By Eric Marrapodi
(CNN) — NFL quarterback Tim Tebow has canceled an appearance at a controversial Dallas-area church. The outspoken Christian quarterback was scheduled to speak at First Baptist Church on April 28.
The church is led by Robert Jeffress, who has been widely criticized for views against homosexuality, Islam and Mormonism. Tebow, announcing his decision Thursday on Twitter, said that he was canceling his appearance “due to new information that has been brought to my attention.”
Tebow’s statement appeared over a series of four tweets on the social media site.
“I will continue to use the platform God has blessed me with to bring Faith, Hope and Love to all those needing a brighter day. Thank you for all of your love and support. God Bless!” he wrote to his Twitter followers.
Tebow was scheduled to speak at the 11,000-member Dallas church as part of a monthlong celebration of the megachurch’s completion of a new building campaign, a $130 million dollar project that encompasses five blocks of the downtown.
“Tim called me last night and explained to me that because of some things going on in his personal life and his career he needed to steer clear of controversy right now, but that at some other date he would like to come and speak at our church,” Jeffress told CNN by phone from Dallas. “Tim has to do what Tim thinks is best for him right now.”
The First Baptist Church of Dallas is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention. Jeffress, who has been in its pulpit since 2007, is no stranger to controversy.
After introducing Texas Gov. Rick Perry at the Values Voter Summit in Washington in October 2011, Jeffress told reporters he believed Mormonism was a cult, expressing a personal position and one held by his denomination. The move was seen as a particular slight to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a lifelong Mormon.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, while acknowledging sharp theological differences with the Southern Baptist Convention, bristles at the term cult and says it is inaccurate.
Jeffress has also drawn fire for his comments about homosexuality, Judiasm and Catholicism.
“This in no way is going to diminish what our church is teaching about salvation being available to all through faith in Jesus Christ,” Jeffress said.
Jeffress pointed out that Tebow is a member of the First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, a fellow SBC church.
“They certainly believe what we do, that salvation is through Christ alone, and about homosexuality. Tim confirmed that to me last night, that they believe exactly what we do about homosexuality.”
Tebow and Jeffress differ dramatically in how they present their faith. Tebow in talking about his faith has used much softer language, while Jeffress has no trouble going after less popular and culturally sensitive issues in Christianity.
“I believe that homosexuality is a sin just like adultery is a sin, just like I believe premarital sex is a sin, because it’s a deviation from God’s standard,” Jeffress said.
“God’s plan for sex is that is should be between a man and a woman in a marriage relationship and any deviation from that is wrong.”
While he believes any sex outside a heterosexual marriage is wrong, he adds, “I never single out homosexuality as the only sin or the unpardonable sin. I think homosexuality, just like adultery, can be forgiven if we ask God for forgiveness.”
Jeffress said he thinks there is a genetic disposition toward homosexuality, a stance on sexual orientation taken by many theologically conservative Christians and one scorned as scientifically flawed by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Jeffress said he is sure there are gay members in his church. “We don’t ask all the gay members to stand up, but I’m sure that there are people who are gay in our church simply because of the letters I have received,” he said. “We have people who’ve committed adultery and who lie and who steal, but that doesn’t mean they’re not welcome to come to our church.”
As for comments about Mormons, Jews and Catholics, he is quick to point out that he believes “no one goes to hell in a group.”
“I’m not the one who decides who goes to heaven and hell. God does that. God has already given us the criteria for what it takes to go to heaven when you die. Jesus said in John 14:6, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life, and no man comes to the father except through me.’ When I quote that verse I like to remind people that Jesus who said that was not a Southern Baptist evangelist but a Jewish rabbi. Yet as a Jewish rabbi he said there is one way to heaven, and that is through faith in me.”
The controversy surrounding Tebow’s appearance won’t dampen the church’s plans, Jeffress said. He said Tebow, while escaping the spotlight now over his beliefs, will continue to face controversy.
“I think Tim is going to discover that no matter how hard you try to hide from controversy, if you stand for the simple truths of the Bible, like faith in Christ, necessary for salvation, and sex (being acceptable only) between a man and a woman in marriage, you can’t avoid controversy. That’s something Tim needs to discover on his own. We in no way want to impugn him. He’s a great man of God who sincerely loves the Lord.”
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