If there is one day where young and old, Republican and Democrat, black and white, the 99% and the 1%, put down their weapons and disputes, it is on Superbowl Sunday. The game, the ads, the food, and so on, turned Superbowl Sunday into a major spectacle. The spectacle has not gone unnoticed among religious leaders. In fact, as Superbowl viewership has increased to over 100 million in recent years so has the discomfort about the game and the spectacle.
Tony Wood, Pastor of Preaching & Vision at Moment Church in Tustin, CA, posted on Facebook that “Sunday will be an interesting day as millions of Americans wake, look in the mirror, and choose which God they worship more – Football or Christ.” Nashville area pastor Ray Ortlund, over at The Gospel Coalition said that 2008 was his last Superbowl because, “It has become an intensified concentration of vulgarity and ego, with enough athletics in the game and cleverness in the commercials to trick me into watching. It’s simply not what I’m living for.” A fringe group of lay-preachers calling themselves “Citizens Against Super Bowl Idolatry” is planning to protest outside the game in order to warn the American public about the “deeper implications of Super Bowl idolatry in American life … ,” according to Birmingham lawyer, James Leonard Elsman.
Perhaps these religious leaders can take a little comfort in the fact that Superbowl viewership is actually expected to drop slightly this year, according to Brad Adgate, senior VP-research for Horizon Media.
[This season] ratings have fallen off for the NFL. Not alarmingly, but enough to predict that the Super Bowl may not surpass the record 111.3 million viewers the “big game” averaged last year. For the 2012 regular season, viewing was down on the three broadcast networks as well as ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.”
Among the biggest tensions from some pastors face with Superbowl Sunday is that fact that many churches will cancel evening worship services because of a predicted lack of attendance. This makes we wonder if Superbowl Sunday as become the secular version of holidays like Easter or Christmas. The Superbowl has emerged as a day of enjoying connection. A day to celebrate victory in community. The way many Americans will re-arrange their lives on Sunday to watch the game certainly reveals our values as a nation but perhaps it is also a reflection of the fact that the Church may be failing to make the celebration of the Eucharist, or the Resurrection, a celebratory, unifying, and life-organizing event for friends and family to rally around.
The viewership numbers are staggering for Sunday, to say the least, but it seems that when religious leaders point fingers at the Superbowl they may be missing that the fact the Americans are signalling to the church what people truly need from Her: a place to experience genuine connection around a celebratory event.