Don’t look now! No John 3:16 at Super Bowl

By Drew Zahn

On Super Bowl Sunday, an organization that sponsors debates between Christians and atheists will not be given the opportunity it planned to spark a nationwide discussion on Jesus Christ, for Fox Broadcasting Company has rejected its commercial featuring John 3:16.

The Alabama-based Fixed Point Foundation organizes debates at universities and conferences around the world between Christian scholars and leading atheists, including Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, as part of its mission to “fortify the minds of Christians” and “challenge the faith of skeptics.”

Last year, Fixed Point decided to stir up debate in another way, by filming a “LookUp 316” commercial for the Super Bowl’s expected 100 million television viewers.

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“If I had 30 seconds to say anything I wanted to an audience of millions, what would I say?” writes Larry Taunton, executive director of Fixed Point, in a blog post explaining the Super Bowl ad. “I put this question to my friends. As we considered the question thoughtfully, we concluded that we would want to deliver a message of hope.”

He continues, “A year and a tremendous amount of work later, we are close to airing a commercial that advertises no products, asks for no money, promotes no political platform and doesn’t even mention the sponsoring organization. It has a simple, yet direct message: Hope. The ‘hope’ on offer in this commercial centers around the message of John 3:16: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only son.'”

But now, the Birmingham News reports, the network broadcasting the Super Bowl has rejected the Fixed Point ad.

Last year, Taunton told the News, he discussed with Neil Mulcahy, head of the Fox Sports advertising sales team, the possibility of raising the $3.1 million needed for a 30-second national spot during the Super Bowl.

“‘If you approve it, we might be willing to find people to fund it,'” Taunton said.

In a video on the Fixed Point website, Taunton explains why he linked the message of John 3:16 to world’s biggest football spectacle: “The rainbow man, the guy we always used to see standing in end zones after field goal and extra point attempts holding up his John 3:16 sign – now there is a message of real hope. That message is a part of the culture of football. You see it all the time. You’ve seen it on the eyeblack, you’ve seen it on tattoos, you’ve seen it, as I’ve mentioned, the rainbow man and many others.

“In the midst of the commercials on everything that’s trivial,” Taunton says, “wouldn’t it be wonderful if after this year’s Super Bowl, in addition to talking about the game, people were talking, not about beer or potato chip commercials, they were talking about the gospel? Well, that’s what we want to see happen.”

After a few months of working on the commercial and raising funds for its broadcast, however, Fox sent what Taunton calls “a carefully worded document” explaining the network “would not air anything with religious doctrine.”

Fox spokesman Louis D’Ermilio further issued a statement explaining, “As a matter of company policy, Fox Broadcasting Company does not accept advertising from religious organizations for the purpose of advancing particular beliefs or practices. The Fixed Point Foundation was provided with our guidelines prior to their submission of storyboards for our review. Upon examination, the advertising submitted clearly delivers a religious message and as a result has been rejected.”

Fixed Point released a statement criticizing Fox’s decision: “It seems one can advertise just about anything else. Few movie trailers are deemed too violent or beer commercials too sexual for primetime. But religious messages, particularly Christian ones, well, that’s just too controversial.”

Undaunted, however, Fixed Point now plans to purchase air time on Birmingham’s Fox 6 affiliate, WBRC-TV, so that the commercial will appear twice in Alabama, at least, during the spots Fox reserves in the Super Bowl for local advertising.

“We believe that Super Bowl XLV is an opportunity to encourage football fans to look up John 3:16. After all, John 3:16 is part of the culture of football,” Fixed Point asserts.

“We want to generate a conversation about what this verse means and does it offer authentic hope, which I think it does,” Taunton added.

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