural exegeses that Tebow’s weekly verse selection
now prompts on national televison.

But that hardly seems fair. Tim Tebow is an evangelical Christian of
impeccable pedigree, and he has used his raw athletic talent to get me,
and tens of thousands like me each week, to pick up the Bible and read
it. That is no mean accomplishment.

More substantively perhaps, this kind of bumper-sticker
spirituality—quote a Bible verse, just one or two, and completely out
of context—makes me very nervous. It invites the false assumption that
one can cherry-pick from the Bible, finding the verse one needs for any
occasion. If you are at a sporting match, then look for someplace where
Mark describes a contest, Paul invokes athletics or a great cloud of
witnesses, or some other evangelist invokes victory. There does seem to
be something down-dumbing in such a biblical practice.

But that does not seem fair to Tim Tebow, somehow, a remarkable and
remarkably serious young man who won a Heisman Trophy as a sophomore,
and returned to Florida to play out his senior year precisely in order
to play yesterday’s game and return to compete for the university’s
second national championship in a row.

There is no way to know what this verse meant to him when he selected it.

One week ago, after the trouncing of in-state rival, Florida State, the local newspapers opined,

Tim Tebow’s eye black is waterproof.
His perfect season is starting to look shatterproof.

That’s one way to read Hebrews 12:1-2. And maybe even John 16:33.
But the season does not “belong” to Tim Tebow, nor to any other player;
nor to his eye-paint, nor to the Bible. Perhaps here was the beginning
of the hubris. Perhaps.

Learning How to Lose

But the image that struck me at game’s end, when I wanted to feel
more celebratory, was the brief photographic image of Tebow’s tears
streaming down across that Bible verse. The waterproofing may have kept
the ink from running, but the spirit behind the selection was running
fast.

Or else it was coming into focus. It is easy to slip into the
temptation of the false security any theology can provide, if it stops
being careful and stops paying attention. God on your side would seem
to imply perfect seasons, flawless execution, just causes, and even
more just results.

But that is not football. And that is not “the world,” as John the
evangelist warns in the very verse Tebow selected. Every champion is
always but one week away from meeting the player, or the team, that is
bigger and faster and stronger. Learning how to lose is one key aspect
of such an encounter. The trick is to do so peace, with good cheer.

According to the canons of the New Testament so regularly deployed
by Tebow—there have been 4 selections from the Hebrew Bible this year,
2 from the Christian gospels, and 6 or 7 from Paul’s letters (depending
on who you think wrote the Letter to the Hebrews)—“God on your side”
meant a shameful and excruciating death on a cross and the abandonment
by every friend and even God Godself. How one contends with that dark
night of soul says a great deal about the content of one’s character,
whether one is Christian or not.

Tim Tebow is a Christian, and he seems to apply himself to that
practice with seriousness and elegance. The real interest lies not in
celebrating a Florida defeat, nor in digging for the unwitting irony of
Tebow’s scripture selection. No, the question is how Tim Tebow will
play the next time he suits up and takes the field in the Sugar Bowl.

If his character, Christian and otherwise, is anything like what he
has demonstrated it to be, then he will lead his teammates to return to
the field with renewed purpose and commitment, and will tenaciously
apply himself to achieving victory, even if it is not in the contest of
his choosing. He will look for the virtue in the moment he has been
given, and he will be grateful for it.

The question has less to do with what Bible verse will speak best to
that occasion, his next and final collegiate performance, and more to
do with the way he will play and how that play will attest to a
biblically and theistically informed life.

Commentary Violence

This is Not The Story I Wanted—But It’s My Story of Rape

Dani Kelley

Writer Dani Kelley thought she had shed the patriarchal and self-denying lessons of her conservative religious childhood. But those teachings blocked her from initially admitting that an encounter with a man she met online was not a "date" that proved her sexual liberation, but an extended sexual assault.

Content note: This article contains graphic descriptions of sexual violence.

The night I first truly realized something was wrong was supposed to be a good night.

A visiting friend and I were in pajamas, eating breakfast food at 10 p.m., wrapped in blankets while swapping stories of recent struggles and laughs.

There I was, animatedly telling her about my recently acquired (and discarded) “fuck buddy,” when suddenly the story caught in my throat.

When I finally managed to choke out the words, they weren’t what I expected to say. “He—he held me down—until, until I couldn’t—breathe.”

Hearing myself say it out loud was a gut-punch. I was sobbing, gasping for breath, arms wrapped as if to hold myself together, spiraling into a terrifying realization.

This isn’t the story I wanted.

Unlearning My Training

I grew up in the Plymouth Brethren movement, a small fundamentalist Christian denomination that justifies strict gender roles through a literal approach to the Bible. So, according to 1 Corinthians 11:7, men are considered “the image and glory of God,” while women are merely “the glory of man.” As a result, women are expected to wear head coverings during any church service, among other restrictions that can be best summed up by the apostle Paul in 1 Timothy 2:11-12: Women are never allowed to have authority over men.

If you’ve spent any number of years in conservative Christianity like I did, you’re likely familiar with the fundamentalist tendency to demonize that which is morally neutral or positive (like premarital sex or civil rights) while sugar-coating negative experiences. The sugar-coating can be twofold: Biblical principles are often used to shame or gaslight abuse victims (like those being shunned or controlled or beaten by their husbands) while platitudes are often employed to help members cope with “the sufferings of this present time,” assuring them that these tragedies are “not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

In many ways, it’s easy to unlearn the demonization of humanity as you gain actual real-world experience refuting such flimsy claims. But the shame? That can be more difficult to shake.

The heart of those teachings isn’t only present in this admittedly small sect of Christianity. Rather, right-wing Western Christianity as a whole has a consent problem. It explicitly teaches its adherents they don’t belong to themselves at all. They belong to God (and if they’re not men, they belong to their fathers or husbands as well). This instilled lack of agency effectively erases bodily autonomy while preventing the development of healthy emotional and physical boundaries.

On top of that, the biblical literalism frequently required by conservative Christianity in the United States promotes a terrifying interpretation of Scripture, such as Jeremiah 17:9. The King James Version gives the verse a stern voice, telling us that “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” If we believe this, we must accept that we’re untrustworthy witnesses to our own lives. Yet somehow, we’re expected to rely on the authority of those the Bible deems worthy. People like all Christians, older people, and men.

Though I’ve abandoned Christianity and embraced feminist secular humanism, the culture in which I grew up and my short time at conservative Bob Jones University still affect how I view myself and act in social situations. The lessons of my formative years created a perfect storm of terrible indoctrination: gender roles that promoted repressed individuality for women while encouraging toxic masculinity, explicit teaching that led to constant second-guessing my ability to accurately understand my own life, and a biblical impetus to “rejoice in my suffering.”

Decades of training taught me I’m not allowed to set boundaries.

But Some Habits Die Hard

Here’s the thing. At almost 30, I’d never dated anyone other than my ex-husband. So I thought it was about time to change that.

When I found this man’s online profile, I was pleasantly surprised. It was full of the kind of geekery I’m into, even down to the specific affinity for eclectic music. I wrote to him, making sure my message and tone were casual. He responded instantly, full of charisma and charm. Within hours, we’d made plans to meet.

He was just as friendly and attentive in person. After wandering around town, window-shopping, and getting to know one another, he suggested we go to his favorite bar. As he drank (while I sipped water), he kept paying me compliments, slowly breaking the touch barrier. And honestly, I was enthralled—no one had paid attention to me like this in years.

When he suggested moving out to the car where we could be a little more intimate, I agreed. The rush of feeling desired was intoxicating. He seemed so focused on consent—asking permission before doing anything. Plus, he was quite straightforward about what he wanted, which I found exciting.

So…I brought him home.

This new and exciting “arrangement” lasted one week, during which we had very satisfying, attachment-free sex several times and after which we parted ways as friends.

That’s the story I told people. That’s the story I thought I believed. I’d been freed from the rigid expectations and restraints of my youth’s purity culture.

Now. You’re about to hear me say many things I know to be wrong. Many feminists or victim advocates almost certainly know the rationalizations and reactions I’m about to describe are both normal responses to abuse and a result of ingrained lies about sex in our culture. Not to mention evidence of the influence that right-wing conservatism can have on shaping self-actualization.

As I was telling people the story above, I left out important details. Were my omissions deliberate? An instinctive self-preservation mechanism? A carryover from draconian ideals about promiscuity?

When I broke down crying with my friend, I finally realized I’d kept quiet because I couldn’t bear to hear myself say what happened.

I’m a feminist, damn it. I left all the puritanical understandings of gender roles behind when I exited Christianity! I even write about social justice and victim advocacy. I ought to recognize rape culture!

Right?

If only being a socially aware feminist was enough to erase decades of socialization as a woman within rape culture—or provide inoculation against sexual violence.

That first night, once we got to my car, he stopped checking in with me. I dismissed the red flag as soon as I noticed it, telling myself he’d stop if I showed discomfort. Then he smacked my ass—hard. I pulled away, staring at him in shocked revulsion. “Sorry,” he replied, smirking.

