REBECCA ROBERTS, host:
From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Rebecca Roberts.
Unless you just this second returned from a year in the Kalahari, you know today is Super Bowl Sunday. The Chicago Bears face the Indianapolis Colts in Miami for Super Bowl 41. The artist formerly, and currently, known as Prince will provide the half time entertainment. And millions of Americans will gather in front of their TVs, eat way too many chips, and watch the ads.
Super Bowl Sunday is also a big day for churches. They see the event as a way to reach potential new members in a low-key atmosphere. But this year, the NFL has thrown cold water on some churches' Super Bowl plans.
From Miami, NPR's Greg Allen reports.
GREG ALLEN: Tucked among some Miami's high-rise hotels and condominiums, there's a little church. Midtown Community Church is a one-story building that in Miami's early days housed a Catholic monastery. Pastor Art Salcedo(ph) says he couldn't ignore the Super Bowl even if he wanted to.
Reverend ART SALCEDO (Midtown Community Church, Miami): We're taking advantage of that momentum.
ALLEN: That kind of momentum has helped the church, especially with young people in this downtown neighborhood. Salcedo says last year's event brought a whole new group of teens to the church, and he has similar hopes for this year. On Friday, a group of young people gathered for the kickoff to the church's Super Bowl weekend.
(Soundbite of movie, "Facing the Giants")
ALLEN: Midtown showed "Facing the Giants," an inspirational Christian film about a high school coach who draws on his faith to take his team to victory. Later today, like churches around the country, Midtown will be holding a Super Bowl watch party, complete with big screen TV, game tables and food. Salcedo says it ties in perfectly with the church's mission.
Rev. SALCEDO: During the half time show we'll present the Gospel. After he finishes, we will go ahead and give out New Testaments. We'll pray for the people that accept Christ as lord and savior and take down their names, and then do the follow-up in the coming days. But that's the whole purpose of this whole Super Bowl punch party; it's to evangelize.
ALLEN: Churches have been holding Super Bowl parties for years. But this year the tie-in is even stronger. The coaches of both Super Bowl teams - Tony Dungy of the Colts and Lovie Smith of the Bears - are known for openly professing their Christian faith. Both gave credit to God for their team's appearance in today's big game.
Bill Pugh is a strong believer in the connection between sports and faith. Pugh is head of Athletes in Action, an evangelical group that uses sports to spread the Gospel.
Mr. BILL PUGH (President, Athletes in Action): I really see sport as a field of competition, really as just a crucible - a playing field, if you will - where they can get to know God better in a personal way.
ALLEN: Yesterday, at an invitation-only breakfast in Miami, Athletes in Action featured Dungy, who has suddenly become perhaps the nation's most influential Christian speaker. At the breakfast, Dungy talked about his faith and the loss of his son James, who committed suicide just over a year ago.
Mr. TONY DUNGY (Head Coach, Indianapolis Colts): I know in my heart that James's death has affected many people and benefited many people, and that makes me feel better. But I also know this. If God had had a conversation with me and said, I can help some people see, I can give some people eternal life but I have to take your son to do it, you make the choice, I know how I'd have answered that. I'd have said no, I'm sorry.
ALLEN: Many churches today will be using Super Bowl halftime to show an inspirational video, "Power to Win," featuring Dungy. But at least for the NFL, some of the church parties are going a little too far. Last week, league attorneys sent a letter to an Indianapolis church saying public events using large screen TVs violate the NFL copyright. The league says the law is clear: it bans public exhibitions of its games on TV sets or screens that are bigger than 55 inches. That letter led many pastors around the country to cancel their Super Bowl parties, but not Ed Young.
Reverend ED YOUNG (Senior Pastor, Fellowship Church, Dallas): I think their whole thinking is whack.
ALLEN: Young is senior pastor of Fellowship Church in Dallas, which also has a ministry in Miami. Both locations have big Super Bowl parties planned, and are even giving away tickets to the game.
Rev. YOUNG: If they're going to start policing that, then they need to start policing people in their homes and in home theaters. They need to shut down every bar and every venue possible. So I think it's totally and completely ridiculous.
ALLEN: There has been a similar outcry among Christian groups around the country. Under the rule, bars and restaurants that show sports all year round have a special exemption, allowing them to show the Super Bowl and other NFL games. Ed Young says events like the Super Bowl show that faith can be, in his words, culturally relevant. And they're also great marketing tools that experience shows bring many new people to church.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
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