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Parties cancelled at some churches, continued at others

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–When the National Football League pressured an Indianapolis church to cancel its Super Bowl party several days before the big game, many churches nationwide followed suit and axed their own party plans. Other churches, though, accommodated the NFL rules and went ahead with their functions.

The NFL policy, as presented to Indianapolis’ Fall Creek Baptist Church in a letter and a series of e-mails from NFL attorney Rachel Margolies, essentially prevents anything but small churches from hosting Super Bowl parties: It prohibits screens larger than 55 inches and forbids the game being connected to any message, such as Christianity.

First Baptist Church in Summerfield, N.C., had planned on hosting a Super Bowl party with perhaps 200 to 400 people in attendance, watching it on three large projection screens. But they axed those plans after the Indianapolis church story broke. Leaders from churches of all stripes have said the NFL is wrong to give a huge exemption to bars — where alcohol is served and money is made — while not allowing churches to show the game to large audiences for free.

“The thing we have the issue with is the double standard,” Darrell Myers, associate pastor to students at the North Carolina church, told Baptist Press. “That doesn’t sit well with any of us, and the people in the church were pretty disappointed.”

For years, churches have viewed the Super Bowl as an opportunity to reach unbelievers. FBC Summefield was no different. It had planned at halftime on showing a “Power to Win” DVD featuring testimonies from Christian NFL players such as Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander. The church was going to give away prizes tied to trivia questions during timeouts. The grand prize of the evening was to be a recliner.

“We were going to have a lot of food and a lot of fun and a lot of fellowship. There was to be no charge at all,” Myers said. “[But] we just decided that since [the NFL policy] had been brought to light and that we were in violation of the law, that we were going to take the stance that the law is the law. While we don’t agree with it, we will fight and we will send our grievances to the NFL and to whomever we need to.

“We will pray that next year we won’t have this problem.”

But there remains confusion over exactly what the NFL’s policy is. Although the 55-inch restriction was mentioned in e-mails to the Indianapolis church, it hasn’t been mentioned in other e-mails from the NFL policy since then. Additionally, the e-mails have been silent regarding the NFL’s supposed ban on hosting events tied to messages (such as Christianity). WorldNetDaily ran a story two days before the Super Bowl with the headline, “Church ‘Super Bowl’ festivities may go on.” The story claimed that churches had been “given sweeping permission by the NFL to go ahead — just as long as no admission fees are charged.” The story included a statement from an NFL spokesman saying, “The National Football League has absolutely no objection to churches and others hosting Super Bowl viewing parties as long as they do not charge admission and show the game on a television of the type commonly used at home.” Contacted by Baptist Press, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello sent BP the same message.

Carrollwood Baptist Church in Tampa, Fla., was considering canceling its Super Bowl party but held it after conducting its own research, which including reading the WorldNetDaily article. The congregation has held the event for 20 years.

“I spent time trying to research the NFL site and the Super Bowl site to find what the copyright laws were. They do not have them posted anywhere,” Carrollwood pastor Tom Rives told BP. “I had a lawyer in my church to go through all the things that he could find, because I do not want to stand in my pulpit and say, ‘Come do something tonight that’s against the law.’ I won’t do that. I don’t want to lead in civil disobedience. But at the same time, when I could not [find] anything published [online] as to what that was, and in the middle of the process of researching it found that the NFL backed up, then that opened the door for me to do so.”

The church showed the “Power to Win” DVD before the game — doing so beforehand to accommodate the NFL’s supposed message rule — and during the game passed out issues of Sports Spectrum magazines after each score as part of a contest. They had free hot dogs, nachos, popcorn and drinks. There was no admission, and the 150-175 in attendance watched the game on a large projection screen.

“It is a big fellowship time for us, and it is a good time for outreach,” Rives said. “We had a young man who professes to be an atheist — he took a Bible that we gave him, he took a tract from that and he was asking questions. That was worth the whole event right there.”

Nationwide, actions varied at various churches:

— The singles at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville watched the game on a 55-inch picture projected on a 100-inch screen, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported. The party was estimated to have approximately 250 people.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” Debi Ingold, a party attendee, said. “You can do it in a bar full of people.”

“But you can’t in a church full of people,” Joan Brutscher added, according to the newspaper.

— Indianapolis’ Northside New Era Missionary Baptist Church — where Colts’ coach Tony Dungy attends — cancelled a party that would have had some 300 in attendance, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“It’s a shame we have to disappoint so many people. We don’t agree with it. But it is the rule,” Dian Foreman, director of youth ministry, told the newspaper.

— Second Baptist Church in Indianapolis went ahead with its Super Bowl party, showing the game on a 12-by 12-foot projection screen. All year, men in the church had gathered on Sunday afternoons to watch games in order to help shepherd young boys — especially those without fathers, the Indianapolis Star reported. David W. Greene, the church’s pastor, said the Super Bowl was an opportunity to continue that nurturing.

“We need to communicate to our young fellas that for some things you believe in you need to take a stand,” he told the newspaper.

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust