Tim Tebow has backed out of speaking at First Baptist Church of Dallas in April, saying he “needed to lay low and steer clear of controversy” because of both personal and professional issues. The NFL star informed Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist, in a telephone call, Jeffress told The Christian Post. Prior to the decision, critics of Jeffress’ Biblical views on other religions and homosexuality argued that Tebow shouldn’t make an appearance at the church. After their phone conversation, however, the evangelical quarterback sent Jeffress a text message saying that he was still prayerfully considering speaking to the 11,000-member church, though he later announced via his social media accounts that he had decided against it. “While I was looking forward to sharing a message of hope and Christ’s unconditional love with the faithful members of the historic First Baptist Church of Dallas in April, due to new information that has been brought to my attention, I have decided to cancel my upcoming appearance,” Tebow said via Twitter and Facebook on Thursday. Jeffress said he is not sure what Tebow meant by “new information.” During their conversations the football star even told Jeffress he might consider speaking to the First Baptist congregation at a later date. “I think the new information . . . is all the controversy in the media and criticizing of him for coming,” said Jeffress, who says the media has made both him and his church out to be anti-Semitic, anti-gay, and hate-filled. He calls such reports a “complete mischaracterization,” and says his beliefs, specifically regarding the exclusivity of Christ as the way to salvation and marriage as being between one man and one woman, are not new. “Those are hardly radical ideas,” said Jeffress. “Those have been mainstream Christian teachings for 2,000 years, and I believe the reason these statements are so controversial is not because the Word of God has changed, but because culture has changed.” He also says Tebow never expressed any concerns about the church’s doctrine during their extensive conversations with one another. Christianity Today reports that sportswriters piled on Tebow. Benjamin Hochman of the The Denver Post warned, “After a season on the sidelines, the ball’s in your hands, Timmy. Better not fumble this one.” But R. Albert Mohler, calling the incident “Tebow’s Big Fumble,” warned in CT, “If Tebow meant to mollify his critics, it is not likely to work for long.” CT notes, “The Tebow controversy comes just weeks after evangelical pastor Louie Giglio withdrew from delivering a prayer at President Barack Obama’s second inaugural ceremony. Giglio had been ‘outed’ as having preached a message almost 20 years ago that affirmed the sinfulness of homosexuality and stressed that the ‘only way out of a homosexual lifestyle . . . is through the healing power of Jesus.'”

Other news:

  • Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court has voted 5-4 to ban gay couples from adopting children, with judges claiming that a child’s dignity, stability, and well-being can be ensured only if raised in a “traditional” family, reports rt.com. The vote comes two days after 200,000 religious Christians held a rally against granting same-sex couples any sort of legal rights. As the largest anti-gay rally in the history of the U.S. commonwealth, the gathering portrayed the immense opposition gay couples continue to face in Puerto Rico. Although some lawmakers support granting gay couples with certain legal rights, many public figures remain starkly opposed to the idea. The Supreme Court decision came in response to a woman’s eight-year-long attempt to adopt a 12-year-old girl whom her partner had given birth to through in vitro fertilization. Even though the woman’s girlfriend was the mother of the girl, the court upheld the constitutionality of a law that prohibits someone in a same-sex relationship from adopting the child.
  • The Chinese have ordered its All-China Women’s Federation to define unmarried women older than 27 as “left over,” reports washingtontimes.com. The Communist government ordered the feminist group to reference “leftover women” in several articles about the growing number of educated, professional, single women age 27–30 who have “failed” to find a husband and are now “undesirable,” The Daily Mail reports. “Pretty girls do not need a lot of education to marry into a rich and powerful family. But girls with an average or ugly appearance will find it difficult,” reads one article titled “Leftover Women Do Not Deserve Our Sympathy.” Leta Hong-Fincher, an American academic studying at Tsinghua University in Beijing, told The Mail: “Since 2007, the state media has aggressively disseminated the leftover term in surveys, and news reports, and columns, and cartoons and pictures, basically stigmatizing educated women over the age of 27 or 30 who are still single.” The derogatory label sparked an outcry among the country’s growing number of young, modern career women, who claim they have been tossed aside.
