Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Which kind of religious messages get TV airtime?

This week's Texas Faith question in the Dallas Morning News dealt with the Super Bowl ad of Tim Tebow.

Here's the question:

University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, a Heisman winner, has prepared an ad that CBS has said it will run during the Super Bowl. Supported by groups like Focus on the Family, Tebow’s ad will tell the story of how his mother decided to give birth to him despite medical complications that were severe enough that doctors recommended against it. Serving as a missionary abroad at the time, she returned home and went ahead and gave birth to him.

Some organizations, including the National Organization for Women, want CBS to pull the ad. They claim introducing the subject of abortion is political advocacy and doesn’t belong in a Super Bowl telecast.

Here is the question for the week:

Should CBS pull the ad? Or keep it? Please explain your position.
Here's my response as a member of the Texas Faith panel:

The question should be asked more precisely -- which religious viewpoints are to be allowed onto the nation’s airwaves?

Case in point, the 2004 ad called "Bouncer" that the United Church of Christ wanted to run on CBS. You can see it at here.

Two burly bouncers stand in front of a church door, deciding who gets to go in and who does not. They stop a gay couple, but let a straight family in. They stop handicapped people, but let able bodied people in. They stop minorities, but let white people in. The words "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we." come onscreen. Over an image of a happy diverse group of people, a narrator then says, "The United Church of Christ. No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here."

CBS rejected the ad as "too controversial," saying it advocated same-sex marriage. The UCC protested that the point of the ad was to demonstrate that everyone, including LGBT folk, should be welcome in church. Another similar UCC ad, "Ejector," also was rejected by the networks and their cable networks in 2005.

So having banned an ad by a progressive Christian denomination as ”too controversial,” CBS now is allowing an ad supported by conservative religious organizations prime air time before a huge Super Bowl audience.

CBS is not alone in this prejudice against progressive Christians. In early 2005, the UCC tried to buy time on the ABC network, only to be told that ABC did not accept any religious advertising. One month later, Focus on the Family was allowed to buy prime time advertising on ABC's SuperNanny show.

So apparently if the message of a “religious” ad is a conservative one, it is acceptable. But what if Tim Tebow's message was to tell men and boys that women and girls are as much made in the image of God as are men; that it is never acceptable to treat women solely as relief valves for a male's sexual needs; that women should have complete control over their reproductive decisions so that if his mother had decided to terminate, that decision should be as respected as is her decision to carry the pregnancy to term?

After all, Tim Tebow will never have to make a decision about whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. But he, like most male sports stars, will most likely face a decision about having sex with women lured by his sports celebrity. How refreshing it would have been to hear him reflect on how men should handle such decisions responsibly, instead of putting out an anti-choice message that once again lays the entire burden of unplanned pregnancies on women.

I suspect such an ad would never see the light of day on a network. It would challenge way too many of the macho patriarchal ideas that still rule our nation's airwaves, airwaves that, in theory at least, belong to all the people.


episcogal said...

I have nothing but respect for Tim Tebow's viewpoint. Tebow says, "If [my mother] had listened to others and terminated me, obviously I wouldn't be here. If others don't have the same belief, it's OK. I understand. But I hope they respect that at least I have the courage to stand up for what I believe in."

There is nothing wrong with Tim telling his story. It's interesting, it's informative, and there is nothing wrong in women facing an unexpected pregnancy hearing it. Women are not stupid; let them hear what young Tebow has to say.

I will admit that I do have some problems with the story from Tim's mother's point of view. If - IF - this truly is an anti-abortion commercial, it avoids the fact that no one was making Mrs. Tebow have an abortion. Tim's mother chose not to terminate her pregnancy. She kept the baby. She had a choice.

But if the commercial is saying, "You have the choice to keep your baby" I have no problem with it airing - even during the Super Bowl.

Jr. said...

There are some reasons to doubt the story that his mom tells. Some have studied that time in the Philippines and the fact that abortion was illegal and she probably would not have been advised to seek an abortion as she claims.

See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/29/tim-tebow-super-bowl-ad-m_n_442808.html and http://www.newser.com/story/79581/the-real-story-of-tim-tebows-near-abortion.html

Laura Toepfer said...

Excellent answer, Katie. Just superb.

David Henson said...

What if a Pentecostal group, that believed only in faith healing, bought a Super Bowl ad to tell the story of a family who went against medical advice and refused cancer treatment for their son and he went on to fame and fortune?

I bet the nation's responses would be different, given that people get arrested for that kind of irresponsible behavior in the United States.

By the way, I'm new to Texas, but it's nice to hear a friendly voice!

Katie Sherrod said...

Welcome to Texas, David. It's a big state, but if you are anywhere near Fort Worth, come visit us in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth -- www.episcopadiocesefortworth.org

We are the Episcopalians, as opposed to the Jack Iker group, who is also using our name.
You will find lots of friends among us.