Several independently owned affiliates of major television networks CBS and NBC will air a controversial advertisement for the United Church of Christ that was rejected by the networks because the ad alludes to condemnation of gay relationships by other churches. The two networks said they had longtime policies of not airing commercials that advocate for only one side of a political issue. Both say they have
accepted another ad from the Cleveland-based denomination.
The commercial rejected last week highlights the liberal-leaning denomination's welcoming stance toward gays and others who might feel alienated by other churches. It portrays a gay couple, a Hispanic man, a black woman, and a man in a wheelchair being pushed back from the doors of a church by two bouncers. Flashed are the words "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we."
The United Church of Christ has over 1.3 million members in nearly 6,000 congregations in the United States. Membership has declined 23% in 15 years. Mission Broadcasting, which owns stations in Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas, decided to air the spot for free through January on its 14 stations in those states, said Dennis Thatcher, executive vice president. "We see it as a message to all people of faith, that we are all equal in God's eyes," Thatcher said Wednesday.
In Oregon, where nearly 3,000 gay couples were married earlier this year, several affiliates said they would air the 30-second spot. Other networks accepted the ads, including ABC Family, Black Entertainment Television, and Discovery. Barb Powell, spokeswoman for the denomination, said Wednesday that some local churches have banded together to raise enough money to buy ad time at local network affiliates as a way to get around the national network rejection.
Thatcher said he believes networks are afraid of controversy because of flap over the brief exposure of singer Janet Jackson's breast during the Super Bowl earlier this year and resistance to airing the movie Saving Private Ryan, which depicts graphic war scenes. "Broadcasters are almost running scared and taking an unreasonable level of self-censorship," Thatcher said.
Shannon Jacobs, a spokeswoman for NBC in New York, said she would not comment on the affiliates airing the ad. CBS spokesman Dana McClintock said local stations have the authority to make such decisions. The ad accepted by the two networks shows a panorama of churchgoers, diverse in race and gender. The church plans to preview it nationally around Christmas and put it in heavy rotation around Lent in April, Powell said. ABC spokeswoman Julie Hoover said the network does not discuss specific advertisers but has banned all religious ads for decades. Powell said the church knew about the ban and did not pursue ABC.