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Trademarking “Tebowing”

The New York Jets backup quarterback has been a bit of a public relations sensation since entering the NFL. Most agree that the hype surrounding him is probably greater than his actual talent. But, that being said, he is extremely popular, in part because he is a very religious individual and is very forthcoming about his faith.

After touchdowns and on other occasions each game, Tebow drops down to a knee, and in front of tens of thousands of fans, and millions of viewers on television, says a short prayer. Some wag coined his practice “Tebowing” (the name is pronounced with a long ‘o’, like an archer’s bow).

Well, the sensation led several would be entrepreneurs to attempt to patent T-shirts and other products that contain images of the pose and the coined term. To protect Tebow, his lawyers applied for and were granted a trademark, and now “Tebowing” is legally the property of Tim Tebow.

Now, no one seriously thinks that a person who publicly takes a knee to offer a prayer to God is going to have to pay royalties, or ask permission from Tebow before so doing, but it still is a rather peculiar thing. And, should Tebow’s lawyers be aggressive in protecting the trademark, it could lead to some very peculiar lawsuits, with lawyers battling over questions on what constitutes generic prayer, and what is a violation of prayer that is the exclusive property of a single man. Sometimes the world sure gets silly.

What is of greater interest to me is the practice itself. Not only is Tim Tebow a very popular figure because of his faith, he is also a polarizing figure. Many find his overt displays of faith to be offensive. Tebow himself is unapologetic, claiming that his practice glorifies God, and is one way he can “share his faith” with others. The question is, “What does the Bible say?”

Jesus said two things during his sermon on the mount which could potentially be used to either justify or condemn the practice of “Tebowing.” First, Jesus said in Matthew 5:13-16, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Here we see that Jesus certainly expects our actions to be visible to those in the world. Through this we can be a good influence to them as we attempt to win them to Christ.

However, the second passage changes the picture a bit. In talking about the ostentatious displays of faith exhibited by the Pharisees, Jesus said, “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men.” (Matthew 6:5). Now, some may protest that Tebow is not a hypocrite, and is sincere in his faith. Regardless, his practice in prayer is exactly the same as the hypocrites. And, though he claims a pure motive, he does what he does for the express purpose of showing his faith in a way as to be “seen by men.” Again, no difference between his practice and that condemned in the text. In contrast, Jesus commanded his disciples, “But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly” (vs. 6). Whatever his motive, Tebow is doing the exact opposite of what Jesus commanded.

Some may ask, what about public prayer? Of course, leading prayer in the assembly is not under consideration. But, what about, for example, prayer in a restaurant? Surely we can see the difference between a discreet blessing of the food, with voices raised only high enough for the petitioners to hear it amidst other diners — and a group bowing down in the middle of the restaurant, and purposefully drawing attention to themselves as a way of showing others that they are religious?

This, I think is the main point. God is not interested in us showing others we are religious. By doing this we only bring attention to ourselves, and offend some. There is a reason it is called “Tebowing” rather than “praying to God.” What God does expect is for us to always act righteously, and godly, positively affecting others by our profession of faith. As we quietly go about the business of living for God, “visit [-ing] orphans and widows in their trouble,” and “keep [-ing] oneself unspotted from the world” (cf. James 1:27), we bring glory to God, not ourselves. And, we obey Him in spirit and letter.