  • Pornography is the “pink elephant in the pew,” the embarrassing, big subject no one wants to talk about, and that silence is feeding a “bubonic plague” harming churches, Pastor Jay Dennis told state Baptist convention executive directors and editors gathered in Oklahoma City, Baptist Press reports. “Our enemy has found the perfect tool to deliver temptation to men—men who love God, men who love their wives, love their children and love their churches,” Dennis, pastor of First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland, Fla., said Feb. 14. “Yet their involvement in looking at pornography has virtually duct-taped their mouths closed and taken them out of spiritual leadership in the home and in the church.” Dennis told the state executives and editors that too many pastors are “out of touch,” believing that pornography affects only a small percentage in their congregations. He cited a 2011 LifeWay Research survey of 1,000 pastors that found 62 percent of pastors believe less than 10 percent of men in their churches viewed pornography on a weekly basis. Dennis believes the figure is more like 80 percent. Dennis said a “God-sized project” of creating a campaign for churches of all sizes and denominations seeks to involve at least 1 million men to take a public stand against pornography—and 1 million women praying for men. The campaign is geared to Christian men, he said, because only through the power of the Holy Spirit can men overcome struggles with pornography. Some 1,300 men have already signed commitment cards that have been posted to a wall and tower prominently displayed at the church. The porn-free commitment includes 14 statements the men affirm. Dennis said he has urged even men who say they do not struggle with pornography to make the commitment as encouragement to those who do and to “draw a line in the sand . . . to never go there.”
  • On Valentine’s Day, the Illinois Senate voted to approve a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, which would make it the 10th state in the nation, along with the District of Columbia, to change its laws regarding traditional marriage, The Christian Post reports. The controversial legalization was passed by a 34-to-21 vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate, which many are seeing as a clear indication of the changing tide when it comes to same-sex laws in the country, The New York Times reports. The Illinois House is now expected to take up the legislation, and if it passes there, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to sign the bill. Conservative commentators have said voting against traditional marriage endangers the religious freedom of churches and companies that have a moral objection to gay marriage. “The same-sex marriage bill passed by the Illinois Senate today would violate the rights of Illinois churches and religious organizations to follow their faith free of government oppression. It would also force Illinois business owners to operate in fear of being shut down because of their conscientious objections to same-sex marriage,” said Peter Breen, executive director and legal counsel for the Thomas More Society. The public interest law firm has long warned against legalizing gay marriage.
  • Nine U.S. senators and two U.S. representatives, along with the Oklahoma attorney general and 11 other key groups, filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting the Becket Fund’s challenge to the HHS mandate on behalf of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., reports lifenews.com. The HHS mandate forces the Christian-owned-and-operated business to provide the “morning-after pill” and “week-after pill” in their health insurance plan or face crippling fines. “While any brief by sitting members of Congress is significant, this one comes from members who originally supported the federal civil rights law—the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993—which is at the heart of the mandate challenges,” said Kyle Duncan, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “The brief leaves no doubt that Congress intended to protect the religious freedom of those like Hobby Lobby and its founder, David Green, against federal attempts to force them to insure abortion-inducing drugs.” The case is currently before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. A hearing could take place as early as this spring.
  • U.S. former first lady Laura Bush has requested that her spot be removed from a pro-gay marriage advertisement that launched this week, reports The Christian Post. The ad is part of a $1 million print and broadcast media campaign by the Respect for Marriage Coalition. “Mrs. Bush did not approve of her inclusion in this advertisement nor is she associated in any way with the group that made the ad,” Anne MacDonald, a spokeswoman for the former first lady, told The Dallas Morning News Thursday morning.
  • The University of Nebraska-Omaha is refusing Congress access to an archive of materials related to embattled secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel, according to correspondence obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. Congressional staff attempted to gain access to the university’s archive following failed attempts by reporters to view the material, which includes speeches and remarks made by the former Republican Nebraska senator. Concerns have arisen in recent weeks about several controversial comments Hagel may have made during speeches delivered in 2007 and 2010. Hagel has failed to provide lawmakers with full transcripts and videotapes for several of his past appearances despite promising full transparency.
  • Israel and the U.S. on Monday carried out a successful test of the next-generation Arrow 3 missile defense system, for the first time sending an interceptor into outer space, where it could destroy missiles fired from Iran, conservativebyte.com reports. The Arrow 3 is part of a multilayered system that Israel is developing to protect against a range of missile threats, from short-range rockets in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon to medium and longer-range missiles in the hands of Syria and Iran. The Arrow system is being developed to protect against sophisticated Iranian-made Shahab ballistic missiles. Israel’s Defense Ministry said it was the first flight test of the Arrow 3 interceptor. It was conducted at an Israeli test range over the Mediterranean Sea. The system is about three years away from becoming operational. “The Arrow 3 interceptor was successfully launched and flew an exo-atmospheric trajectory through space, in accordance with the test plan,” it said in a statement. “The successful test is a major milestone in the development of the Arrow 3 weapon system and provides further confidence in future Israeli defense capabilities to defeat the developing ballistic missile threat.”
