Newspapers today are aflutter over decisions from CBS and NBC nine months ago to reject advertising from the United Church of Christ. It is a significant story, but what's particularly remarkable about the press coverage is how many papers filed original reports instead of picking up a wire service version. Perhaps it's because every town has a UCC congregation to give the "local angle" on the story.

The reason for the "ban," the networks said, was that they constitute "advocacy advertising." Wink, wink, nod, nod—we all know what the ads were really banned for, don't we? Most newspapers sure do:

"CBS and NBC [deemed] the 30-second commercial 'too controversial' because of its depiction of gay couples at a time when the Bush administration has called for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage," says the Des Moines Register.

"CBS and NBC refused to run a United Church of Christ ad promoting acceptance regardless of sexual orientation," says the Lawrence Journal-World.

"TV spot alludes to the acceptance of gays," says the deck of The Press-Enterprise's story.

The Boston Globe explains, "Two broadcast networks are refusing to air an ad from the United Church of Christ because the spot, intended to make the point that the Protestant denomination is welcoming, briefly shows two men who are holding hands being turned away from an unnamed church."

(Other coverage includes The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, The Kansas City Star, The Capital Times of Madison, Wis.,

Here's the problem. These newspapers are only partly right. In its rejection letter to the denomination last March, CBS told the denomination, "Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups … 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 on the networks." CBS, the network explained, does not allow advertising "on one side of a current controversial issue of public importance."

Go watch the ad and see if it's a commercial about homosexuality and gay marriage. Who's gay? Those two women sitting next to each other? Those two guys trying to enter a church at the same time? Gee, under that criteria, even hatemonger Fred Phelps's Westboro Baptist cult is quite the "affirming congregation," what with its allowing people of the same gender to interact and even develop friendships.

But apparently the UCC is quite concerned about churches that require boy-girl-boy-girl seating. But even more so, the UCC opposes all those congregations out there that ban non-whites from attending. Because the message of this ad isn't that the UCC welcomes minorities—it's that all the other churches out there hate you.

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The ad shows some bouncers at the front of a church, refusing to let anyone but boy-girl pairs through the door. There's the two guys, but the others are a black woman and a young man who may be Latino or Asian. "No way," they say.

The gay stuff, if it's there, is way too subtle to be noticed by Joe Couch Potato. But the accusation of racism is none too subtle. And actually, that's the reason that NBC said "no way" to the ad. The ad ends with the line, "Jesus didn't turn people away, neither do we," NBC's Alan Wurtzel explained to The New York Times. "That message clearly implies that other people do."

In fact, when evangelical Christian leaders saw the ad last spring, Faith and Values CEO Edward J. Murray told the Times, it wasn't the shots of two men and two women that had them concerned. It was the implication that their churches excluded people.

But there's really no reason for the networks to reject it, American Family Association president Tim Wildmon said. "The ad isn't indecent and doesn't violate FCC standards," he told the Times. "I'm stunned they're not running it. They might not want the grief."

Ah, but grief they've gotten, as UCC leaders and pastors are claiming censorship, and that George Bush is behind the whole thing. The San Francisco Chronicle reports, "The Rev. Kyle Lovett, pastor of St. John's United Church of Christ in San Francisco, proposed [that on] the eve of President Bush's second term, she said, the networks 'can't afford to go against the administration's version of Christianity and what counts as moral values and what doesn't count as moral values.'"

Those networks sure are forward-looking. Back in March, when the networks rejected these ads, John Edwards was still running against John Kerry. Weblog doesn't remember seeing the UCC raise a fuss back then, by the way.

It's worth noting that the UCC may not be turning people away, but its members are fleeing in droves. The denomination has lost 23 percent of its membership in the past 15 years, reports the Associated Press. This is not a denomination that needs crowd control.

One wonders if this $30 million campaign will really help. All this "controversy" gets the UCC in the news today, but the denomination has a long way to go to win the kind of free publicity the Episcopal Church USA gets almost every other day. These days, when folks think about churches that celebrate homosexual behavior, it's the Episcopalians, not Congregationalists, that first come to mind.

