Archive for Thursday, December 2, 2004

Networks refuse to run church’s gay tolerance ad

Lawrence clergymen condemn ‘homophobia’ and ‘double standard’

December 2, 2004


Some Lawrence clergy and gay rights groups are incensed after CBS and NBC refused to run a United Church of Christ ad promoting acceptance regardless of sexual orientation.

"People are outraged," said the Rev. Peter Luckey, senior pastor of Lawrence's Plymouth Congregational Church. Plymouth belongs to the United Church of Christ.

Luckey said he spent Wednesday fielding e-mails and telephone calls from colleagues and members of his church expressing anger at the decision.

"To many of us, it seems like what we're seeing with the national media is an incredible double standard. On the one hand, they will push the envelope on sex and violence to boost their ratings," Luckey said. "On the other hand, they refuse to air a commercial that is meant and designed to get the message out that we are a denomination that is inclusive of all people."

The 30-second ad was accepted by several other networks, including ABC Family, Fox, AMC, BET, Discovery and TBS. It highlights the Cleveland-based UCC's welcoming stance toward homosexuals and anyone else who might feel shunned elsewhere. Officials said the 3 1/2-week, $1.7 million campaign meant to attract new members could be extended into 2005.

In a letter to the church's ad agency, CBS said the spot was unacceptable for broadcast on its network because it "touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations." The network also cited the fact that "the executive branch" had proposed a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

A CBS spokesman said the network had "a long-standing policy of not accepting advocacy advertising" and noted that a second ad by the United Church of Christ had been cleared to air later this month.

NBC's head of broadcast standards, Alan Wurtzel, said NBC, like CBS, had accepted the second ad, which he called "positive." The other ad was rejected in February, he said, because "it violates our long-standing policy. We do not accept commercials that deal with issues of public controversy. The problem with this spot is it says churches do not accept these people. That's a controversial topic that is in the papers every day."

Among the advocacy ads rejected by CBS this year was an anti-Bush spot from the political group, one from the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and another from the city of Las Vegas. All were being offered for broadcast during the Super Bowl.

To view the 30-second national ad created by the United Church of Christ denomination, go to

Plymouth, which has designated itself an "open and affirming congregation" welcoming to gays and lesbians, is the only UCC church in Lawrence. There are also UCC congregations in Baldwin and Eudora. The UCC is a 1.3 million-member denomination, down from 1.7 million in 1989. It has 6,000 congregations. The denomination was founded in 1957 with the merger of the Congregational Christian Church and the Evangelical and Reform Church.

The goal of the national ad campaign, according to UCC, is to have 60 percent of the U.S. television audience see the ad three or four times. The cost will be paid by UCC headquarters, individual gifts and loans and gifts from regional UCC conferences.

Viewed as hypocrisy

The rejected 30-second commercial features two muscle-bound "bouncers" working a rope line outside a picturesque but unnamed church, selecting which people are eligible to enter for worship.

Some of those in line are admitted past the rope line, while others are turned away.

"No, step aside, please," one of the bouncers says to two men holding hands. Written text appears on screen, announcing, "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we." Then a narrator proclaims, "No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here."

The final scene shows two women embracing.

"The hypocrisy that many of us are feeling is that we turn on our TVs every day, and we see examples of women taking off their clothes and jumping into the arms of football players," Luckey said, referring to a recent promotional ad for "Monday Night Football." "Yet here is a 30-second ad by a mainline church, a serious ad, trying to get out a message that we are a church of inclusion. And the national media turns it down because it's politically -- or for whatever reason -- too risky for them to do."

The Rev. Thad Holcombe echoed Luckey's displeasure.

"It's kind of like, 'Thank you, CBS and NBC for stating clearly your homophobia. Thank you for showing the need for us to be inclusive and not be bound by such homophobic actions,'" said Holcombe, campus minister of Ecumenical Christian Ministries, 1204 Oread Ave.

Holcombe is an ordained minister in both the Presbyterian and UCC denominations. ECM is jointly supported by UCC, the Presbyterian Church USA, the Religious Society of Friends and Church of the Brethren.

'Censoring ministry of Christ'

Bruce Ney, vice president of NetworQ, a Lawrence-based organization offering social and professional contacts for gays and lesbians, expressed surprise at the ad's rejection.

"You have 'Will & Grace,' you have 'Desperate Housewives,' you've got infidelity and unmarried couples having relationships on TV," he said. "Then for them to tell a church how they can represent themselves to the public and how they go about their ministry, just seems like over-reaching by the networks."

The rejection angered Sarah Burris, past president of KU Queers & Allies, a Kansas University student organization.

"For CBS and NBC to come out and actually say that tolerance is too controversial -- that's not just disappointing, that's the kind of thing, as an activist, that I'm fighting against," said Burris, a senior.

Affiliates make own decisions

Though the networks rejected the ad, their local affiliates could decide to run it, if the time slots were purchased locally.

"If CBS or NBC decides not to run something, can an affiliate (run it)? The answer is yes. But it's difficult for me to speak to this particular ad, because I haven't seen it," said Steve Cornwell, vice president/general manager of WIBW-TV 13 in Topeka, a CBS affiliate in the nation's 137th biggest media market. "As a local broadcaster, I would probably screen it myself, and I might even contact an attorney, as well. "

CBS also has an affiliate in the Kansas City area, KCTV 5.

NBC has two affiliates near Lawrence: KSNT 27 News in Topeka and KSHB 41 in Kansas City, Mo.

"We don't have any say in ads that the network puts on. This is their deal," said Ken Selvaggi, general manager of KSNT in Topeka. "But we've aired ads locally from churches ... I don't know what their (NBC's) reasons are or what their issue is (on the UCC ad). It's their decision to accept an ad or not accept an ad."

-- Journal-World wire services contributed to this report.

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