By Eric M. Johnson
(Reuters) - New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow, a devout Christian, has canceled an appearance at a Dallas mega-church led by a prominent pastor who has sparked controversy over remarks he made from the pulpit about gays and other religions.
Tebow, 25, who famously kneels in prayer on the football field in a move that has come to be known as "Tebowing," called off his April 28 appearance in a series of Twitter messages on Thursday.
"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," he said.
The First Baptist Church in Dallas, which had invited Tebow to celebrate the opening of its $130 million campus, is led by Robert Jeffress, a television evangelist who has criticized gays and other faiths, such as Islam and Mormonism.
The church said in a statement that Tebow, whose parents are missionaries, had called Jeffress on Wednesday and said he "needed to avoid controversy at this time, but would like to come to First Baptist Dallas to speak at a future date."
The church blamed news media on Thursday for having "grossly misrepresented" Jeffress' opinions and for putting pressure on Tebow.
Jeffress told Reuters that people advising Tebow "were encouraging him not to keep the commitment here" and that, in their conversation on Wednesday, Tebow did not take issue with the church's preaching.
"It certainly wasn't beliefs that he pointed to, it was the controversy surrounding his appearance here," said Jeffress, who has softened past statements he has made criticizing the Roman Catholic Church. But he remained unapologetic over his position on gays and lesbians.
"God's plan for sex is between a man and a woman in marriage. Yes, homosexuality is a deviation from God's plan, but I also include it with adultery and premarital sex as deviations from God's plan. But we don't hate homosexuals."
Tebow was a first-round draft pick in 2010 and the first college sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy, according to his website. Tebow was traded by the Denver Broncos to the Jets, but saw little playing time during the 2012 season.
(Additional reporting by David Adams; Editing by Paul Thomasch, Gunna Dickson, Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)