All Ye Who Cannot Enter Here

Networks deem a denomination's all-inclusive message too controversial

| December 9, 2004

Three major networks -- NBC, CBS, and UPN -- recently refused to air an ad from the United Church of Christ, whose 'all inclusive' message was considered 'too controversial' because it 'advocated gay marriage' and could agitate conservative churchgoers. During the 30-second spot, two actors dressed as bouncers stand guard in front of a mainstream church and decide who can and cannot enter. Able-bodied white folks are given the green light, people of color and those who appear to be members of a same-sex couple are turned away. The commercial, created after focus groups found that many Americans feel excluded from churches across the country, ends with the phrase 'Jesus didn't turn people away.'

'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 constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast,' CBS explained in a letter to the UCC. The rationale has not only upset people from a number of religious denominations who have chosen to make their places of worship 'open and affirming,' but troubles progressives who believe the mainstream media has a responsibility to encourage, not shy away from public debate over contentious issues.

In an attempt to explain his network's objection to the spot, Alan Wurtzel, president of research for NBC, said, '[the ad] clearly suggested that there are churches that don't permit a variety of individuals to participate.' Since countless churches from various denominations reject homosexuality, it's not clear why Wurtzel rejects to such a suggestion -- although more than a few commentators have guessed its because conservative viewers who rank 'moral values' high on their list of priorities might be offended.

As Media Matters for America notes, the network's response to the ad is, at best, inconsistent. CBS ran an ad during the 2003 Super Bowl from the White House Drug Control Policy Agency that suggested that casual marijuana users support terrorism. A number of shows on NBC, including the hit Will and Grace, prominently feature gay characters. And as Rev. John Thomas, general minister and president of the UCC, points out: '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 United Church of Christ has over six thousand congregations across the U.S., and not all congregations have sanctioned the ad. Others, like the Rev. Curt Anderson, Pastor of the United Church of Christ in Madison, Wisconsin, believe that 'people of good will should be concerned about the message being sent to gay men and lesbians in the aftermath of an election season that saw them targeted by the political right.'

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