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Kaepernick vs. Tebow: Two Christians on their knees

By: MICHAEL FROST The Washington Post
October 1, 2017 Updated: October 1, 2017 at 7:15 am
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They're both Christian football players, and both kneel on the field, though for different reasons.

One grew up the son of Baptist missionaries to the Philippines. The other was baptized Methodist, confirmed Lutheran and attended a Baptist church during college.

Both have made a public display of their faith. Both are prayerful and devout.

This is the tale of two Christian sports personalities, one the darling of the American church and the other reviled by much of it. Their differences reveal much about Christianity today.

Tim Tebow was home-schooled by his Christian parents and spent his summers in the Philippines, helping with his father's orphanage and missionary work.

During his college football career, the Heisman Trophy winner frequently wore references to Bible verses on his eye black, including the ubiquitous John 3:16 during the 2009 BCS Championship Game.

He has been outspoken about his opposition to abortion and commitment to abstinence from pre-marital sex.

Tebow is a prominent member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which insists that leaders sign a Statement of Sexual Purity, stating that sex outside marriage is unacceptable to God.

He has preached in churches, prisons, schools, youth groups and a welter of evangelical conferences.

And he is well known for his signature move - dropping to one knee on the field, head bowed in prayer, arm resting on his bent knee - known as Tebowing.

He's clean cut, polite, gentle, respectful.

Then there's Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick, until recently quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, was born to a 19-year-old, single, white woman. His black father left before Colin was born. His mother was destitute and gave him up for adoption. He was raised by the Kaepernicks, a white couple from Milwaukee.

His body is festooned with religious tattoos, including depictions of scrolls, a cross, praying hands, angels defeating demons, the terms "To God be the Glory," "Heaven Sent," "God will guide me," Psalm 18:39 and Psalm 27:3.

"My faith is the basis from where my game comes from," Kaepernick has said. "I've been very blessed to have the talent to play the game that I do and be successful at it. I think God guides me through every day and helps me take the right steps and has helped me to get to where I'm at. When I step on the field, I always say a prayer, say I am thankful to be able to wake up that morning and go out there and try to glorify the Lord with what I do on the field. I think if you go out and try to do that, no matter what you do on the field, you can be happy about what you did."

Kaepernick's faith isn't only about making him happy. It's turned him into an activist and philanthropist. During the off-season, Kaepernick launched a GoFundMe page to fly food and water into suffering Somalia. It surpassed its $2 million goal in four days. In March, the plane loaded with supplies landed in Mogadishu.

He already had pledged to donate $1 million, along with the proceeds of his jersey sales from the 2016 season, to charitable work.

(As some have pointed out, Tebow also has been philanthropic and created the Tim Tebow Foundation to help children. He was a darling among Christians even before that information came out, though.)

This year, Meals on Wheels announced it had received $50,000 from Kaepernick.

He joined with the charitable organization 100 Suits to pass out free suits in front of the New York State Parole office for people who have been released from prison and are looking for jobs.

But we all know why Colin Kaepernick is most famous.

Beginning in 2016, he refused to stand to attention during the playing of the national anthem.

Kaepernick decided to remain seated or kneel during renditions of the Star Spangled Banner in support of Black Lives Matter and to protest police violence against black people.

"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," he says. "To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

He vowed to continue to protest until he feels the U.S. flag "represents what it's supposed to represent."

What happened next? Kaepernick was voted "most disliked" player in the NFL.

People posted videos of them burning his jerseys.

He was called "an embarrassment" and "a traitor."

He was blamed for a significant drop in NFL television ratings, with fans boycotting the NFL because of his protest. He received death threats.

Then, there's Christianity on its knees.

Tebow and Kaepernick represent the two very different forms of Christianity today - and not only in the United States. In many countries, it feels as if the church is splitting. One version values personal piety, gentleness, respect for cultural mores, and an emphasis on issues such as abortion and homosexuality. The other values social justice, community development, racial reconciliation and political activism.

One version is kneeling in private prayer. The other is kneeling in public protest.

One is concerned with private sins such as abortion. The other is concerned with public sins such as racial discrimination.

One preaches a gospel of personal salvation. The other preaches a gospel of political and social transformation.

One is reading the Epistles of Paul. The other is reading the Minor Prophets.

One is listening to Eric Metaxas and Franklin Graham. The other is listening to William Barber and John Perkins.

One is rallying at the March for Life. The other is getting arrested at Moral Monday protests.

The bifurcation of contemporary Christianity is leaving the church poorer, with each side needing to be enriched by the biblical vision of the other.

Biblical Christianity should be, as Walter Brueggemann expresses it, "awed to heaven, rooted in earth." We should, as he says, be able to "join the angels in praise, and keep our feet in time and place."

Sadly, with the suspicion and animosity shown toward each side by the other, I can't see a coming together any time soon.

In the meantime, Christianity remains on its knees in the West.

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