Focus on Football…and Family

I realize it’s a bit late on the uptake. But a local church marquis in my area reminded me recently that late is better than never: “The saints win here every Sunday.”

In the Midwest, it’s considered taboo to utter, as I do,  such anathema as, “I’m not one much for football.” And it’s regarded as uppity and perhaps even self-righteous to add, “…to say nothing of football on a Lord’s Day.” But it is also well known that Super Bowl is good for awesome commercials, of which I am a fan and so redeem myself relatively around extended family dinner tables. And while it was absent any mention of beer or sexual innuendo, one of the more interesting things  that came in the midst of the contest this year was the ad which featured Tim Tebow (I think he’s a QB or something). Basically, the ad was a pro-life statement. My understanding is that the choicers were up-in-arms about it and deployed the predictable calls to boycott all things pigskin on Super Bowl Sunday. Call me weird, but I do get a much bigger kick out of watching lifers and choicers fight than football franchises. The only question I had in all of the pre-game chatter was why it always seems like it’s the meathead athletics that traffic in the “Jesus in my QB” piety. You rarely see tennis players, or soccer players or golfers wear their faith on their sleeve. Why is that?

But at least one blogger stopped to wonder more intelligently about the ad itself and seems worth pining up here:

What struck me as I watched Tim Tebow and his mom in a Super Bowl ad on Sunday was that the form of the Focus on the Family advertisement just doesn’t fit the subject:

The ad implies that a woman shouldn’t abort, because if her fetus is brought to term it could grow up to be a wonderful, well-mannered and stunningly successful young man. There are other messages packed into the 30-second commercial, but the gist is clear: save your pregnancy. Wager for life, and you too might win the grand prize of proud motherhood.

Watching the game with friends and our messy, quarreling kids running around highlighted the contrast between the ad’s medium and its message. Family life, like most football, is about mud and mess more than about winning a lottery. We love the kids smearing nacho cheese on the couch, not because we wagered and won, but because they are our children.

We signed on for kids knowing that life wasn’t going to be a Super Bowl game. It was going to be many smaller games, games such as Pick Up The Toddler’s Cheerios, played again and again. These games don’t have corporate sponsors; my day as a mom doesn’t feature the Tide Terrific Battle. It is just me spraying blue jeans while reaching to get the phone before the babysitter hangs up. There are no cheerleaders standing on the sidelines shouting my name. The work is hard and blessed, difficult and joyful all jumbled together.

But that message would have required more time and more moxie to present. It might have included a woman finding out that her baby could be born with cognitive disabilities, then signing on only to learn that her city’s services and public schools lack the funding to help her and her child. It might have shown that child’s big sister helping him across the street, love mixed with sheer sibling resolve. A truthful snippet on mothering would have been smaller scale and rawer. Using a Super Success Story to promote the value of all life is silly, maybe even cruel.

Last year I spoke at Focus on the Family. I told them that their messages about raising a successful family undermine their efforts to encourage foster care and adoption for children with special needs, that their witness is at odds with itself. Signing on for a child marked with need requires a different skill set than one formed by messages that promise success. Parenting is more repetitive and cyclical than linear and ascending, and special-needs parents know this well.

Some of the people at Focus on the Family realize this; some even seemed prepared to encourage more public funding for families that are outside the norm. Trying to ignore the NObama stickers in the parking lot, I left the visit more hopeful than discouraged. I’m less hopeful after seeing this nonsensical ad.

The entrenched abortion debate will continue to busy our airwaves after the big game. Meanwhile, small games will start up again in the fall, and parents will suit up for the little games of family life. We know that we’ll lose as much ground as we gain. We know we aren’t going to win big. But we’ll play anyway.

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5 Responses to Focus on Football…and Family

  1. Chris M. says:

    So is Focus on the Family countercultural or mostly cultural? Middle class, good looking white people presenting a “success story”! Wow, there’s something you don’t see every day.

  2. Lance says:

    While you’re getting your kicks making fun of them, the rubes at Focus initiated a program that has dramatically reduced the number of kids in foster care in Colorado:

  3. Zrim says:


    I’m not sure how the post can be construed as “getting kicks making fun” of anyone. I think it is offering a critical perspective on those who are pretty clear theirs is a culture war.

    But remember that Hamas has a legitimate social wing as well where “approximately 90 percent of the organization’s work is in social, welfare, cultural, and educational activities.” No, this isn’t to imply that FOF is the same as a terrorist organization, but it is to point out how interesting it is when those who conceive themselves as cultural warriors of whatever degree seem to think that doing good in the common sphere is a way to beat back any criticism.

  4. John Yeazel says:

    “but it is to point out how interesting it is when those who conceive themselves as cultural warriors of whatever degree seem to think that doing good in the common sphere is a way to beat back any criticism.”

    Their revivalist theology has no category for common grace- just an outgrowth of their theology of glory. It takes a lot of time, patience and love to jar people out of their various theologies of glory. It is a stronghold in people’s minds and reformational Christians have the thankless task of trying to deal with it in love. I have just been noticing how often Paul tells Timothy and other people he had authority over to answer people’s disputes and arguments in a spirit of gentleness and with all patience. That is not easy to do and I can only do it when I am making “diligent use of the means of grace.”

  5. John Yeazel says:

    That is not easy to do and I can only do it when I am making “diligent use of the means of grace.”

    I should have added that even then I do not do it very well. I had a sanctimonious and spiritual narcissistic moment- that is closely akin to a Kodak moment.

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