Farmland Friends on Friday joined churches nationwide in abruptly canceling its Super Bowl party for fear of violating a federal copyright law that prohibits public venues from showing NFL games on big-screen TVs.I know what you're thinking, but wait for it.
Sports bars are specifically exempted. Churches are not.
The law has been widely ignored for years. Churches routinely draw hundreds of fans to annual Super Bowl parties; some denominations openly use the events as tools for evangelism. The Christian magazine Sports Spectrum even markets a Super Bowl party kit for churches. This year, however, a celebration sponsored by Falls Creek Baptist Church in Indianapolis caught the attention of a National Football League attorney, Rachel L. Margolies.
She ordered the church to cancel its party and remove the trademarked Super Bowl name from its website. The Indianapolis Star picked up the story Thursday — and by Friday, pastors across Indiana and beyond were scrambling to yank down their Super Bowl banners and give away their trays of burgers.
This Super Bowl is especially meaningful not only for Northside New Era Missionary, but for churches nationwide. Both Dungy and Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith are deeply faithful Christians; both have credited their successful seasons to the Lord. "We're giving all the glory to God," Colts owner Jim Irsay said last month.Well, and the problem is:
Some pastors planned to make the most of the Christian subtext to the game by using their Super Bowl parties to show videos of Dungy and Smith testifying about their faith. Others had prepared brief halftime sermons about character. "It's used as a vehicle to open up conversations about faith," said Joseph Price, a professor of religious studies at Whittier College who teaches about sports and faith.
Jumbo screens "have the potential to draw thousands of people, and if we had that going on across the country, it would eventually erode the television ratings," McCarthy said.And then there's the context. Remember Christmas, 2005?
This Christmas, no prayers will be said in several megachurches around the country. Even though the holiday falls this year on a Sunday, when churches normally host thousands for worship, pastors are canceling services, anticipating low attendance on what they call a family day.Quick question: which event exemplifies the consumer mentality? Closing on Christmas Day because it's not worth the effort? Or having a Super Bowl party, complete with jumbo screen TV, so you can preach to the masses?
Critics within the evangelical community, more accustomed to doing battle with department stores and public schools over keeping religion in Christmas, are stunned by the shutdown.
It is almost unheard of for a Christian church to cancel services on a Sunday, and opponents of the closures are accusing these congregations of bowing to secular culture.
"This is a consumer mentality at work: `Let's not impose the church on people. Let's not make church in any way inconvenient,'" said David Wells, professor of history and systematic theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a leading evangelical school in Hamilton, Mass. "I think what this does is feed into the individualism that is found throughout American culture, where everyone does their own thing."
The churches closing on Christmas plan multiple services in the days leading up to the holiday, including on Christmas Eve. Most normally do not hold Christmas Day services, preferring instead to mark the holiday in the days and night before. However, Sunday worship has been a Christian practice since ancient times.
Comparisons to Salvation Army soup kitchens are probably inappropriate, too, huh?