For Tim Tebow, speaking at the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, had to look like a great opportunity. He grew up attending a large Southern Baptist church, and an invitation to speak at one of the most venerable and historic Baptist churches in the world had to look like an easy call. He was going.
All that changed yesterday when Tebow, the National Football League's most prominent evangelical symbol, sent word through Twitter that he was withdrawing from the event. His sudden announcement came after a whirlwind of controversy over his scheduled appearance at the Dallas church. Its senior minister, Robert Jeffress, is no stranger to public controversy. His sound bites are often incendiary, but his convictions—including the exclusivity of the gospel and the belief that homosexual behaviors are sinful—are clearly within the mainstream of American evangelicalism.
While many complained about Jeffress's tone and stridency, the controversy quickly shifted to secular outrage that Tebow would agree to speak to a church known for such beliefs.
Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports warned, "Tim Tebow is about to make the biggest mistake of his life" by speaking at "a hateful Baptist preacher's church." Doyel described Jeffress as "an evangelical cretin" guilty of serial hate speech. Of course, Doyel engaged in hateful and slanderous speech of his own by associating Jeffress with the truly hateful Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas. Jeffress "isn't as bad as Westboro," Doyel admitted, "But he comes close. Too close."
Other sportswriters piled on. Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post offered his own warning to Tebow: "After a season on the sidelines, ...1
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