When the New York Jets hired former Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow last week, they created a striking first: the two most talked-about Christian athletes in the U.S. now play in the city formerly called “Sodom on the Hudson.”
New York has changed, however: it is no longer the old city of sin, or even the late 20th century town dominated by Catholics, Jews and WASPs that tended to look down its northern urban nose at conservative Protestants. Evangelical Christians are an ever bigger minority, whether as members of African-American or immigrant communities, young volunteers in the army of urban wannabes or proven pros moving straight into the various elites. The city is also becoming more accustomed to evangelicals’ obligation to profess their beliefs. As Tony Carnes, the evangelical publisher of A Journey Through NYC Religions, an awesomely granular website on Gothamite houses of worship, puts it, New York is becoming a “postsecular city” where all groups, conservative Christians included, are at ease expressing the fullness of their faith — or lack of it.
Like any other New York demographic, evangelicals are composed of various sub-subcultures, movers, shakers and scenes (although its “scenes” are often churches.) Assuming they’re not already texting, where will the two poster boys run into each other? Here are some possibilities in the Christian slice of the Apple:
• Over dinner with the Rev. Michel Faulkner at Amy Ruth’s soul-food restaurant on West 116th Street in Harlem. Founding chef Carl Redding felt called by God to open the eatery; he named it after his church-loving grandmother. Redding has since left, but the establishment, says Carnes, continues to “have that vibe,” attracting Christian natives and tourists. It would be a convenient place to dine with the former Jet lineman Faulkner, a recent Republican candidate for the House of Representatives: he pastors the New Horizon Church 19 blocks north.
• At Redeemer Presbyterian Church‘s East 69th Street location. Carnes says Lin has friends who attend Redeemer, a magnet for conservative-Christian yuppies. The service there may be a bit “high church” (liturgically oriented) for Tebow, whose background is Southern Baptist. (If he’s hunting for a church in the city, he might like the Journey, a multisite with a less formal service.) But the cool star power of Redeemer senior pastor the Rev. Timothy Keller, whose acute preaching, smart Christian apologetics and New York success have made him a national evangelical icon, should be enough to pull in both superstars, perhaps as early as the annual Hope for New York spring benefit on May 10.
• At Yankee Stadium, as guests of manager Joe Girardi, to watch the incomparable relief pitcher Mariano Rivera in one of his last appearances before he trades the mound for the pulpit. According to George McGovern, the team chapel leader for the Yanks, Rivera — who intends to become a Pentecostal minister when his playing days are done — follows soccer more closely than football or basketball, so the three-star summit would probably be brokered by Girardi, an avid Christian believer. McGovern says the coach “would definitely put those guys together — he’d have fun with that stuff.”
• At a fundraiser for the charitable Allan Houston Legacy Foundation. Houston was the Knicks’ star shooting guard for nine seasons and a lower-key Christian presence than point-guard teammate Charlie Ward. He is now the team’s assistant to the president for basketball operations, which makes him one of Lin’s bosses. His foundation’s specialty is strengthening the bonds between fathers and sons, a very local concern compared with Tebow’s building of a hospital in the Philippines. But Houston’s involvement in a range of evangelical causes extends his reach beyond just Legacy.
• At a gathering of the the New Canaan Society, a kind of platinum-card Promise Keepers. The society started out as a fellowship group for a Goldman Sachs executive, who commuted from Connecticut, and seven of his friends. It now numbers some 700 men, most in finance. Plenty are sports fans, and they have the kind of pull to draw Tebow and Lin to a yearly retreat featuring, according to their website, “crazy relaxation, powerful spiritual growth and interconnectedness.” Higher up the food chain, says McGovern, “there would be your high-end philanthropic guys” — true plutocrats who have been known to “pull in celebrities from different teams and [Christian] musicians and actors.”
• At the theater, at a fashion show or just about anywhere else. Beyond connections through church, Christian ministries or sports, the postsecular-city theory of New York suggests that Lin and Tebow could meet fellow believers all over. There are conservative Christians on Broadway and in a group called Models for Christ. The Museum for Biblical Art on West 61st Street in Manhattan, originally part of the American Bible Society, gets glowing reviews in secular newspapers and maintains a goal of “put[ting] scripture back into culture.” If Lin and Tebow venture into town, in addition to having their lives broadened by contact with the city’s millions of nonevangelicals, they would constantly encounter fellow believers to help them deepen their faith. And one of these, rather than some high-powered gathering, could bring them together.
SPECIAL NEW JERSEY TEBOW EDITION:
If, as Fox Sports has reported, the Jets want Tebow to live near their New Jersey practice facility rather than in Manhattan so he will not be “influenced and distracted in the city,” he might end up at the Life Christian Church in West Orange: its pastor, ESPN reports, has already tweeted an invitation, alluding to other Jets who attend. But hopefully the QB will be allowed to scramble into the city with the same freedom he has had to roam outside the pocket.
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