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The "all the other churches are racist and homophobic" aspect of the ad campaign is only one part. The campaign's dominant tagline is from the Gospel of Gracie Allen: "Never place a period where God has placed a comma." Other aspects of the campaign show sentences with periods replaced by commas. And you know how much mispunctuation attracts those church-goers. It's almost as attractive as telling them, "Come to a church where we don't really believe anything."

Getting little attention is ABC's rejection of the ad. It's running on ABC Family, but not the main network. In fact, ABC also rejected another UCC ad that was accepted by NBC and CBS of a little girl playing "Here's the church, here's the steeple." ABC's reason: it rejects all religious advertising.

Ah, but there's the rub. What makes religious advertising any different from any other advertising? Especially where this ad is concerned. Here's the full text of this ad, apart from the bouncers' rejections. "The United Church of Christ. No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here."

Is this more religious than, say, the Red Bull ads with Peter at the gates of Heaven or Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden? Or Target promising, "Anything you want … [or] need, you got it"? Or those body spray and shampoo ads suggesting immediate ecstasy with use?

The larger story here is a cultural disconnect between persuasion and evangelism—or, to use the pejorative phrase, "proselytizing." Tell someone that they're uncool, stupid, or in danger unless they buy a certain product, you're in the clear. Tell them that they're endangering their eternal soul unless they turn to God, and you're infringing on their freedom. Tell someone that a widget will make them happy, and you're doing your part to stimulate the economy. Tell someone where to find true joy, and you're a zealot. Persuading "swing voters" and changing consumers' habits are part of everyday life, but we find something nefarious in telling people why one view of God is better than another.

But in this case, the UCC has turned this discussion on its head. This is not an evangelistic ad in the usual sense. This is not "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for you life" or "Steps to peace with God." The message is "We're the only ones that accept you. Other churches are full of hate." The UCC wrestles not against "the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." In the ad, it wrestles against flesh and blood—the church down the street that hates minorities.

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Only that church doesn't really exist. Evangelistically minded churches want everybody to attend, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or manner in which they most frequently sin. Like Jesus, they do accept everybody. And like Jesus, then they meet people's needs—which often includes Jesus' command, "Go, and sin no more."

And there actually is a period, not a comma, at the end of that sentence.

More articles

Methodist minister homosexuality trial:

  • Gay Methodist pastor has setback at trial | A Methodist minister being tried by her church for announcing last year that she lived with a lesbian partner faced a setback when the presiding judge excluded expert testimony from six defense witnesses who believe the church's gay ban violates its own legal principles (Associated Press)
  • Church trial of lesbian minister opens | The prosecution insists a non-celibate lesbian cannot serve. The Rev. Beth Stroud could lose her ministry credentials. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
  • Supporters: Methodists slamming door on gay minister | The two dozen supporters held the vigil before the start of the church trial for Beth Stroud (The Mercury, Pottstown, Pa.)
  • Lesbian minister pleads not guilty in church trial | But United Methodist pastor held 'accountable' (Lancaster New Era, Pa.)

Church life:

  • Patriarch gives vent to frustration with Turks | Orthodox Christianity's Istanbul-based spiritual leader, Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios, yesterday publicly lamented the Turkish government's failure to make good its past pledges to reopen the Halki Seminary (Kathimerini, Athens)
  • God's houses for sale | Nineteenth-century Methodist buildings go on auction block (Cincinnati Enquirer)
  • Building on faith | As other churches close, St. Patrick's in Stoneham flourishes (The Boston Globe)
  • What is The Church of England (Continuing)? | Evangelical preacher Andrew Price, 44, from West London, has been ordered by a High Court judge to stop pestering Mormons. He claimed to be a minister with The Church of England (Continuing) but what is the Continuing Church? (BBC)
  • Church growing, even if congregation isn't | Building is expanding, but congregation turns over frequently due to large student attendance (Lincolnshire Review, Ill.)
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Religion & spirituality:

