Written by Anthony Moujaes
When people discuss the makeup of the Christian community in New Orleans, the Rev. Sharon Temple wants her United Church of Christ congregation to be part of that conversation. Temple, a New Orleans native and interim pastor at Central St. Matthew, was recently told by a local media organization that it could not produce an advertisement for the church because of the congregation's stances and its acceptance of LGBT members.
"Our church is multiracial, multicultural, we have openly gay people — though we aren't Open and Affirming — and we want to attract all kinds of people," Temple said. "And I said that all needs to be part of this ad. It can't be edited out. That identity needs to come out very clearly in this."
An account executive from television station WHNO-TV 20 in New Orleans approached Temple about meeting to discuss advertising opportunities, she said. He was pitching a WHNO-TV 20 produced program called 'Church Showcase' which is made up of paid advertising. Each program is a series of 5-minute segments featuring five different congregations rolled into 30-minute feature that airs biweekly for three months. Temple figured since the station has a high viewership among African Americas, this vehicle might find the right audience to let TV viewers know about her congregation's multicultural membership and its views on welcoming all. The company website says WHNO-20 is the only 24-hour Christian family television station in New Orleans.
A meeting with an ad pitch and a conversation about inclusivity — that's as far as the process went.
Later that day, Temple received an email from the account executive saying that he had spoken with corporate management, and the company could not produce an ad video for Central St. Matthew. The email reads, "Unfortunately, as you suspected, our values as a company [emphasis original] do not align with what you guys would like to share during the Church Showcase," the message read. "[W]e had to check with management at our corporate location in Indiana."
Attempts to contact WHNO management were unsuccessful. LeSEA Broadcasting Network in South Bend, Ind., operates WHNO and nine other television stations and three radio stations nationally. According to its website "LeSEA Broadcasting exists to reach out to the lost across the globe and to provide you and your family with an alternative to viewing secular television programs. We have a God-given calling to reach the untold billions yet untold ... and empower believers like you to grow in your spiritual walk."
The rejection has left Temple feeling more sad than mad, and she isn't angry with the sales representative from the station who originally contacted her. She just wants to raise the profile and ministry of Central St. Matthew. "It starts to feel hard when people talk about Christian community, we're not talked about being a part of that," she said.
Central St. Matthew came together in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Louisiana area in 2005, as Central Congregation UCC and St. Matthew UCC merged. Ever since, the congregation has sought to live into its vision of a church that brings New Orleans together as it rebuilds lives and the city.
"We bring together different types of people and we open our building to a lot of different groups," Temple said.
The church had already earmarked grant money for advertising in the New Orleans area. "We had to write a proposal and outline what the money would be used for," Temple said. "It was for publicity and worship enhancements to appeal to broad range of people in bringing together two congregations with two different worship styles."
Temple thinks what will likely happen now is the congregation will upgrade the sign in front of the building using the money that would have gone into advertising.
"I don't know that we would have bought an ad," Temple said. "I would have had to talk to the church, and they might have said, 'No.'"
But no one will know for sure.