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In Defense of Tim Tebow's Decision to Appear in the Super Bowl Ad

I made a conscious decision to steer clear of this entire affray. Honestly, I did. A regular commenter whose views I respect e-mailed me on this issue. The controversy has been bandied about regularly in sectors of the blogosphere not ordinarily concerned with politics. I knew better---I know better---than to stick my hand into this piranha tank, but, frankly, the one-sidedness of this discussion has gotten to me, to the point where---believe it or not---I feel the need to rise to the defense of Tim Tebow.

Full disclosure: I am not a member of any political party or any faith-based organization which takes part, directly or indirectly, in the political process. I am a Methodist and a paleoconservative, but I have never been identified with what is commonly referred to as the "Christian right." I am pro-life, but I do not see the issue of abortion as a realignment issue because I recognize that positions upon that issue are the results of underlying value judgments and the logical conclusions that flow ultimately from those value judgments.

Not altogether as an aside, I would like to offer kudos to C&F for referring to both sides in this debate in non-judgmental ways. Labeling often is mission-critical to the success or failure of an issue-oriented enterprise, so it matters greatly how we refer to one another. In 1788, the opponents of ratification of the proposed U.S. Constitution referred to the competing sides as "rats" (proponents of ratification) and "anti-rats"; the fact that the terms "federalist" and "anti-federalist" became a part of the lexicon tells us all we need to know about which side prevailed.

That matters because the constant reference to Tebow’s side of the argument as "anti-abortion" is judgmental. I respect those who disagree with me enough to call them "pro-choice" rather than "pro-abortion" or worse because I understand that theirs is a conscientious position. For me, the issue boils down to this:

Let’s say we got everyone together in a room who had something to offer upon this subject. Bring in the surgeon general, the Pope, Leon Kass, the head of NARAL, everyone with a dog in this fight, and lock them in a room with all the scientific research, medical information, and philosophical treatises influencing this issue until they reach a consensus on the question of when life begins.

Assuming such a consensus is possible, what would a reasonable person conclude when that consensus was reached? The door opens, the parties emerge from the room, and, with everyone nodding in agreement, the designated speaker says, "We’ve looked at all of it, and we’ve concluded that life begins at Point X."

At that moment, every reasonable human being on the planet is pro-choice before Point X and pro-life after Point X. If Point X is birth, then everyone ought to be pro-choice throughout pregnancy. If Point X is conception, then everyone ought to be pro-life throughout pregnancy. If Point X is at the end of the first trimester, then everyone ought to be pro-choice during the first trimester and pro-life during the last two trimesters. If Point X is viability, then everyone ought to be pro-choice before the fetus can survive outside the womb and pro-life once the fetus can survive outside the womb.

The problem is that none of us knows when Point X is, and we never will. Medical science can teach us much, but it cannot answer that crucial question, because it requires a value judgment, and, as soon as you’ve made that value judgment, your conclusion inevitably follows.

If you believe the fertilized egg represents merely the potential for human life, then of course the woman should have the right to choose. If you believe the fetus is a human life that has (in the parlance of this debate) acquired the attributes of personhood, then of course the fetus ought to have the right to life.

It’s a value judgment, and, because it’s a value judgment, the labels the two sides apply to themselves are wholly sincere. I know many pro-choice people, none of whom are against children, childbirth, families, or motherhood; many of the pro-choice people I know are parents, and good ones. I know many pro-life people, none of whom are misogynists. On both sides, we’re all simply people who conscientiously make different value judgments in good faith. Except among the vocal yet small extremist minorities at either end of the spectrum, there ain’t no good guys, there ain’t no bad guys, there’s only you and me, and we just disagree.

Tim Tebow made a value judgment. His value judgment, like the value judgments of many people on both sides of this divide, was informed by his religious faith, his personal philosophy of life, and his individual experience. According to every survey I have ever seen, Tebow’s view represents the minority viewpoint in the United States as a whole, although it might command a majority in certain of those states. The Gator quarterback, who previously has received almost universal praise for his faith-based lifestyle, is receiving serious criticism for the first time in his career.

The criticism, of course, is about the advertisement which will air on Super Bowl Sunday. The ad, according to reports, will feature Tim Tebow and his mother, Pam. CBS "has approved the script for the 30-second ad," "which critics say is likely to convey" a pro-life position by recounting Pam Tebow’s decision to carry her pregnancy to term despite receiving medical advice to the contrary.

The ad is sponsored by Focus on the Family, although a spokesman for that group states that the Super Bowl spot was paid for by donations rather than through its general fund. In a letter to CBS, the Women’s Media Center referred to Focus on the Family as "anti-choice." The president of the Women’s Media Center said:

An ad that uses sports to divide rather than to unite has no place in the biggest national sports event of the year—an event designed to bring Americans together.

I respectfully beg to differ. The last sporting event I recall that unified Americans in any significant way was the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team’s "miracle on ice." Sporting events are inherently divisive; I am friends with fans of rival teams on every day of the year except the day on which our respective teams play. Sports are about the fact that you will suffer humiliation when the sports team from my area defeats the sports team from your area. Competition followed by the declaration of a winner is divisive by its very nature.

The reports I have seen, including the one quoted above, have been full of conjecture and supposition. Who has seen the script for the ad? Who knows what it will say? If the advertisement advocates joining a particular organization seeking to advance a certain agenda, that’s a political issue ad. If Tim and Pam Tebow are, say, advocating overturning Roe v. Wade---which, by the way, is a separate question from the legal availability of abortion---that’s a political issue ad.

If, however, the gist of this ad is for the Tebows to say, "Here’s why we hope you exercise your right to choose in this particular manner," that seems to me utterly unobjectionable. There is an enormous difference between saying, "I don’t think you should have this choice" and saying, "I hope you will exercise your choice in this way for these reasons." Here is what Tim Tebow had to say about the ad:

A team that doesn't want that shouldn't take me. Pro-life is very important to me. My mother listened to God late in her pregnancy, and if she had listened to others and terminated me, obviously I wouldn't be here. If others don't have the same belief, it's OK. I understand. But I hope they respect that at least I have the courage to stand up for what I believe in.

This is not much ado about nothing, but it is more ado than is warranted. Tebow is a young man of sincere convictions who has opted to subject himself to a backlash that might have far-reaching consequences for his professional career because he believes strongly in something for reasons everyone ought to respect, even if the majority of Americans respectfully disagree with him.

Anyone bothered by Tebow’s decision to use his considerable celebrity in the service of his beliefs should step out of the room for those 30 seconds or pony up the money to buy the time to offer a contrary view. Either way, though, we shouldn’t shoot the messenger. Focus past Focus on the Family.

This is Tebow’s choice. Even those who disagree with him should respect his right to choose.

I expect that comments will follow and that those comments will represent a variety of views. I have tried to be respectful to all participants in this debate in offering my perspective; I would ask that those participating in the discussion here make an effort to do likewise. I thank you in advance for your maintenance of a civil tone.