DENVER, COLORADO, December 19, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) - It looks like a cross between a genuflection and Rodin’s “The Thinker.” The characteristic kneel Tim Tebow makes to thank God after a big play has become a worldwide phenomenon, creating a new craze and stirring controversy over the role of religion in public life.

The Global Language Monitor reports that the term “Tebowing” has become an officially recognized English word. “The rapid rise of the word has seldom been equaled,” it adds.  A website, Tebowing.com, quickly collected photos of people striking the reverent pose all over the world, from Stonehenge to Machu Picchu. Coverage of the phenomenon has hit mainstream secular outlets

In perhaps its most controversial execution, four students at Long Island’s Riverhead High School received a one-day suspension for imitating their gridiron hero in the middle of a crowded hallway. School officials say public safety, rather than religion, motivated the reprimand.

However, more strident voices have criticized Tebow for his outspoken faith and pro-life beliefs. Rabbi Joshua Hammerman wrote a column in The Jewish Week slamming “Tebow’s sanctimonious God-talk.” He added, “His mom’s decision to risk her own life rather than abort her fetus flies against my own - and Judaism’s - values.”

He warned Tebow’s Christian gesture could lead to pogroms and violence. He wrote, “If Tebow wins the Super Bowl, against all odds, it will buoy his faithful, and emboldened faithful can do insane things, like burning mosques, bashing gays and indiscriminately banishing immigrants.” He worried “legions of Southern Baptist missionaries [will] hit the college campuses the very next day” to convert Jews who have been “seduced by this unfolding drama.”

Following public backlash, the rabbi apologized for the column, claiming his wording was “clumsy” and any content “deemed offensive” had been inadvertent. The website called his words “more inciting than insightful” and removed the article, which can be read in its entirety here. 

Liberal Democratic commentator Bob Beckel, who came to faith following deep addiction and a prostitution scandal, said “Rabbi you’re still a bigot. Here’s the way bigots work: They do things like this, and they pull them back.”

Others criticize Tebow for drawing the media spotlight off their own accomplishments. Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley has said, “I sit at home, start watching TV, and all I’m seeing is Tebow.” Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco agreed, “If you watched ‘SportsCenter’ today, it was Tim Tebow then something else, Tim Tebow then something else, and Tim Tebow then something else.”

Tebow became a source of national controversy after starring in a commercial that made a subtle pro-life argument during the 2010 Super Bowl. Tebow’s mother, Pam, contracted amoebic dysentery while serving as a missionary in the Philippines in 1987. Doctors told her, “An abortion is the only way to save your life,” Tebow wrote in his book, Through My Eyes. “[T]he ‘mass of fetal tissue’ or ‘tumor’-me-had to go.” Her 2010 Super Bowl ad celebrated her decision to ignore the doctor’s advice and have her “miracle baby.” His mother endorsed Colorado’s unsuccessful personhood amendment last fall. 

This has led to efforts at retaliation. A pro-abortion blog urged its visitors to “donate $5 or $10 to your local pro-choice organization” for every time Tebow threw a touchdown in Sunday’s football game. (He contributed two touchdowns in a losing effort against the New England Patriots.)

In addition to his faith and support for the unborn, Tebow has said he intends to wait to have sex until after marriage.

Media outlets have reported that “multiple companies” declined to use Tebow as a spokesman because of his faith.

But criticism seems to have little impact on the Broncos quarterback. Last month, Tebow vowed, “any time I get an opportunity to tell [Jesus] that I love Him or given an opportunity to shout him out on national TV, I’m gonna take that opportunity.”

Others, too, have come to his defense. Christian singer Rebecca St. James defended Tebow during a recent episode of Fox News Channel’s Hannity program. “I think most people that are watching tonight would want a Tim Tebow as a role model for their kids,” she said, adding the quarterback is “an outstanding young man with values and morals.”

Randy Smith, sports writer for The Chattanoogan, writes that Tebow is a rare occurrence: an athlete whose private life can serve as a role model. “Tim Tebow will likely not be among the greatest quarterbacks to ever play in the NFL,” Smith forecasts. “But he certainly has a chance to be among the most admired men to ever play the game. Rightly so!”