He suggested that we go back to my house, saying we’d have more privacy than at his place. I was uneasy, unconvinced. But he began passionately kissing, groping, petting, and pleading. Against my better judgment, I relented.

Yet, in the seclusion of my home, there was no more asking. There was only telling.

Before I knew it, I’d been thrown on my back as he pulled off my clothes. I froze. The only coherent thought I could manage was a weak stammer, asking if he had a condom. He seemed agitated. “Are you on birth control?” That’s not the point! I thought, mechanically answering “yes.”

With a triumphant grin and no further discussion, he forced himself into me. Pleasure fought with growing panic as something within me screamed for things to slow down, to just stop. The sensation was familiar: identical to how I felt when raped as a child.

I frantically pushed him off and rolled away, hyperventilating. I muttered repeatedly, “I need a minute. Just give me a minute. I need a minute.”

“We’re not finished yet!” he snapped angrily. As he reached for me again, I screeched hysterically, “I’M NOT OK! I NEED A MINUTE!”

Suddenly, he was kind and caring. Instead of being alarmed, I was strangely grateful. So once I calmed down, I fucked him. More than once.

It was—I told myself—consensual. After all, he comforted me during a flashback. Didn’t I owe him that much?

Yet, if I didn’t do what he wanted, he’d forcefully smack my ass. If I didn’t seem happy enough, he’d insistently tell me to smile as he hit me again, harder. He seemed to relish the strained smile I would force on command.

I kept telling myself I was okay. Happy, even. Look at how liberated I was!

All week, I was either at his beck and call or fighting suicidal urges. Never having liked alcohol before, I started drinking heavily. I did all I could to minimize or ignore the abuse. Even with his last visit—as I fought to breathe while he forcefully held my head down during oral sex, effectively choking me—I initially told myself desperately that surely he wouldn’t do any of this on purpose.

The Stories We Tell and The Stories That Just Are

Reflecting on that week, I’m engulfed in shame. I’m a proud feminist. I know what coercion looks like. I know what rape looks like. I know it’s rarely a scary man wearing a ski mask in a back alley. I’ve heard all the victim-blaming rape apologia you have: that women make up rape when they regret consenting to sex, or going on a date means sex is in the cards, or bringing someone home means you’re game for anything.

Reality is, all of us have been socialized within a patriarchal system that clouds our experiences and ability to classify them. We’re told to tend and befriend the men who threaten us. De-escalation at any cost is the go-to response of almost any woman I’ve ever talked to about unwanted male attention. Whatever will satiate the beast and keep us safe.

On top of that, my conservative background whispered accusations of being a Jezebel, failing to safeguard my purity, and getting exactly what I deserve for forsaking the faith.

It’s all lies, of course. Our culture lies when it says that there are blurred lines when it comes to consent. It violates our personhood when it requires us to change the narrative of the violence enacted against us for their own comfort. Right-wing Christianity lies when it says we don’t belong to ourselves and must submit to the authority of a religion or a gender.

Nobody’s assaulted because they weren’t nice enough or because they “failed” to de-escalate. There’s nothing we can do to provoke such violence. Rape is never deserved. The responsibility for sexual assault lies entirely with those who attack us.

So why was the story I told during and after that ordeal so radically and fundamentally different from what actually happened? And why the hell did I think any of what happened was OK?

Rape myths are so ingrained in our cultural understanding of relationships that it was easier for me to believe nothing bad had happened than to accept the truth. I thought if I could only tell the story I wanted it to be, then maybe that’s what really happened. I thought if I was willing—if I kept having him over, if I did what he ordered, if I told my friends how wonderful it was—it would mean everything was fine. It would mean I wasn’t suffering from post-traumatic stress or anxiety about defying the conservative tenets of my former political and religious system.

Sometimes, we tell ourselves the stories we want to hear until we’re able to bear the stories of what actually happened.

We all have a right to say who has what kind of access to our bodies. A man’s masculinity gives him no authority over anyone’s sexual agency. A lack of a “no” doesn’t mean a “yes.” Coercion isn’t consent. Sexual acts performed without consent are assault. We have a right to tell our stories—our real stories.

So, while this isn’t the story I wanted, it’s the story that is.

I was raped.

Roundups Sexuality

This Week in Sex, Valentine’s Day Edition: Dating Is Not Dead

Martha Kempner

In today’s Internet world, Valentine’s Day is for roses, chocolate, and surveys. Many websites and companies (and some academics) choose this most romantic of holidays to tell us what other people are doing and thinking when it comes to love, dating, and, of course, sex.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

In today’s Internet world, Valentine’s Day is for roses, chocolate, and surveys. Many websites and companies (and some academics) choose this most romantic of holidays to tell us what other people are doing and thinking when it comes to love, dating, and, of course, sex.