  • Setting crosses of empathy | On a hill in rural Lithuania, thousands of crosses have been planted by Christians asking for blessings on their family or praying for others (The Birmingham News, Ala.)
  • Crosses, Christmas message carried across Central Texas | It's hard to miss one message being carried through Central Texas this holiday season. Armed with crosses, a group of church members is walking from Salado to Waco to spread the message of Christmas (KCEN, Temple, Tex. video)
  • Changed times in the business of religion | About three-quarters of adult Australians say they are affiliated to a religion, compared with a world average of 86% (BRW, Australia)

Missions & ministry:

  • Changing clientele at food pantries | Need for assistance rising in affluent towns (The Boston Globe)
  • Group: Most charities sell donor lists | Nonprofits also swap names in an attempt to raise more funds (The Boston Globe)
  • Mugabe bans charity feeding 90,000 children | Switzerland's Medair was feeding primary school children in two of Zimbabwe's poorest districts but the authorities refused to renew work permits for international staff (The Telegraph, London)
  • Youth with a Mission | YWAM stands for 'Youth With A Mission', it's a world-wide, not-for-profit organisation with a base in Townsville in north Queensland (Australian Broadcasting Corp.)

December dilemma:

  • Some seeing red over Target's kettle ban | Target -- a company long praised for its corporate giving -- suddenly finds itself cast as the Grinch. (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)
  • Pastor offered aid if parade suit pursued | Former U.S. attorney cites 1st Amendment in float-barring flap (Rocky Mountain News, Denver)
  • Also: Church group can't march in holiday parade | Parade organizers say Christmas carols may be offensive to others (KMGH, Denver)
  • Creche sends wrong message about moral values | The creche is different from other displays (Mike Littwin, Rocky Mountain News, Denver)
  • Schools handle Christmas season in different ways | Some take a secular path; others teach traditions from Hanukkah to Ramadan and beyond (The Oregonian)

Church & state:

  • In defense of the Scouts | First the Pentagon plans to send away the Boy Scouts. Then Defense Secretary (and Eagle Scout) Donald Rumsfeld promises he won't allow that. Now Congress is making noises about backing up the Scouts with legislative protection. A growing number of legal scholars think the arguments against the Boy Scouts of America no longer stand scrutiny, and we're heartened to hear it (Editorial, The Washington Times)
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  • Wauconda mayor drops Bible Week | After wrestling with a religious discrimination complaint, Wauconda Mayor James Eschenbauch has closed the book on his annual Bible Week proclamation (Chicago Tribune)
  • So, c'mon, let's really talk about our values | This state vs. church schism is causing a dangerous division in our country. The Constitution and the Bible have different goals (Henrietta Hay, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Co.)

Church & state in Europe:

  • Oh, come all ye faithful—in any order - to carols | When a local council asked its vicar for preferential seating for VIPs at the annual civic carol service, the last thing that they expected was to have Bible verses on equality quoted back at them (The Times, London)
  • Buttiglione plans Christian lobby | Rocco Buttiglione, the Italian politician who was forced to withdraw as a candidate for EU commissioner, has told the BBC he plans to set up a lobby group for Christians in Europe (BBC)
  • A kiss for St. James | Who says Europe lacks spirituality? (Jan Morris, The Wall Street Journal)


  • Lead author removes name from disputed Columbia U. study linking pregnancy and prayer | But the journal that published the article has reposted it online, months after removing it, and has not yet published any letters to the editor criticizing the study. Meanwhile, one of the co-authors has gone to jail on charges of fraud unrelated to the paper (The Chronicle of Higher Education)
  • Advocates need not apply | What if somebody wanted to buy a 30-second spot advocating the teaching of science, including the theory of evolution? (Paul Vitello, Newsday)

Baylor votes on Sloan:

  • Hundreds of Baylor faculty vote in forum on Sloan's tenure | A steady stream of Baylor University professors flowed into the McLennan County Elections Office Tuesday to express their opinion about the administration of Baylor President Robert B. Sloan Jr (Waco Tribune-Herald, Tex.)
  • Some faculty fear for jobs over vote on Sloan | It's Day Two of a faculty-wide vote on the job performance of Baylor University President Robert Sloan, but some faculty members say they're afraid to vote, saying they could lose their jobs (KCEN, Temple, Tex. video)


