Rejection of UCC Ad Spurs Ongoing Criticism

The recent rejection of a controversial United Church of Christ (UCC) ad by two major television networks has spurred widespread disapproval from Christian moderate and liberal denominational communicators nationwide.

The contested ad is a 30-second feature that expresses the all-inclusive mentality of the liberal UCC. In the ad, there are two bouncers standing before a picturesque church, halting people from entering behind the velvet ropes. The bouncers, clad in dark sunglasses and black clothing, reject a homosexual couple, two black children and a Hispanic girl. However, they let down the ropes to let a well-dressed white family in. A black screen with the words, “Jesus didn’t turn people away ... Neither do we” appear, as a voice reads, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”

The UCC ad was banned by both CBS and NBC on November 30 – a day before the ad’s scheduled airing. In their statement to the UCC, both CBS and NBC noted the ad was “too controversial.”

The CBS further explained that the ad’s reference to homosexuals in a time of debate over a federal marriage amendment is too sensitive an issue to air.

“Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations, 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,” CBS wrote.

Immediately following the rejection, a slew of dismayed Christian communicators released statements criticizing the two networks.

"The controversial issue here is not the content of the ad, but the arbitrary standards of the network gatekeepers. Church doors are open to all who would come; but broadcast channels are increasingly closed to all but the wealthy and well-connected,” read a statement released by the Communication Commission of the National Council of Churches USA on December 3.

The letter, which was signed by dozens of communications notables, including communications directors from the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Methodist Church, the NCC, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Greek Orthodox Church, called the networks’ rejection a violation of the freedom of speech.

"Are only the ideas and attitudes of faith groups now off limits? Constitutional guarantees of religious liberty and freedom of speech, not to mention common fairness, beg for leadership by the FCC to assure that America's faith community has full and equal access to the nation's airwaves, to deliver positive messages that seek to build and enrich the quality of life,” the statement read.

Conservatives meanwhile expressed different sentiments. While no conservative group released statements applauding the networks’ decision to scrap the commercial, Albert Mohler – President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary – said the commercial indeed was controversial.

“It is a piece of masterful propaganda but it is a diabolical misrepresentation of Christianity,” said Mohler, during an appearance on Good Morning America.

“... Jesus Christ did indeed come to seek and to save the lost but as He said to the woman caught in adultery, ‘Go and sin no more,’” Mohler, one of the most influential members of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) said. Jesus “did not invite persons to stay in sinful lifestyles. Rather, He came to save us from our sins and to make us what we otherwise could not be -- and that is victorious over all the sins that entrap us. Homosexuality is one of those.”

The UCC is one of only a few mainline denominations that allow the ordination of homosexuals and the blessing of homosexual marriages; the SBC on the other end of the spectrum.

Meanwhile, Larry Hollon, top executive with United Methodist Communication, said homosexuality was not at the core of the networks’ rejection.

“This is not about gays and lesbians; this is about the constitutional rights of a responsible organization to exercise the freedom to speak on a medium licensed to serve the public interest,” said Hollon. “This decision calls attention to the reality that, for self-serving reasons, corporations in control of major media are in a position to filter and even block the legitimate speech by responsible voices.”

The following is the entire text of the Communication Commission of the National Council of Churches' statement, as released on December 3:

"The controversial issue here is not the content of the ad, but the arbitrary standards of the network gatekeepers. Church doors are open to all who would come; but broadcast channels are increasingly closed to all but the wealthy and well-connected.

"It is important to note that the broadcast networks are not being asked to give free time to the United Church of Christ to express its message - the church is ready to pay dearly for that privilege, even though the networks do not pay for their highly profitable use of the broadcast spectrum.

"The Federal Communications Commission, in giving free access to the public's airwaves to commercial corporations - with virtually no strings attached - has handed them powerful control over America's media 'public square.' The for-profit keepers of that square are all too willing to promulgate messages laced with sexual innuendo, greed, violence, and the politics of personal destruction, but a message of openness and welcome that merely says 'church doors are open to all' is being silenced as too controversial!

"Advocacy advertising abounds on TV: agribusinesses, drug manufacturers, gambling casinos, oil companies, even some government agencies regularly expose viewers to messages advocating their products and programs, in the interest of shaping public attitudes and building support for their points of view.

"Are only the ideas and attitudes of faith groups now off limits? Constitutional guarantees of religious liberty and freedom of speech, not to mention common fairness, beg for leadership by the FCC to assure that America's faith community has full and equal access to the nation's airwaves, to deliver positive messages that seek to build and enrich the quality of life."

Initial signers include the following:

Thomas L. Hoyt, Jr., President, National Council of Churches USA (Shreveport, La.)
Wesley M. Pattillo, Associate General Secretary for Communication, National Council of Churches USA (New York, N.Y.)
Fr. Bernard R. (Bob) Bonnot, Roman Catholic author, producer (Los Angeles, Calif.)
Sr. Maureen Fiedler, SL, Ph.D., Host, Interfaith Voices (Washington, D.C.)
Jo Bales Gallagher, National Training Center for Resource Center Directors (Richmond, Va.)
Daniel Gangler, Director of Communications, Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church (Indianapolis, Ind.)
Mike Hickox, Director of Communications, New England Conference of United Methodist Church (Lawrence, Mass.)
Larry Hollon, General Secretary, United Methodist Communications (Nashville, Tenn.)
Vince Isner, Director, FaithfulAmerica.org (Washington, D.C.)
N. J. L'Heureux, Jr., Executive Director, Queens Federation of Churches (Richmond Hill, N.Y.)
Kermit Netteburg, Seventh-day Adventist Church (Silver Spring, Md.)
John L. Peterson, Communication Director, The Interfaith Alliance (Washington D.C.)
David W. Reid, Publisher, Vital Theology (Fort Collins, Colo.)
Eric C. Shafer, Director for Communication, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (Chicago, Ill.)
Louis C. (Skip) Schueddig, President, The Episcopal Media Center (Atlanta, Ga.)
Nikki Stephanopoulos, Director, News and Information, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (New York, N.Y.)
Shirley W. Struchen, Executive Director, Religion Communicators Council (New York, N.Y.)
Jerry L. Van Marter, News Director, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (Louisville, Ky.)
William C. Winslow, retired communications officer, United Church of Christ (New York, N.Y.)

Additional signers will be listed on the Commission's website,

www.ncccusa.org/about/comcomadvocacy.html