The Tebow Effect

Planned Parenthood has a calm, measured, and effective YouTube response to the Focus on the Family/Tim Tebow Super Bowl ad: Pam Tebow made the right choice for herself, so trust other women to make the right choices for themselves. Perhaps it will garner fewer viewers than a Super Bowl ad, but as Katha Pollitt points out, blowing $2.5 million on a 30-second spot is not exactly a hallmark of good financial stewardship.

The Super Bowl won’t be the Heisman trophy winner’s only high-profile appearance this week. Yesterday, at the National Prayer Breakfast, Tebow rubbed shoulders with the world’s most powerful people and delivered the closing prayer.

I suspect it was no accident that the football star qua evangelist — and now the quasi-official spokesperson for the softer side of the anti-abortion movement — was given this distinct honor. His gridiron prowess fits perfectly with The Family’s fixation with a Jesus-as-strongman myth, and they could deliver the anti-choice message through him without uttering a word about abortion.

Tebow is the new face of the anti-abortion movement. Women of America, if you reject the choice of abortion, you too can be the proud mother of a strapping young man who reaches the pinnacle of America’s number one sports obsession. The new message of evangelicalism: If you believe, God will deliver. Gone is the fire and brimstone, the episodic Pat Robertson outburst swept under the rug. Handsome and athletic, Tebow preaches how believing in Jesus elevates you; you no longer have to fear God’s judgment and wrath.

Even the feminist Hillary Clinton was Tebow-ized at the National Prayer Breakfast. In her speech, she recalled a previous appearance by the late Mother Teresa at the prayer breakfast:

In February of 1994, the speaker here was Mother Teresa. She gave, as everyone who remembers that occasion will certainly recall, a strong address against abortion. And then she asked to see me. And I thought, “Oh, dear.” (Laughter.) And after the breakfast, we went behind that curtain and we sat on folding chairs, and I remember being struck by how small she was and how powerful her hands were, despite her size, and that she was wearing sandals in February in Washington. (Laughter.)

We began to talk, and she told me that she knew that we had a shared conviction about adoption being vastly better as a choice for unplanned or unwanted babies. And she asked me – or more properly, she directed me – to work with her to create a home for such babies here in Washington. I know that we often picture, as we’re growing up, God as a man with a white beard. But that day, I felt like I had been ordered, and that the message was coming not just through this diminutive woman but from someplace far beyond.

(emphasis mine). This from the Secretary of State who just last month, in commemorating the 15th anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, declared:

More than 215 million women worldwide lack access to the modern forms of contraception, and this contributes to the nearly 20 million unsafe abortions that take place very year. Sexually transmitted diseases, of course including, but not limited to, HIV and AIDS, claim millions of lives annually among women. Fistula destroys the lives of millions, and it is often the result of pregnancies that occur when a girl is too young. An estimated 70 million – that is 70 million women and girls worldwide – have been subjected to female genital cutting, a procedure that is not only painful and traumatic but is also the source of infections and increased risks of injury during childbirth.

Now, as those of us gathered in the Ben Franklin Room on the eight floor of the State Department know very well, the topic of reproductive health is subject to a great deal of debate. But I think we should all agree that these numbers are not only grim, but after 15 years, they are intolerable. For if we believe that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, then we cannot accept the ongoing marginalization of half the world’s population. We cannot accept it morally, politically, socially, or economically.

But speaking to a room of the world’s most powerful people who have the means and clout to change the lives of women and girls — if they wanted to — that Hillary Clinton fell silent. As Jeff Sharlet has reported, that roomful of people most decidedly don’t want to promote reproductive health. And sure, it wouldn’t have been politic for Clinton to crusade for abortion rights at the National Prayer Breakfast. But that’s the problem with The Family’s supposedly innocuous, ecumenical prayer breakfast, isn’t it? As Sharlet told me two years ago, “They’ve set the terms up so you can’t really go against it.”

That’s why Tebow was the quintessential prayer breakfast guest: he and Focus on the Family are trying to set up the terms so you can’t really go against it, either. Just like with the prayer breakfast, this evangelicalism isn’t axiomatically, unquestionably pure and good. And the Washington political culture just doesn’t get it.

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