  • Lawmaker: Abstinence programs misleading | Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Ca.) says federally funded abstinence education programs that are used in 25 states contain false and misleading information about contraception, abortion and sexually transmitted diseases (Associated Press)
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  • Democrat's report calls abstinence plans 'misleading' | The Bush administration is funding abstinence education curricula that teaches "false and misleading information," says a report released yesterday by a House Democratic leader (The Washington Times)
  • Some abstinence programs mislead teens, report says | Many American youngsters participating in federally funded abstinence-only programs have been taught over the past three years that abortion can lead to sterility and suicide, that half the gay male teenagers in the United States have tested positive for the AIDS virus, and that touching a person's genitals "can result in pregnancy," a congressional staff analysis has found (The Washington Post)
  • Beware the moral cops | Teen pregnancy is down. But the right still pushes for abstinence-only programs (Albert R. Hunt, The Wall Street Journal)
  • Parades mark World AIDS Day, Africans told 'abstain' | Botswana's president called on his stricken people to "Abstain or Die" (Reuters)

Life ethics:

  • Spark of life creates 'ethical embryos' | Scientists last night claimed to have made a major breakthrough in overcoming opposition to stem cell research by creating human embryos which cannot develop into babies (The Scotsman)
  • Zapped human eggs divide without sperm | A trick that persuades human eggs to divide as if they have been fertilised could provide a source of embryonic stem cells that sidesteps ethical objections to existing techniques. It could also be deployed to improve the success rate of IVF (New Scientist)
  • A right to die? I'm more concerned that everyone has the right to live | Being coerced into assisted suicide could too easily happen (Jane Campbell, The Times, London)

Terri Schiavo's case at the Supreme Court:

  • Supreme Court asked to take Schiavo case | Gov. Jeb Bush went to the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday in a bid to keep a severely brain-damaged woman alive over her husband's objections (Associated Press)
  • Bush takes Schiavo case to Supreme Court | Gov. Jeb Bush has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a unanimous state high court ruling that declared 'Terri's Law' unconstitutional. The law gave Bush power to order a feeding tube reinserted in a brain-damaged woman (The Miami Herald)
  • Bush takes Schiavo case to U.S. high court (The Orlando Sentinel)
  • Bush asks high court to rule on Schiavo (The Tampa Tribune)
  • Reject Schiavo hearing | Gov. Bush continues to involve the state where it doesn't belong—in the Terri Schiavo case (Editorial, Palm Beach Post, Fla.)
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  • Changing Senate looks better to abortion foes | The next Senate will have a bigger, more conservative Republican majority and several new opponents of abortion (The New York Times)
  • Chipping away at Roe vs. Wade | The Abortion Non-Discrimination Act is only one brick in a wall, part of a deliberate strategy to shut off access to abortion services, clothe fertilized eggs with the legal rights of a child and discourage, even humiliate, pregnant women who cannot or do not want to raise a child. The obvious aim is to shrink the landmark abortion-rights decision Roe vs. Wade to the point where there is no need for judges to formally overturn it (Editorial, Los Angeles Times)

Religion & politics:

  • High Court agrees to block religious tea | The Bush administration on Wednesday won a Supreme Court stay that blocks a New Mexico church from using hallucinogenic tea that the government contends is illegal and potentially dangerous (Associated Press)
  • Appeal of moral clarity | For many, Bush's simplicity was an oasis in an ethical desert (Gary J. Andres, The Washington Times)
  • When will Christians really learn to love each other? | We ought to listen to each other—even if we never really resolve our differences. (Mark Hare, Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, N.Y.)


  • Priest gets 4½-5 years | Abuse victim says scars remain (The Boston Globe)
  • Priest sentenced to prison for raping boy | Robert Gale was sentenced Wednesday to 4 1/2 to 5 years in prison for repeatedly raping an altar boy in the 1980s (Associated Press)
  • Diocese can see sexual abuse claims filed during bankruptcy case | Federal bankruptcy judge James Marlar will allow the Tucson Catholic Diocese to look at confidential allegations of sexual abuse by church clergy filed during the diocese's Chapter 11 case (Tucson Citizen, Az.)

