New York City is no hotbed of evangelical Christianity. Both in geography, and in God-fearing, the Big Apple is a long, long way from the Bible Belt. For example, the city’s sole evangelical Christian college — The King’s College — takes up just two floors in the Empire State Building.
But thanks to the trade that will bring Tim Tebow to the Jets, New York will soon receive a religion lesson. At the beginning of February, New Yorkers had no good reason to mix religion and sports. The arrival of Tebow, and sudden emergence of devout New York Knicks point-guard sensation Jeremy Lin, makes the Big Apple home to two of the most high-profile evangelicals in the world. “It’s incredibly exciting,” says Sean McNamara, vice president of field ministry in New York and New England for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. “It’s awesome.”
Evangelical leaders hope that Tebow and Lin can help their message stand out in a religious melting pot. “We’re ready for Tebow to be a bigger voice for what we are doing in New York,” says Woody Woodfin, an outreach coordinator for Athletes in Action, a sports ministry group in the New York metro area. At the same time, Woodfin says he’s also “a little fearful” for Tebow. “In New York, there are vices that can be a trap for a young guy like that,” says Woodfin, who also founded Street 2 Street, a series of urban basketball tournaments that mix competition and Christian ministry. “It’s easy to get caught up in the New York scene. And if a high-profile guy like Tebow does something out of character, something unbecoming of a Christian, we’re going to hear about it.”
At the same time, Woodfin notes, if Tebow can resist the temptations of New York and continue living out his faith, he’ll be an even bigger role model for evangelicals. Which would be amazing, given the incredible influence he already has.
Evangelical leaders hope Tebow and Lin join forces to help spread their word. The pair have apparently joined a mutual admiration society. “He’s a good guy and very humble,” Tebow said of Lin back in February. “There are a lot of exciting things happening for him. We talk a lot on the phone, because I know what he’s going through, and I’ve been giving him some advice. He’s handling it pretty well and staying focused.”
Lin says he looks up to Tebow. “I think the things he says in interviews, his approach to the game is just unbelievable and I respect him so much,” Lin said in a February radio interview. “I want to be able to do some of the things that he does in terms of the amount of charity work and the nonprofit work, and the way he impacts people off the field. I think that is what is most inspiring to me about him.” Maybe Lin can teach Tebow, who graduated from the University of Florida with a 3.66 GPA, the “Christian Nerd High-Five.“
Woodfin, who like Tebow came to New York from the South (he moved to the city from rural Georgia after the Sept. 11 attacks, sensing an opportunity for service) has some friendly advice for Tebow. “Be yourself,” says Woodfin. “That’s one of the things that makes New York great — people are who they are. Keep making the Lord a priority, choose friends wisely, and be involved in a community of like-minded people. But at the same time, celebrate the diversity here. Embrace that. Don’t run away from it.”