Only recently did UCC learn of networks ultimate refusal of church ads

In March, after networks had expressed their non-approval to media buyers, the UCC’s 30-second spot was placed – without incident – on numerous stations in six test markets, including the markets’ six NBC network affiliates and five of six CBS affiliates. (The test markets included Tampa / St. Petersburg, Fla.; Raleigh / Durham, N.C., Lancaster / York, Pa., Cleveland / Akron / Canton, Ohio; Springfield / Holyoke, Mass., and Oklahoma City.)
“The networks clearly offered mixed signals,” says the Rev. Robert Chase of the UCC’s communication ministry. “At no time were we under the impression that the networks’ decisions were final. Our understanding was that such negotiations between media buyers and networks were not unusual and were nothing to be concerned about. From the church’s viewpoint, we simply could not believe that this advertisement would be considered controversial or issue-oriented, because quite clearly it is not.”

Chase says that media buyers heard the networks’ reservations earlier this year, but when the church had no difficulty placing the ads on the networks’ stations, it appeared that the rejections were not solid. Chase says the local affiliates’ non-objection, coupled with the lack of controversy generated in the test markets, led media buyers to assure church leaders that they would have little problem getting network approval in time for the Dec. 1 national release.

On Nov. 30, the day before the ads began airing nationally, the United Church of Christ learned that the two networks’ decisions were final.

Larry Hollon, who leads the national advertising effort for The United Methodist Church, said yesterday (Dec. 1), the networks’ rejection of the UCC’s ad was baseless, even “chilling.”

“The reasons given by the networks for rejecting this message should bring a chill to everyone who supports freedom of religious expression because they are saying that a fundamental tenet of Christian belief is politically unacceptable for the public dialogue,” Hollon told his denomination’s newspaper, the United Methodist Reporter. “The belief that God loves every person without condition is so basic to Christian teaching that if a denomination cannot make this assertion what can it say? Such decisions shut out the Christian community from the national conversation.”

“How ironic that a gentle message of inclusion is considered unacceptable while ads for beer are accepted and programs in which people eat insects and worms are considered entertaining,” Hollon said. “In a divided and fearful world this message is not only needed. It could lead to healing.”

The disputed 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 orientation.

The debut 30-second spot features two muscle-bound “bouncers” standing guard outside a fabled, 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.” (The ad can be viewed online at www.stillspeaking.com.)
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 a church.
But, 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,” 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.”
NBC stated simply the ad is “too controversial.”

“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,” the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC’s general minister and president, has said. “What’s going on here?”
The ad has been accepted and is airing 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 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.
Categories: United Church of Christ News

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