At least they should.
For years, churches have adopted an "if you can't beat 'em" approach toward Superbowl Sunday, speeding through services, cancelling evening events, and capitulating to the world by holding "Superbowl parties," showing the game on their own giant TV sets. (Some feel that this is an effective outreach to the young and unchurched, about which more momentarily.)
But the party's over. The NFL has sent out letters threatening legal action. Apparently it is a violation of copyright law to show their games on any set larger than 55 inches. Sports bars have a legal exemption.
Okay -- how stupid is this? First off, why does the NFL care about the size of thee TV set their hundred bazillion viewers use to view the game? Two hundred bazillion eyes is a lot of eyes, whether they are distributed in living rooms or gathered in fellowship halls. Second, what kind of country gives exemptions to bars but not to churches?
So we side with the churches, to be sure. No surprise there. But we have a few other points we'd like to raise. To wit:
1) This is an old, old dance. In Renaissance England, the Puritans were so offended by sports played on Sunday that they banned them. One of the many ways in which James I disappointed them was his support for sport -- after Mass, to be sure. He even wrote a book on the subject, because that's just the kind of guy he was.
2) It's an old dance, only now, the churches aren't leading. They are leaning like horny debutantes on the arms of Big Steroid, and hoping to be swung gracefully around the ballroom. They are yearning for love, and willing to put out a little if it gets them a ring. But like that deb, all they're really going to get is screwed.
3) Churches are kidding themselves if they think this is evangelism. When the WaPo writes about a huge Presbyterian congregation in Virginia that uses this as outreach to disaffected youth, and quotes the Director of Communication saying "we thought we had found our magic bullet," wiser heads shake sadly. Sure, the Superbowl is a great way to get young people into your church -- for the Superbowl.
3) Why do all these churches have TV sets bigger than 55 inches? Yikes. Don't they know that television was invented by the Other Place? Especially since the writers' strike?
Nope. All told, the NFL's seeming smackdown is (like Paul's shipwreck, or the Decian persecutions)just a cleverly-disguised gift from God. It is a chance for churches to stop kissing the culture's smelly rear, and stand apart -- proudly. Rather than trying to get in on the action, churches should take some time this Sunday afternoon to be churches. Worship God. Hold a Bible study. Deliver your collection of coats to the nearby shelter. Sure, you won't get a lot of people -- but guess what? You'll be doing what God called you to do.
Churches should boycott the Superbowl, not to harm the NFL, but for their own good.