The ad states that -- like Jesus -- the United Church of Christ (UCC)
seeks to welcome all people.
CBS, NBC Refuse to Air church's Television Advertisement
United Church of Christ ad highlighting Jesus' extravagant welcome
called 'too controversial'
For immediate release Nov. 30, 2004
CLEVELAND -- The CBS and NBC television networks are refusing to run a
30-second television ad from the United Church of Christ because its
all-inclusive welcome has been deemed "too controversial."
The ad, part of the denomination's new, broad identity campaign set to
begin airing nationwide on Dec. 1, states that -- like Jesus -- the
United Church of Christ (UCC) seeks to welcome all people, regardless
of ability, age, race, economic circumstance or sexual orientation.
According to a written explanation from CBS, the United Church of
Christ is being denied network access because its ad implies
acceptance of gay and lesbian couples -- among other minority
constituencies -- and is, therefore, too "controversial."
"Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and
other minority groups by other individuals and organizations," reads
an explanation from CBS, "and the fact the Executive Branch has
recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a
union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for
broadcast on the [CBS and UPN] networks."
Similarly, a rejection by NBC declared the spot "too controversial."
"It's ironic that after a political season awash in commercials based
on fear and deception by both parties seen on all the major networks,
an ad with a message of welcome and inclusion would be deemed too
controversial," says the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general
minister and president. "What's going on here?"
Negotiations between network officials and the church's
representatives broke down today (Nov. 30), the day before the ad
campaign begins airing nationwide on a combination of broadcast and
cable networks. The ad has been accepted and will air on a number of
networks, including ABC Family, AMC, BET, Discovery, Fox, Hallmark,
History, Nick@Nite, TBS, TNT, Travel and TV Land, among others.
The debut 30-second commercial features two muscle-bound "bouncers"
standing guard outside a symbolic, picturesque church and selecting
which persons are permitted to attend Sunday services. Written text
interrupts the scene, announcing, "Jesus didn't turn people away.
Neither do we." A narrator then proclaims the United Church of
Christ's commitment to Jesus' extravagant welcome: "No matter who you
are, or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here." (The
ad can be viewed online at < http://www.stillspeaking.com
In focus groups and test market research conducted before the
campaign's national rollout, the UCC found that many people throughout
the country feel alienated by churches. The television ad is geared
toward those persons who, for whatever reason, have not felt welcomed
or comfortable in a church.
"We find it disturbing that the networks in question seem to have no
problem exploiting gay persons through mindless comedies or
titillating dramas, but when it comes to a church's loving welcome of
committed gay couples, that's where they draw the line," says the Rev.
Robert Chase, director of the UCC's communication ministry.
CBS and NBC's refusal to air the ad "recalls the censorship of the
1950s and 1960s, when television station WLBT in Jackson, Miss.,
refused to show people of color on TV," says Ron Buford, coordinator
for the United Church of Christ identity campaign. Buford, of
African-American heritage, says, "In the 1960s, the issue was the
mixing of the races. Today, the issue appears to be sexual
orientation. In both cases, it's about exclusion."
In 1959, the Rev. Everett C. Parker organized United Church of Christ
members to monitor the racist practices of WLBT. Like many southern
television stations at the time, WLBT had imposed a news blackout on
the growing civil rights movement, pulling the plug on then-attorney
Thurgood Marshall. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. implored the UCC to
get involved in the media civil rights issues. Parker, founding
director of the Office of Communication of the United Church of
Christ, organized churches and won in federal court a ruling that the
airwaves are public, not private property. That decision ultimately
led to an increase in the number of persons of color in television
studios and newsrooms. The suit clearly established that television
and radio stations, as keepers of the public airwaves, must broadcast
in the public interest.
"The consolidation of TV network ownership into the hands of a few
executives today puts freedom of speech and freedom of religious
expression in jeopardy," says former FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani,
currently managing director of the UCC's Office of Communication. "By
refusing to air the United Church of Christ's paid commercial, CBS and
NBC are stifling religious expression. They are denying the
communities they serve a suitable access to differing ideas and
Adds Andrew Schwartzman, president and CEO of the not-for-profit Media
Access Project in Washington, D.C., "This is an abuse of the
broadcasters' duty to inform their viewers on issues of importance to
the community. After all, these stations don't mind carrying shocking,
attention-getting programming, because they do that every night."
The United Church of Christ's national offices -- located in Cleveland
-- speak to, but not for, its nearly 6,000 congregations and 1.3
million members. In the spirit of the denomination's rich tradition,
UCC congregations remain autonomous, but also strongly in covenant
with each other and with the denomination's regional and national
United Church of Christ
Barb Powell, press contact