March 23rd, 2012
04:02 PM ET
By Jason Kessler, CNN
(New York) - New York is known for its skyscrapers, not its steeples. But it's hardly the den of godlessness suggested by some media coverage of Tim Tebow's trade to the Jets.
"Welcome to Sodom," read a New York Magazine headline on Thursday.
In fact, the country's largest metropolis has plenty of faith-minded folk. About 6,780 properties in New York qualify for a property tax exemption offered to houses of worship, according to a city spokesperson. That doesn't factor in the many congregations that don't own property.
Tim Tebow, who was signed by the New York Jets this week, is hardly the first religiously devout athlete to don a New York jersey.
Jeremy Lin, the only player to cause comparable hyperventilation in New York sports in 2012, has openly discussed his evangelical faith.
Within the city's little-discussed but vibrant evangelical community, reaction to the pious quarterback's arrival has closely tracked reaction in the secular community: Shouts of joy mixed with groans of disgust.
Ruben Diaz Sr., a New York state senator and Pentecostal minister, thanks God that Tebow is joining Gang Green.
“Praise the Lord. He is coming to New York. And he’s a person that we all should imitate,” he said.
Diaz said the trade is a boon for both Christian and non-Christian New Yorkers, who will benefit from it because Tebow “is going to bring more revenues to New York.”
For some clergy, Tebow's religion is beside the point. They're excited about the trade because they think it boosts the Jets' chances.
“I think if he can help the Jets win, then that’s a good thing,” said Charles Park, the pastor of the River, a nondenominational church in Lower Manhattan.
If, in between plays, Tebow inspires New Yorkers “to be kinder, gentler and have more hope for their own future,” then all the better, Park said.
But other evangelical New Yorkers bemoan the Tebow trade, echoing grumbles heard this week in many a Jets household.
“As a Christian, I love the guy, he’s a fellow brother, so to speak," Rich Villodas, associate lead pastor of the New Life Fellowship Church in Queens and a self-described progressive evangelical, offered as a preface.
"But as a New York sports fan, I think this is the worst possible thing for the New York Jets as they stand right now,” he said, predicting it would lead to locker room conflict.
Michael Turrigiano, the pastor at North Brooklyn Vineyard, also has misgivings about Tebow's move to New York, but not because it might obstruct the Jets' road to the Super Bowl. He's concerned it might worsen stereotyping of religious Christians in the city.
Throughout his 32 years of pastoring in New York, Turrigiano has had to fight the notion that Christians are "judgmental, narrow-minded, hypocritical." Such preconceptions have "prevented a lot of people from checking out Jesus."
Tebow's presence in the five boroughs, Turrigiano worries, will only reinforce those stereotypes.
“As a person who’s tried to build bridges into the secular community… I got the feeling this is not going to help.”
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