  • With just a few days remaining until automatic budget cuts kick in, Republicans are looking to call President Obama’s “bluff”—by giving him the flexibility to spread around the budget-ax pain in a way that would prevent the kind of fiscal doomsday his administration is predicting, Fox News reports. The White House on Sunday evening ramped up its campaign to pressure Republicans, releasing state-by-state reports detailing the purported impact of the cuts. For days, top Cabinet officials have taken to the media to warn about the widespread damage if Congress does not agree to avert the cuts with an Obama-endorsed blend of spending reductions and tax increases. But Republicans have recently questioned whether the president might have more flexibility than he’s letting on. The $85 billion in cuts on tap for this year, they note, amounts to a little more than 2 percent of the federal budget—enough to be felt, but not enough to necessarily herald a crippling of government functions. The Pentagon would be hit disproportionately, but some hope that with a little discretion, the administration could spare the military and other departments from a devastating budget blow. In related news, top Republican lawmaker countered warnings about the purportedly devastating impact of looming budget cuts, calling on the administration to lessen the blow by taking two simple steps—stop hiring, and stop traveling. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., in a letter to the White House budget office, called Monday for a “hiring freeze” on nonessential positions, reports Fox News. Coburn pointed out that, amid pronouncements about the dire impact of spending cuts poised to hit starting this Friday, the administration is still advertising for a host of “lower priority jobs”—like a staff assistant to answer phones at the Labor Department, and a policy coordinator to set up meetings at the Department of Health and Human Services. Thehill.com reports that Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal (La.) on Sunday proposed to delay the implementation of President Obama’s healthcare reform law to help offset the looming sequester cuts. “The president needs to step up to the plate and say to Congress, ‘Here’s how you can cut $85 billion.”’ I’ve got an idea for him,” said Jindal on NBC’s Meet the Press. “Just delay the Medicaid expansions, delay the health care exchanges so they can work with states on waivers, on flexibility. You could save tens of billions of dollars . . . and you’re not even cutting a program that’s started yet. Just delay it for a few years.”
  • Fox’s Chris Wallace has landed the first post-election interview with defeated Republican nominee Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann. Wallace said on Fox News Sunday that the interview will air on his show next week. Additional portions will be on Fox News Channel the next day. Wallace says he’ll ask Romney how he has dealt with the defeat, what he plans to do, and his thoughts about President Barack Obama’s second-term agenda. Fox News spokeswoman Ashley Nerz says the interview will be taped this week in southern California, where Romney has spent much of his time since the election. Romney has also said he will speak March 15 to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, an annual event that draws leading Republican voices.
  • Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, whose father was tortured in Castro’s Cuba, has earned a few nicknames in the brief seven weeks he’s been in Congress—including the unflattering “Senator No.” But nobody can say the freshman senator has broken his campaign promise to shake up Washington upon arrival, reports Fox News. The Tea Party–backed candidate has so far made good on vows to be combative and uncompromising in his adherence to conservative principles. The 42-year-old Cruz has already voted against Senate rule changes to modestly curb filibusters, aid for Superstorm Sandy victims, and the Violence Against Women Act, arguing that stopping and punishing violent criminals is largely a state responsibility. He also was one of only three “no” votes against Massachusetts Democratic Sen. John Kerry’s nomination to be secretary of state. And he publicly skewered President Obama’s nominee for Defense secretary, former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel. All of that has helped Cruz earn such nicknames as “Cruz Missile,” “Senator No,” and even “The GOP’s Nasty Newcomer.” He also was featured in the past few weeks by Politico and The New York Times. Senior Texas Sen. John Cornyn and voters across the state have praised Cruz for his brashness and sticking to his principles. “He’s been a terrific partner,” Cornyn said. “What he’s finding is there’s a lot of critics in Washington when you try to change the status quo.” “My view is simple: Washington is a rough-and-tumble place,” Cruz said last week. “If folks want to attack me personally, they’re welcome to it. Texans elected a senator to go to Washington and speak the truth.”
  • New legislation in the Texas State legislature, sponsored by Steve Toth (R-Dist. 15), looks to stop Texas law enforcement officials from confiscating so-called assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, reports freedomoutpost.com. The legislation is called the Firearm Protection Act. Toth’s proposal would create a Class A misdemeanor for police officers enforcing any new federal gun regulations. It also would establish cause for the state attorney general to sue anyone who seeks to enforce new federal gun regulations. It is one of several states-rights measures being offered by conservative state lawmakers nationwide in response to federal gun control proposals.
  • The Vatican on Saturday accused the Italian media of spreading “false and damaging” reports in what it condemned as a deplorable attempt to influence cardinals who will meet in a secret conclave next month to elect a new pope, newsmax.com reports. Since Pope Benedict announced his resignation on Feb. 11, Italian newspapers have been full of rumors about conspiracies, secret reports, and lobbies in the Vatican that they say pushed the pope to abdicate, including a rumor that involved a shadowy “gay lobby” within the Vatican.