NFL reversal on Super Bowl parties shows importance of taking a stance, pastors say

INDIANAPOLIS (BP)--The National Football League's reversal over Super Bowl screenings in family friendly settings is a victory for the church at large, according to pastors contacted by Baptist Press.

"It's finally gotten into the realm of common sense," said John Newland, pastor of Fall Creek Baptist Church in Indianapolis.

Fall Creek's canceled Super Bowl party last year touched off a national furor over the NFL's policy of restricting church showings to a maximum of 55-inch screens. The NFL now has dropped the policy, according to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Newland said churches "are no threat to the NFL or its product. For a league that is beleaguered with image issues, I would think they would welcome somebody from a positive perspective to utilize their product."

The new NFL policy allows for showings that are free and on premises routinely used by the religious organization.

The former NFL policy had touched off widespread criticism of the league, since sports bars and other establishments were able to show the championship game without any concern for screen size.

David Greene, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Indianapolis, said the NFL reversal "shows when you take a stand what can happen versus being intimidated by such a large and significant organization as the NFL that has a lot of money and resources."

"And yet, entities that were far smaller could take a stand and gain the victory. When you stand for what's right, truth prevails," Greene said.

Various pastors said their churches likely will return to church-based Super Bowl parties after curtailing them the past two years.

Richard Odom, pastor of First Baptist Church of Summerfield, N.C., said his congregation will plan a community-wide outreach and pre-empt the halftime show with a Gospel presentation.

The pastor said he is still amazed that the NFL took the position it did concerning churches.

"To some degree, it's a victory for people speaking out and letting them know we didn't appreciate it," Odom said. "I know they were flooded with e-mails."

The outcry also included a promise by Heath Schuler, former pro quarterback and now congressman from western North Carolina, to introduce legislation if the NFL didn't amend its policy, Odom added.

A central Kentucky church that held its customary party -- though making sure its screen fit the 55-inch restriction -- will return to a full-scale Super Bowl party next year, although its pastor hopes to see it become more of an outreach. Simpsonville Baptist Church welcomed more than 200 partygoers to this year's telecast, which featured corn hole and ping-pong tournaments, a chili cook-off and board games.

"I don't know that it's a victory," senior pastor Steve Boyd said of the restrictions being relaxed. "I think the only victory is if we use the Super Bowl and other big events to build relationships and tell other people about the Lord. I can't say we've intentionally used an evangelistic approach for the game."

Mike Johnson, legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, which had threatened legal action against the NFL over its policy, concurred that the case is an example of what can happen when people speak up.

"In something like this, where there is no reason for this kind of treatment, we can let our voices be heard," said Johnson, who is based in Shreveport, La. "I think we need to do more of that."

Johnson drew a parallel between the outspoken nature of protests against the NFL's policy and developments in the nation's public schools.

He referred to a January court decision in Massachusetts, in which a federal appeals court ruled that parents had no right to object to elementary school children being taught pro-homosexual materials, with their only option to withdraw their children from classes.

Johnson said Christian students are having their viewpoints squelched and are being subjected to teachings diametrically opposed to their views.

"We're losing valuable yardage in the game," Johnson said. "This [Super Bowl viewings] is a good example of what can happen when we push back."

On the spiritual side, Newland said the Super Bowl triumph shows how God moved in a situation that was impossible for anybody to influence by human means.

If someone had asked him two years ago how the situation would go, he never would have imagined it turning out the way it did, said the pastor, whose. Church turned to in-home parties for this year's Super Bowl that attracted some 300 participants.

"So in that way, it's a testimony to the fact if God wants something done, it will be done, regardless of how we may try to manufacture a result," Newland said.


Ken Walker is a freelance writer based in Huntington, W.Va.

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