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Touchdown! Sermon on Super Bowl ads scores

The Rev. Ken Diehm, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Grapevine, Texas, discusses the Super Bowl ads during his sermon. A UMNS photo by John Gordon.

A UMNS Report
By John Gordon*

Feb. 14, 2007 | GRAPEVINE, Texas (UMNS)

A Texas pastor gave members of his congregation an unusual assignment – watch the Super Bowl and don’t leave the room during the commercials.

“I think the Super Bowl’s a cultural event in our society,” said the Rev. Ken Diehm, pastor of First United Methodist Church of Grapevine, near Dallas. “And so, I think it provides the church an opportunity to comment on what is going on in that culture.”

Diehm believes there are lessons to be learned in the much-hyped ads. For the past several years, his post-game sermons have focused on the advertising.

“One year, I was watching the Super Bowl, and I was watching the different commercials. It became evident they were telling a story,” he explained.

Those stories are sometimes consistent – and sometimes not – with what he preaches from the pulpit. On Feb. 11, the Sunday after this year’s NFL championship game, Diehm showed several of the commercials and discussed their meaning.

A deeper look

Church members review a car commercial that debuted during the Super Bowl. A UMNS photo by John Gordon.

First was a Sierra Mist ad featuring a man – who has his beard combed over his head – being fired.

“It’s a funny commercial, talking about how we judge one another by our appearance,” he said.

Diehm said most people spend about an hour a day on their physical appearance. “You put that much time into how you appear, but how much time are you putting into your soul, and making your faith with God stronger?” he asked.

Another commercial promoted a Honda sports utility vehicle, with the word “crave” morphing into the SUV model name “CR-V.”

“Commercials and advertisements seek to get us to crave things we’d never even thought of before,” he said. “We judge people by what they drive; and somehow we think if someone drives a better car, then they’re a better person. And I think that’s in conflict with how God calls us to live.”

Diehm said more commercials this year dealt with social issues, and applauded one that celebrates Black History Month.

“The Frito-Lay commercial, it’s about … celebrating, I think, the moment that two black coaches were coaching the Super Bowl,” he said. “And I’m going to talk for a few minutes about how we struggle to look past skin color.”

A different viewpoint

While football game analysis kept many television viewers mesmerized on Super Bowl Sunday, many in Diehm’s 2,300-member church were equally intrigued by the pastor’s Madison Avenue analysis.

“He had a message about how you judge people based on their car, and I hadn’t really thought about that until he said it,” said Chris Thompson, a visitor to the church. “And I definitely think that your first impression, lots of times in a car or what they dress, you definitely have an impression right off the bat, which a lot of times is wrong.”

Jennifer Tidmore was turned off by some ads that celebrated promiscuous behavior.

“Some of the commercials were rather racy this year,” she said. “One of the ones that I particularly didn’t care for, the message that was behind it, I was hoping that my sons weren’t watching the same commercial.”

Dr. Edgar Lancaster, a longtime member of the church, questioned the high cost of the Super Bowl ads.

“I think they were pretty good,” he said. “I don’t think they were worth two million, two-and-a-half million dollars a 30-second commercial. But that’s OK; I didn’t have to pay it.”

For 13-year-old William Tohlen, the sermon changed his view of advertising. “I’ll remember the commercials forever and see, like, the underlying meaning,” he said. “I’ll look at commercials in a new way.”

Diehm believes the Super Bowl assignment scored a touchdown with church members.

“As they stopped and watched those commercials, in that moment they were thinking about their faith,” he said. “And I think that’s a good thing.”

Gordon is a freelance producer based in Marshall, Texas.

News media contact: Fran Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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