Reflection on Super Bowl Advertising

Is everyone a preacher?

I was going to write a typical article rating Super Bowl advertising again this year. I watched the game especially for that purpose. But as I watched the different advertisements, I was surprised by the number of advertisers who all but forsook the direct advertising of their product in favor of generalized moral admonition. It struck me that nowadays it seems everyone’s a preacher!

I was glad for those who spoke up favoring immigrants

Now since I am a preacher by profession (for almost 38 years now), you would think that I would be glad for this turn of events. And, in one sense, I am for it reveals that the high leadership in many of our top companies realize that some of the major issues of today are moral issues and they are courageous enough to speak out. I’m also glad to have allies in speaking up for some key topics of today. I noticed the issue that was most frequently spoken about in Super Bowl ads was the matter of welcoming immigrants, a subject dear to my own heart. All of us with the exception of Native Americans, are immigrants or descendants of immigrants. Having worked directly with Burmese Karen immigrants as a teacher during my last pastorate, and heard the stories about refugee camps, it is very easy for me to be in their corner. I also feel the Bible is very clear that we need to be welcoming to those who are strangers and immigrants among us. (For a complete Biblical statement on immigration see https://www.wesleyan.org/237/a-wesleyan-view-of-immigration)

But I’m uncomfortable when everyone is a preacher

But, in another sense, I found myself being surprisingly uncomfortable with the concept that everyone is a preacher. Is it that I am jealous for my position or my profession? Not directly. The more voices take the side of justice and righteousness, the more powerful the cause. To be jealous because someone else speaks up for good would be foolish. Why my concern then? My discomfort arises from the questions of motive and authority for moral exhortation. That’s a mouthful. But let me explain like this.

The preacher’s motivation must have integrity

Would companies like Budweiser and 84 Lumber have advertised as pro-immigration as they did if they had thought that it would be unpopular, detrimental to their bottom line, and cause the company’s leadership difficulty? I doubt it. They advertised as they did because they knew that those positions are very popular and would result in a good feeling about their company in most circles. But true preachers are called to speak the truth even if it hurts their own position and popularity. Most American preachers today cannot do so very often because in many American churches, we would either be voted out or people would stop attending and supporting the church. But in a true church, one where growing in discipleship is prized, people expect that sometimes the preacher will tread upon their toes, so to speak. To put it another way, sometimes the truth will cut across the grain and that is a good thing. How can we grow if that does not happen? Now you can see the motivational issue for my concern. Not just any preacher will be faithful to say what is not popular yet needs to be said.

The preacher’s authority must come from God’s Word

The second half of my concern has to do with sources of authority. When everyone is a preacher, everyone is entitled to use whatever source of authority they feel is right. Most of the time popular figures are drawing from some kind of perceived cultural consensus that supports what is being advocated. There is a strong relationship between the laws of society and cultural consensus. But for both Jews and Christians, the only true source of moral authority is the revelation that comes from God in Holy Scripture. When everyone’s a preacher, it is anybody’s guess what the relationship or lack of relationship will be between what is advocated and what the law of God says. That is another key source of my concern. The Christian preacher’s first job is to see that what he or she teaches is congruent with, indeed arises out of the Words and teachings of Scripture.

So not everyone is a preacher!

So there you have my concerns. When politicians, beer advertisers, movie stars, sports figures, businessmen and TV personalities all become preachers, there will be an increasing need for people to discern who the true prophets are. The genuine purveyors of godly ethics will be distinguished as those whose authority is not their own, it is derived from God’s Word; and the preachers to be listened to will be those whose motivation over time shows love for God and for others above oneself. Anyone can address an issue and oft times they should as a part of their own moral responsibility, but not everyone is a preacher!

2 Replies to “Reflection on Super Bowl Advertising”

  1. Certainly preaching needs to be based on God’s holy inerrant word. But in my opinion you have gone too far to say super bowl ads were preaching. These ads are merely voicing opinions as protected by the first amendment.

    1. I can see your point, Brian. As I said, I am glad for people to express moral opinions. Indeed, they should. But I am concerned because in our society today, there is less Biblical literacy, people attend church less, and stats tell us that even Christians who do attend church often do not read their Bibles between services. This leaves a vacuum in which all kinds of people and institutions can become sources of moral authority. So I am concerned that people need to begin to think critically about the sources of moral authority that various spokespersons are consciously or unconsciously using to influence others. I think one of the lessons from this election cycle is that there is a great need for more critical thinking about public discourse. I am sure you would agree that for today’s Christians, part of what is needed is a much greater familiarity with the Word of God to use as a data base of wisdom.

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