The United Church of Christ, a denomination with 1.3 million members and a history of embracing diversity, said CBS, UPN and NBC have rejected a television ad as "too controversial" because it suggests that gays and other minorities are excluded by some churches.
The 30-second spot, produced by the Cleveland-based church group, is part of a $1.7 million national ad campaign launched yesterday. Aimed at attracting new members, it spotlights the group's attitude of welcome with the message: "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we."
The ad is set outside a church identified only by a large crucifix on the front. As churchgoers arrive at the door, they are met by two burly men who behave like bouncers at a nightclub deciding who can and cannot enter by means of a velvet rope.
A white man and woman holding hands approach and are granted entrance. But when two men holding hands come before the bouncers, they are denied access with a curt, "No, step aside." The scene is repeated twice more in succession with two men of color who approach individually.
The ad closes with a narrator saying, "No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here."
The church issued a copy of a statement it says it received from CBS explaining the rejection: "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 Consitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a women, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [Viacom-owned CBS and UPN] networks."
"We have a long-standing policy of not accepting advocacy advertising," Dana McClintock, a spokesman for CBS, said last night, declining further comment. So-called "advocacy advertising" involves organizations expressing their opinions on controverial issues in hopes of swaying public opinion.
NBC did not respond to requests for comment last night. The ad was not offered to ABC because it has a strict ban on religious advertising.
"This is an ad that simply says we're open to all people regardless of race or creed or sexual identity," said the Rev. Hugh Nash, president of the denomination's Central Atlantic Conference and pastor at Zion United Church of Christ in Perry Hall. "The sexual identity, that's ... getting us rejected. I think that's what the White House is afraid of with all the talk of marriages only being legitimate if they're between men and women. Our church has always been a leader in gay rights."
UCC President John C. Thomas said the church wants its ad on the networks because, "If you are not visible on [TV], the popular assumption is that you do not exist."
The ads are being carried elsewhere on TV: ABC Family, BET, Fox, History, TBS, TNT, TV Land and AMC. Being cable, those channels are not regulated by the Federal Communications Commission. Broadcast networks - like CBS, UPN and NBC - are regulated by the FCC, which has been uneven and heavy-handed in its enforcement since Janet Jackson bared most of one breast during February's Super Bowl.
The networks have, in recent months, rejected ads from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the National Rifle Association and groups both critical and supportive of Sen. John Kerry's combat record.
"I find it incredibly ironic that the networks were willing to show political ads telling partial truths and all sorts of things, but they won't run our ad of welcome to all people," Nash said.