Many Millennials Likely To Be Having Sex on Valentine’s Day

The SKYN Condoms Millennials Sex Survey asked 5,000 sexually active men and women between the ages of 18 and 34 about their sex lives and found that 73 percent of them have sex on Valentine’s Day. But for this group of randy young people, February 14 might just be a normal day—7 out of 10 of them reported having sex at least once a week. Much of this sex seems to take place outside of the bedroom or even outside of the house: 78 percent are having it on a couch, 74 percent in the shower, and 64 percent in a car. Less popular, but still surprisingly common, locations include the laundry room (24 percent), the beach (23 percent), and the great (public) outdoors (22 percent). The good news is that regardless of where they’re having sex, they’re enjoying it. Almost all men (97 percent) and a good majority of women (89 percent) have at least one orgasm during sex.

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One Night Stands Can Lead to More, and Other News From the Online Dating World

In honor of Valentine’s Day, Match.com released its sixth annual survey, Singles in America, asking over 5,500 singles about dating and sex. The survey found that what you do on the first date is a good predictor of whether or not you get that all-important second date. You’re 107 percent less likely to get a second date if you skip dinner or drinks and, for example, just meet for coffee. The best way to ensure that second date? Sushi. Those who chose this Japanese cuisine on the first date were 170 percent more likely to make it to date number two. And, don’t listen to anyone who tells you to keep the conversation light—80 percent of singles think politics, religion, and money are good topics for a first date. As for how the date ends, 7 percent of women would like it to end with “making out” and 6 percent of men expect it to end with sex. Half of singles, however, agree that a good date ends with a kiss.

Although, singles are (or want to be) doing much more than kissing—48 percent of men have had sex in public, for example, and 16 percent of women say they’re open to making a sex tape. (We at “This Week in Sex” would like to remind those singles of rule #1: It always ends up on the Internet.)

Today’s singles are not, however, doing it with all that many people. Though 46 percent of singles have had a “friend with benefits,” the clear majority (75 percent) have had fewer than 15 lifetime partners and 50 percent have had six at most.

And, finally, there is some good news for those who have had a hook-up but really wanted more. The survey found that 25 percent of singles had a one-night stand turn into a relationship.

Not the Sunshine State; the Sex Toy State

Parts of Florida are going to see very low temperatures this Valentine’s Day weekend with overnight lows in the 40s in Jacksonville. However, we shouldn’t worry because Sunshine State residents do seem to know how to keep warm. According to Amazon, three cities in Florida were among those that bought the most sexual wellness products in 2015. The online mega-retailer compiled a list of purchases in cities with more than 100,000 residents. The sexual wellness category, by the way, includes condoms, lubes, and vibes as well as bondage gear, sex furniture, and fetish jewelry.

Miami took the top spot, but two other Florida cities made the list: Orlando in number two and Gainesville as number nine. The other cities on the list (in order): Alexandria, Virginia; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Seattle, Washington; Berkeley, California; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Atlanta, Georgia; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Interestingly, the Big Apple did not make the list. We here at “This Week in Sex” lived in New York City for years and can’t help but think that this is not because New Yorkers aren’t interested in sex products but because they have many other options of where to buy them or how to get them delivered right to their door.

Don’t Believe the Hype, Dating Is Not Dead

Good news for romantics out there—dating is not dead. Recent reports that courtships have evaporated, dating is deceased, and the only thing young people are interested in is casually hooking up are not true according to a new study released by the Council on Contemporary Families. Researchers at the universities of North and South Carolina examined data collected between 2005 and 2011 from over 24,000 college students at 22 schools across the country.

It’s true that college kids are hooking up62 percent said they had done so since entering college. But almost the same number, 61 percent, also said they had gone out on a date. Only 8 percent said they had hooked up without being in a long-term relationship or dating, whereas far more (26.5 percent) said they’d never hooked up but had dated or been in a long-term relationship instead. And, long-term relationships are what 71 percent of men and 67 percent of women said they really want. (Read that sentence closely, it’s not a typo—more men said they wanted long-term relationships than women.)

While this may be seen as good news for those who enjoy traditional visions of Friday night dates and committed couples, we should remember that hooking-up is not inherently bad. Most men (48 percent) and women (45 percent) were happy with their most recent hook-up experience, and only 14.5 percent of women and 12 percent of men regretted it, with the rest falling somewhere in between happiness and regret.