DALLAS –– New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow tweeted Thursday that he is canceling an upcoming appearance at the First Baptist Church of Dallas because of "new information" brought to his attention.
"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," he tweeted.
Tebow did not expand on the specifics of that information. However, when news of Tebow's planned visit at the downtown church first broke, criticism swiftly spread across the Internet, aimed at Dr. Robert Jeffress, First Baptist's outspoken pastor who holds controversial stances on gay marriage, Catholics, Muslims, and Mormons.
Jeffress said Tebow called him Wednesday night.
"It was the controversy that he wanted to stay away from," Jeffress said. "He told me he was not coming, then a couple of hours later, he texted me and said he was prayerfully reconsidering and then again, today the tweet came out."
According to a statement released by the church following Tebow's announcement, the quarterback called Jeffress to tell him of the cancellation, "saying that for personal and professional reasons he needed to avoid controversy at this time." It also stated that Tebow was interested in appearing at the church at a later date.
"We are saddened that Mr. Tebow felt pressure to back out of his long-planned commitment from numerous New York and national sports and news media who grossly misrepresented past comment made by our pastor," the statement read.
In a 2011 interview, after introducing Gov. Rick Perry during his campaign for presidency at the Values Voters Summit, Jeffress made divisive statements while comparing the faiths of Mitt Romney and the Texas governor.
"Mitt Romney is a good moral person, but he is not a Christian," he said. "Mormonism is not Christianity. It has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity. So, it's a difference between a Christian and a non-Christian."
The statement spurred a media frenzy that found Jeffress making numerous appearances to explain his use of the word "cult" while discussing Mormonism.
In one interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper, he called the Mormon religion a "theological cult."
He also labeled Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism theological cults and went on to say he would support Romney before President Barack Obama because of his "unbiblical positions."
He also preaches against gay marriage, calling it an abomination.
"I have been mischaracteized and misquoted," Jeffress said. "I don't regret anything that I have actually said. Our church is not a hate church, it's a church filled with hope. I find it very interesting and really distressing that a church like ours that simply says 'faith alone in Christ is what saves you' and that 'sex should be between a man and a woman,' that somehow that's considered to be hate speech."
Senior Editor John Wright at the Dallas Voice gay newspaper says Tebow's exit is a rebuke to Jeffress.
"I think it's a victory for not only the gay community, but for all the groups who've kind of been on the receiving end of Jeffress' hateful rhetoric over the years," Wright said.
Wright says he doubts Tebow will visit later as Jeffress claims.
Regardless, Jeffress says the controversy won't overshadow the church opening of its new $130 million downtown campus.
Tebow, a Christian known for his show of faith on and off the field, was scheduled to deliver two sermons at the church on April 28. The appearance was part of a month-long schedule of events in which the First Baptist Church Dallas will celebrate the grand opening of that new facility.
"The leaders and congregation of First Baptist Church Dallas are disappointed that New York Jets’ Quarterback Tim Tebow has announced he will no longer speak at First Baptist Church Dallas on April 28, 2013, as part of the month-long celebration events surrounding the grand opening of our new $130 million, state-of-the-art campus on Easter Sunday.
Mr. Tebow called Dr. Jeffress Wednesday evening saying that for personal and professional reasons he needed to avoid controversy at this time but would like to come to First Baptist Dallas to speak at a future date. We are saddened that Mr. Tebow felt pressure to back out of his long-planned commitment from numerous New York and national sports and news media who grossly misrepresented past comments made by our pastor, Dr. Robert Jeffress, specifically related to issues of homosexuality and AIDS, as well as Judaism.
As a Christian pastor, Dr. Jeffress takes a biblical approach to moral and social issues, closely following his duty to preach ‘the whole counsel of God,’ and not just address issues that are politically correct. First Baptist is a church built on the truth of Scripture, even though at times that approach can be perceived as controversial or counter to the prevailing winds of culture.
The reason for the recent media firestorm is not because the Word of God has changed, but because society has changed.
More important, contrary to editorializing in the media, Dr. Jeffress shares a message of hope, not hate; salvation, not judgment; and a Gospel of God’s love, grace and new beginnings available to all."