John 3:16 Super Bowl ad rejected on basis of 'religious doctrine'

Is it offensive for a Super Bowl ad to invite viewers to look up a reference familiar to football culture? FOX Sports might be unintentionally insulting the intelligence of its viewers.

REJECTED: Fixed Point Foundation’s LookUp 316 ad was deemed inappropriate for Super Bowl Sunday because it drew attention to the Christian origin of John 3:16, a popular reference in football culture.


Super Bowl XLV is around the corner, meaning ‘tis the season to see industries grapple for the chance to flash their half a minute long messages to millions of viewers. Because the expensive ad slots are only about 30 seconds long, some of the marketing-minded opt for the shock factor. Whatever is gross, sensual, creepy and overall fatuous is expected to hook consumers and sell products and ideas. Commercialists almost seem to condescendingly ask themselves, “If I have only 30 seconds to speak to millions of thoughtless people, what can I play that will keep their consumptive eyes glued to the screen?”

A different question was posed by Larry Taunton, executive director of the Alabama-based Christian organization Fixed Point Foundation. “If you had thirty seconds to tell the world one thing, what would it be?” After pondering the opportunity to share a message with the largest television audience in history, the answer was simple and profound: A message of hope.

John 3:16 is a message of hope that not only was told by the most exceptional figure in world history, Jesus Christ – it is a message with a reference that has become part of the culture of football. From hand drawn fan signs to players’ eye black, the Gospel verse has become part of the stadium landscape. But has anyone thought to look it up?

The LookUp 316 project was launched, creating the following subtle ad for $50,000:

FOX Sports took a look at the story board and rejected it (along with the potential $3 million advertising fee), saying that it contained overt “religious doctrine”. The company maintains a policy against accepting “advertising from religious organizations for the purpose of advancing particular beliefs or practices”, ostensibly to avoid offending anyone.

With all that considered, if the ad announced, “Hey couch potatoes, do everything we say or else you’re going to hell!” I could understand the apprehension. But the Bible verse I memorized at the age of three contains no such shallow, distasteful condemnation. FOX should have found LookUp 316 refreshingly thoughtful after receiving the brainless (and arguably blasphemous) “Jesus Hates Obama” Super Bowl ad (which had to be dumped in all fairness, likely considering the fact that if an ad featuring Mohammed’s head bobbling was ever proposed, they wouldn’t air it for fear of losing their own heads).

“Fox Sports isn’t the enemy,” Taunton told Politics Daily’s David Gibson. “We aren’t out to demonize them. We think this is more of a cultural issue than it is a Fox Sports issue. Their solution was just to run from it because they think this is something that would offend their viewership. I think we have become so utterly sensitive and politically correct that the result is we end up doing absurd things like this.”

Last year I blogged about the needlessly controversial pro-life Tim Tebow Super Bowl ad under the title, “A True Story is a True Story.” Indeed, at the root of the debate, all that mattered was that the ad featured Pam Tebow sharing her son’s true life story. The story stood on its own, and nobody was forced to believe it or its implications. There was nothing offensive about telling it. In fact, the outrage of the abortion rights crowd drew more attention to it than anything.

The LookUp 316 ad - which has received well over 100,000 views on YouTube and will now air on local stations in Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Virginia and Maryland - is similar. It offers no lobbyist’s statement of opinion. Rather, it invites the viewer to look up the factual answer to this question: What does John 3:16 say?

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

The invitation to investigate the Christian origin of a ubiquitous reference is not likely to offend a reasonable audience. Perhaps FOX Sports has wound itself in so much nicely-intended politically correct red tape that it risks insulting the intelligence of its viewers.

Hopefully in the coming year LookUp 316 will be instrumental in tearing down the demeaning cultural stronghold that makes thoughtful mention of religion and worldview taboo in public. This is a chance for audience members to show that we can handle more than clever marketing and slapstick humor in the middle of a football game. We can - as Fixed Point’s tagline says - take ideas seriously.

Editor’s Note:  This article was edited on February 12, 2011. If you require or need original unedited copy, please contact the editor at

Watch Director’s Cut of John 3:16 Super Bowl Commercial

More featuring Fixed Point Foundation in the Communities at The Washington Times:

Does atheism poison everything? (Amanda Read, September 18, 2010)

Amanda Read is an unconventional scholar, a Southerner without an accent, a Christian who hasn’t been a churchgoer in 16 years and a college student who lives with eight younger siblings. A writer and artist, she blogs at and is the author of the historical drama screenplay The Crusading Chemist. Amanda is majoring in history and minoring in political science at Troy University.

Follow her on twitter at and Facebook at

Read more of Amanda’s column Not Your Average Read in the Communities at The Washington Times.

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Amanda Read

Amanda Read is a columnist for the Communities at The Washington Times. Trained as a historian, skilled as a writer, and aspiring to be a filmmaker, Amanda investigates the ideas behind contemporary culture and politics. A professional writer and researcher, she is also a Christian homeschool graduate, unconventional college graduate, military daughter, and eldest of the nine Read children at Fair Hills Farm. Find more of her work at

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