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On CBS and NC's Refusal to Run UCC Ads: PA Pastoral Letter

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    A Pastoral Letter from F. Russell Mitman, D.Min., Conference Minister and President, Pennsylvania Southeast Conference, United Church of Christ Sent: Friday,
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 4, 2004
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      A Pastoral Letter from F. Russell Mitman, D.Min., Conference Minister
      and President, Pennsylvania Southeast Conference, United Church of
      Christ
      Sent: Friday, December 03, 2004

      -------------------------------------------------------------------

      On December 1, as I gathered with my colleagues in a semi-annual
      meeting of the Council of Conference Ministers in Orlando, Florida,
      the first news of the day was the announcement that the CBS and NBC
      networks refused to air the paid-for ads that were to launch the
      Advent and Christmas phase of the God is Still Speaking Initiative of
      the United Church of Christ. My first reaction was one of disbelief
      and anger that these networks see the ads as one more piece in the
      polarizing cultural debate over gay and lesbian issues. I have
      co-chaired the Steering Committee for this initiative along with
      General Minister and President John Thomas. From its inception in a
      meeting of Conference Ministers and national UCC staff in San Diego in
      February of 2003, what later was named the God is Still Speaking
      Initiative was envisioned as an effort to strengthen the public
      identity of the United Church of Christ and to engage our own
      congregations in ways that help them welcome a huge portion of society
      who feel alienated by the Church.

      What angers me so intently is that the national media not only fails
      to understand what we are about in this initiative but also has turned
      it into something it was never intended to be. Let me be very clear:
      the God is Still Speaking Initiative is not about attracting more gays
      into the United Church of Christ! The ad presently being shown is
      about hospitality toward ALL people. Anyone who has read the Gospels
      gets a very clear picture that Jesus associated himself with people
      whom the society and religious culture of the time had marginalized.
      "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we . . . the United Church
      of Christ" are the only words in the simple message of the ad, and
      those who want to read into it anything more do so out of their own
      ideology and, perhaps, prejudice.

      Very quickly my initial anger turned to angst when I read that CBS's
      reason for not airing the ads was: "Because this commercial touches on
      the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other
      individuals and organizations, and the fact that 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 Networks." What does that comment suggest about
      control of the public media by the government? The inference that
      somehow a church ad about Jesus' hospitality is inappropriate because
      of the administration's proposal for a Constitutional Amendment to ban
      gay marriages is an outrage! That is governmental censorship of the
      Church in its rawest form and begs the question as to what degree the
      media, if not being controlled by, is in collusion with the
      government! That's dangerous, and that's what prompted the Confessing
      Church in Germany in 1934 to affirm the Barmen Declaration against the
      government's take-over of the Church.

      The issue at stake is not simply my attempt to correct what is
      emerging as an erroneous perception of the intention of these ads but
      also to signal a growing collusion between the present administration
      and the media. That is a dangerous development not only for the Church
      but also for the future of a free society.

      Nevertheless, as Ron Buford, Director of the God is Still Speaking
      Initiative wrote yesterday,

      "Don't overestimate the damage of the networks' action. Seventy-five
      percent of our ad buy was to be on cable anyway." More cable time is
      being purchased, and the ads will continue. I learned just today
      (Friday) that WGAL in Lancaster, an NBC affiliate, has agreed to air
      the ads, and I am confident that such will be the case in other
      communities across the nation as well, despite the national network's
      prohibition. And, in the long run, maybe the networks' refusal will,
      ironically, give us more air time and attention than the paid ads
      themselves would generate! God is still speaking, and no network
      prohibition will silence the voice of God or the ones who speak for
      God.

      But the phone has been ringing off the hook and the email is clogged
      with questions by good church folk who want to know what to do. Here
      are some suggestions:

      * Don't underestimate the power of God in this moment. Pray with us.
      * Be a voice. This is an opportunity to get the word out and to
      witness to our heritage and identity as the United Church of Christ.
      * Recall the courage in the struggle for God's voice to be heard by
      our forebears from the earliest Church through the present time. The
      present culture is no more hospitable to the Christ than what the
      earliest Christians experienced in the Roman realm.
      * Call your local CBS and NBC affiliates and express your outrage that
      these ads, paid for by individuals and congregations who want people
      to be in touch with Jesus' radical hospitality, are being banned.
      * Remind them that some affiliates across the nation are airing the
      ads despite the national networks' blackout. Here are some local
      affiliates:
      + CBS 3 KYW-TV 215-238-4700, 101 S Independence Mall E, Phila, PA
      19106
      + NBC 10 WCAU-TV 610-668-5510, 10 Monument Rd, Bala Cynwyd, PA
      19004

      * Pull down releases from www.stillspeaking.com as they appear and
      send them to your local media outlets. (Because of the volume of
      "hits" to the national website, you may not be able to connect. Keep
      checking the Conference website, psec.org, for any updates.)
      * On Monday afternoon, December 6, a vigil is tentatively planned at
      the NBC and CBS affiliates in Philadelphia. For more information
      please call Rev. Char Gosselink at her home (610-388-9805).
      * If you have not yet given financial support to the initiative, I
      invite you to consider it now. Checks may be sent to Pennsylvania
      Southeast Conference, P. O. Box 26400, Collegeville, PA 19426 and
      marked "Still Speaking Ads." In view of the dollars we need to raise
      to keep our voice strong, this is an excellent way for people, groups,
      and congregations to express their support. No OCWM dollars are being
      used locally or nationally to produce or air the ads. It is amazing
      how many people-even non-UCC folks-are sending in money in response to
      the networks' ban.

      You may share my comments here publicly. I am aware that some local
      pastors have been contacted by the newspapers, and everyone is
      certainly encouraged to speak out of individual conscience. As
      Conference Minister, my responsibility is to be the official
      Conference contact with the media, and I take that responsibility very
      seriously. As Conference Minister and also Co-Chair of the national
      Steering Committee I have issued op-ed pieces to local newspapers, and
      I will attempt to get time with the electronic media as well.

      In my eleven years as Conference Minister no single initiative has
      sparked as much interest and enthusiasm in the Conference as the God
      is Still Speaking Initiative. Over 550 faithful pastors and local
      church leaders have been trained to help their congregations become
      oases of Jesus' hospitality. Seventy-percent of our congregations have
      listed themselves and their websites as places where people who see
      the ads can come and be welcomed into Christ's loving community. I am
      deeply aware that many folks in our churches are experiencing the same
      anger and outrage that I am over two networks' ban of the ads.
      Nevertheless, the ads will continue throughout Advent and Christmas to
      be aired on other networks and through the cable media. And, I am
      sure, the controversy over it all will bring our name and our mission
      more to the attention of the public than the ads would do alone. So,
      there will be some good that can come from all of this — as long
      as we interpret clearly to our own members and to the public at large
      the real intention of what we are about and not to let our mission be
      dragged into the debilitating hot-button issue that presently is
      polarizing our nation. We are trying to be the voice for another way,
      and I pray that God will give us, in the words of Harry Emerson
      Fosdick, "the wisdom and the courage for the facing of this hour," and
      will "crown God's ancient church's story and bring its bud to glorious
      flower."

      http://www.psec.org/headlin7.asp
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