One unlikely match-up Sunday pits two powerhouse opponents against each other: the National Football League and the Christian church.
On one side are church-sponsored Super Bowl parties with big-screen TVs, soft drinks and some soul-saving talk at halftime. On the other are NFL lawyers threatening to crack down on unauthorized use of the game. The league, which owns both the Super Bowl name and the broadcast, has restrictions that limit TV screens to 55 inches at public viewings, except at venues like bars and restaurants that regularly broadcast sporting events. Airing the game at events that promote a message, including a religious message, is forbidden.
Churches have long used the Super Bowl to draw newcomers and build fellowship among congregants. But in the face of legal threats, many are scaling back. Last month, a congregation of deaf Christians in upstate New York scratched plans to broadcast the game with closed captioning after learning they might be sued. At the First Baptist Church in Summerfield, N.C., the Rev. Richard Odom canceled plans to host 500 people. "God didn't command us to watch the Super Bowl," he says.
Others have rebranded their events as "Big Game Fellowship" or "Superb Owl" parties to avoid the trademarked phrase Super Bowl, or moved their parties to restaurants or congregants' homes to dodge the league's screen-size restrictions for "mass out-of-home viewings."