Q: The conservative Christian group Focus on the Family is sponsoring a pro-life ad, featuring football star Tim Tebow, during Sunday’s Super Bowl. Should CBS show the ad? Should CBS allow other faith-based groups to buy Super Bowl ads promoting their beliefs on social issues? Is a major sporting event, or a TV ad campaign, an appropriate venue for discussing such vital and divisive culture-war issues like abortion?
Here’s my hypothesis: Focus on the Family wants CBS to turn down its request for a Super Bowl ad. Then the ad not paid for or aired at the Super Bowl would be aired free and endlessly on conservative TV shows. Not only would the Family both have and eat its considerably large cake, but it would also Focus on this country’s so-called discrimination against evangelical Christians. It would also relieve the Family of trying to justify to 8% of its employees why it was God’s will to terminate them, and instead Focus on an expensive TV ad. (Though Family employees are down 38% since 2002, I can’t feel too sorry for a Family whose budget of “only” $138 million is considerably more than the combined budgets of the dozen or so advocacy groups I support.)
Here’s my dilemma. I favor just about everything Focus on the Family opposes: abortion rights, gay rights, separation of church and state, and much more. So should I want them to pay for an ad I don’t think they really want to pay for? My answer, of course, should be independent of what I think of the organization. I’m disappointed that CBS ended the policy of networks refusing to run advocacy ads during the Super Bowl, perhaps America’s leading secular ritual. I’m especially disappointed at the current trend of mixing sports and religion, both on and off the field.
Here’s my other dilemma. I support free speech and don’t like to see ads censored. I would still prefer no advocacy ads. But if CBS allows the Focus ad, it should allow controversial ads with opposing messages. Perhaps Super Bowl commercials will evolve from arguments about “Tastes great! No, less filling!” to “Jesus is Lord! No, Jesus is myth!” I’ve participated in debates on the latter topic, but there’s a time and place for such discussions. The Super Bowl is neither the time nor the place.
I can’t blame Tim Tebow, an athlete who wears his religion on his sleeve, or, more accurately, on his face. Evangelical parents raised him, and he believes he’s obliged to use his fame to spread his beliefs. I don’t think the NCAA, or a public institution like the University of Florida, should have allowed him to play football with Jesus eye patches along with inscribed biblical verse numbers. Unless, of course, other players could promote their worldviews during the game. Examples: There are no gods; there is no god but Allah. I doubt such other forms of proselytizing would be allowed.
Sporting events are a time to put aside our usual differences and enjoy shared experiences. Sunday should be a time for whites, blacks, Christians, Jews, atheists, gays, and straights from Indianapolis to stand together and root for a different outcome than those whites, blacks, Christians, Jews, atheists, gays, and straights from New Orleans. May the better team win, not the better race, color or creed.