By Simon Brown
New York Jets backup quarterback Tim Tebow, already a polarizing figure, has given anyone who favors church-state separation reason to be uneasy about him.
On Easter Sunday, Tebow participated in a question-and-answer session at Celebration Church, a megachurch in Georgetown, Texas. News reports said 15,000 people attended the service at which Tebow spoke, and he said plenty of benign things, like “it’s ok to be outspoken about your faith.”
But one thing Tebow said is problematic from a church-state standpoint.
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In response to an inquiry about what needs to change in America, he said, “First and foremost is what this country was based on: one nation under God. The more that we can get back to that [the better].”
I wonder which God he’s talking about.
I’m sure he means his evangelical Christian God, but what about the God worshipped by Catholics, or mainline Christians, or Jews, or even Muslims, Hindus and Zoroastrians?
The United States has always been religiously diverse so there has never been a period when we were “under God” in a uniform political or cultural sense. Some might point to the words “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, but as self-described “God nerd” Christian Piatt noted in an article about Tebow’s remarks, “under God” wasn’t added to the Pledge until the 1950s. (For those scoring at home, that’s nearly 170 years after the United States came into being).
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Piatt, who is co-founder of a Christian church in Pueblo, Colo., said he thought Tebow’s talk was off base, both for its nod toward Christendom and for its timing -- Easter might not be the most appropriate occasion for celebrity-athlete antics.
“For the most part,” said Piatt, “I admire Tim Tebow, even though I don’t agree with him theologically very much. He made one statement about getting back to what this country was founded on, ‘One Nation, Under God,’ which seriously rubbed me the wrong way,…and I was surprised and, I’ll admit, a little pissed when I heard they were having the event on Easter.”
Tebow’s “one nation under God” comment came in answer to a question about what needs to change in America culturally, not politically, but it’s hard not to see the comment as having broader implications.
Tebow has not confirmed publicly that he wants to run for office someday, but he said in February that “it could be something in my future.” Based on his Easter remarks, we have a pretty good idea of where “God’s quarterback” would stand on church-state separation as an elected official. Let’s hope he sticks to playing his special brand of mediocre football and stays far away from political activism.