Tim Tebow may not be the most athletically interesting auarterback, but as a theologian he is fascinating, and all those currently seeking the Republican nomination for president could learn a thing or two from the Bronco’s Q.B.
Tebow proudly proclaims his personal faith, but does so with remarkable modesty about his understanding of God, God’s word or how it is meant to play out. It’s something most, if not all, Republican presidential hopefuls have difficulty with and it could make a difference not only in the race for the nomination, but in the November general election as well.
We are a nation of believers. According to the Gallup organization, more than 90% of Americans believe in God. There is no question that failing to share that belief cripples any politician seeking the presidency. And there is significant evidence that both Republicans and many independents, place importance on a candidate’s being what they perceive as a person of faith.
Even among democrats, who are typically quieter about the role of faith in their lives, when it comes to God, they don’t buck the trend, e.g.: only eight House Democrats (and one Republican) voted against this the resolution this fall to re-affirm the motto “In God We Trust."
But being a nation of believing voters who prefer elected officials, who are themselves self-professed believers, does not mean that most voters either expect or desire a candidate who claims to know the will of God. In fact, it is precisely at such moments of theological hubris that candidates over-step their role, and where they should take a cue from Tim Tebow.
Tebow proudly proclaims his faith to all who will listen and even to those who don’t. He prays publically, talks openly about the role of faith in his life and even shares the particular benefits which his faith brings him. -- Clearly, doing this has touched millions of people and continues to be a story that fascinates he nation.
What Tebow does not do however, is tell people what God’s plan is for him or his team. He goes out of his way to explain that he has no idea if God wants the Broncos to win or even if God really cares one way or the other. He certainly does not present himself or his style of play as a gift from God or more in line with God’s will than other players might be.
Unfortunately, those seeking the presidency have a problem combining that kind of deep faith with genuine modesty.
Examples abound but here are just a few theological musings from Republican presidential candidates:
- In an October speech designed to lay out the foundations of his approach to foreign policy, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney declared that "God did not create this country to be a nation of followers. America is not destined to be one of several equally balanced global powers.”
- At the Thanksgiving Family Forum in Iowa, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum observed that “We have civil laws (in America) but our civil laws have to comport with the higher law…and that's why, with the issue of abortion, as long as abortion is legal - at least according to the Supreme Court, we will never have rest because that law does not comport with God's law.”
- Rick Perry has taken to suggesting that he may be the chosen of God, sent to lead this nation out of the darkness in which it finds itself, according to the Texas Governor. Drawing on the language of the Hebrew Bible prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah, Perry often asks his public, “Who shall I send? Who will go for us?' And Isaiah said, 'Here am I — send me."
- Speaking in an Iowa church on the Sunday before the state's caucus, Michelle Bachmann described her possible electoral victory and told the congregation that “Perhaps the Lord will act on our behalf,” because “nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.”
While both Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich have been a bit more modest about themselves as candidates yet both regularly present their policies as being in line with the Bible and tell audiences that failure to be so aligned will damage the country in potentially cataclysmic ways.
One could simply write of these claims as proof of how flawed all of these candidates are, but that would be a mistake. In fact, each of these candidates appreciates the importance of faith to the vast majority of Americans, not to mention in their own lives, and want to tap into that. That’s actually a good thing.
What they fail to miss is that while most of us believe, as many as half of self-professed believers also admit to doubts about what they believe.
We are believers who embrace questions and seem to prefer ambiguity over certainty. When offered the chance, in a related Gallup survey, to choose between beliefs in God, a “universal spirit,” or a “higher power,” only about 15% chose God.
America is neither as secular as those on the far left would have us believe, nor as theologically certain as our Republican presidential candidates seem to be.
At most, we are a nation of Tim Tebows, trying to live our chosen faiths with pride and sincerity, while maintaining a measure of humility about the specifics of what God wants and how God’s plan will play out.
When all is said and done, at least in terms of the faith angle in the 2012 race for the White House, it will be the candidate who takes the snap from Tim Tebow that is likely to capture the religious imagination of our nation’s voters.
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is the author of "You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism," and president of Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.