United Church of Christ, November 30, 2004
CBS, NBC refuse
to air church's television advertisement
United Church of Christ ad highlighting
Jesus' extravagant welcome called 'too controversial'
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
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
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,"
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
Similarly, a rejection by NBC declared the spot
"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
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
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."
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
"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
"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 expressions."
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
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 bodies.
This message is from the Religious Leadership
Roundtable Listserv. The listserv is hosted
by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
All information contained in this posting is
confidential and may not be crossposted to
other lists or shared without the consent of
the original author.
Wednesday, December 01, 2004
No Room at CBS
Who would have thought that two major TV networks
would refuse an ad featuring a mainstream Christian
message of welcome and inclusion during the
Christmas season? Not me. But that's what has
The United Church of Christ -- that's the mainline
Protestant denomination whose white wooden
churches are featured on New England calendars
and are as American as apple pie and Thanksgiving
-- want to pay to broadcast ads welcoming the
alienated and the outcast to their churches
during the Christmas season. But CBS and NBC
think it is "too controversial" that
gay people are welcome at the United Church
Here is what the United Church of Christ (UCC)
stated on November 30th in a press release:
"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... seeks to
welcome all people, regardless of ability,
age, race, economic circumstance or sexual
The UCC statement continued: "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'"
Since there are openly gay characters on network
programming, and the issues of same sex marriage
are discussed in the news all the time, this
statement makes no sense. I have seen ads and
public service announcements for many religious
groups on local and network television over
many years. But I have never heard of one that
But it turns out that what is really going on,
is that CBS is afraid of the White House. "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."
The networks can try to blame the White House
if they like, but their religious bigotry is
their own responsibility.
Here is more of what the UCC has to say: "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
"Jesus didn't turn people away," states
the ad, "Neither do we." "No
matter who you are, or where you are on life's
journey," the ad continues, "you
are welcome here."
People can see the censored ad for themselves
online. But they might also catch it on ABC
Family, AMC, BET, Discovery, Fox, Hallmark,
History, Nick@Nite, TBS, TNT, Travel and TV
Land, among others that have agreed to run
All this may seem to some like a weird footnote
in the culture wars. However, I think that
the networks have miscalculated. They have
refused the ad of a Christian church at Christmas
because that church welcomes everyone. There
are 1.3 million members of the UCC and tens
of millions more who are members of Christian
denominations, and other religious religious
traditions that will recognize that if CBS
can turn down an ad because they are afraid
the White House won't like it, the First Amendment
protection of religious freedom is in jeopardy.
The disgraceful affront to gay and lesbian
people will also not go unnoticed.
I predict that this Christmas season will not
be very merry for CBS, NBC and their advertisers.
But whatever the fate of these cowardly corporations,
here in Massachusetts, over 200 UCC churches
are preparing for "an extravagant welcome"
to those who they believe will be reached by
the ads' message that "God is still speaking."
The ads will air through Christmas, and will
be followed up with a different ad in the run
up to Easter. I think many people will admire
the UCC's Christmas season of welcome. And
I have no doubt that many people will check
out their local UCC church, and that they will
be glad they did. For many millions of Americans,
there is nothing so special as the warmth and
generosity of the Christmas tradition.
But the Christmas story of how there was no room
at the inn for Mary and Joseph, and so Jesus
the son of God, was born in a stable -- will
be retold many times in the next few weeks.
I am sure I will not be the only one to note
that there was no room at CBS and NBC for a
Christian message of welcome and inclusion
for all during the Christmas season. But I
am also sure that none of this will dampen
the Christmas spirit that is bursting forth
at the United Church of Christ.
posted by Frederick Clarkson at 7:57 AM
To contact CBS call: (212) 975-4321
To contact NBC call: (212) 664-4444
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