Abuse apology:

  • Church row over apology to abused | A public apology by the First Minister to children abused while in care was yesterday overshadowed by a row over whether the Catholic Church should also express regret (The Scotsman)
  • Also: Sexual abuse victim wants an apology from the Pope (The Scotsman)
  • A sincere and full apology for children's homes abuse | Survivors of abuse in Scotland's children's homes yesterday achieved an unprecedented public apology on behalf of the nation from Jack McConnell (The Herald, Glasgow, Scotland)
  • McConnell wants abuse apology by the Church | Scotland's first minister yesterday threw down a challenge to the Roman Catholic Church when he issued an apology on behalf of the people of Scotland to the victims of institutionalised child abuse (The Times, London)
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  • Va. minister cleared of manslaughter | But Douglas W. Grote was convicted Wednesday of misdemeanor child neglect for leaving his 3-year-old daughter inside the family's sport utility vehicle for nearly eight hours, where she died of heatstroke (Associated Press)
  • Criminals 'should repay victims' | Criminals should be forced to carry out more work to "pay back" communities they harm, according to a report by a charity published on Thursday. (BBC, video)
  • Suspect in Halloween incident jailed | The man who donned a Michael Myers mask and made an unscheduled Halloween night visit to children gathered at a Baptist church will serve one to two years in prison for a 2002 Tyngsborough, Mass. robbery (The Telegraph, Nashua, N.H.)
  • Pascagoula minister case goes to grand jury | Lena Hicks was trying to end a relationship with her husband when he showed up at her apartment Saturday night, opening the door with a key he'd taken from her key ring and stabbing her to death after he found her with another man, according to court testimony Wednesday (The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.)
  • 2 volunteers attacked, robbed at Jeffco church | Visitor attacked with pepper spray, taking purses (The Denver Post)


  • McMurray resigns as church president | W. Grant McMurray has resigned as president of the Community of Christ Church, which has its world headquarters in Independence. (The Kansas City Star)
  • Also: US Mormon leader resigns, citing "inappropriate" personal choices | The president of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the second largest grouping in the Mormon religion, has resigned citing "inappropriate choices" in his personal life (AFP)
  • Reporter quits at WHYY over angry message | A voice-mail message left last week at the Virginia office of, a conservative Internet site, went like this: "Hi, my name is Rachel … I wanted to tell you that you're evil, horrible people. You're awful people. You represent horrible ideas. God hates you and he wants to kill your children. You should all burn in hell. Bye." By afternoon, Buchman had resigned and offered apologies (Michael Klein, Philadelphia Inquirer)
  • Also: Defund the people's republic of NPR | What Carmouche forgot to mention is who paid Rachel's salary and still pays for her NPR colleagues. People like me who voluntarily write checks to support public radio, but more importantly, ALL Americans, through taxpayer support. Those days should end. How many of us want our tax dollars to keep funding NPR's Rachels? Or any other ideologue? (Michael Smerconish, Philadelphia Inquirer)
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  • Fired cheer coach says other teams did same thing | The same kind of team Christian religious meetings that played a part in the firing of UGA cheerleading coach Marilou Braswell are no different than similar Christian observances conducted in UGA's football and baseball programs, and are completely legal, according to documents filed Monday in federal court by Braswell's lawyer. (Athens Banner-Herald, Athens, Ga.)
  • Packers' later game starts force churches to audible | Holiday programs affected; schedule changes come from NFL, not team (Green Bay Press-Gazette, Wis.)


  • A new Bible, palmtop version, can keep track of studies | Zondervan Publishing, Laridian Electronic Publishing and Mobile Digital Media have together released the Zondervan NIV Study Bible Suite, software for the Palm OS and Windows Mobile operating systems that includes Zondervan's New International Version (The New York Times)
  • The God Factor | The values debate gravitates to hardcover. Less fat, more filling (Ellen E. Heltzel, Book Babes, Poynter Institute)

Other articles of interest:

  • They're not wed, but they've made it official | Couples nationwide rely on West Hollywood's partner registry to get health benefits (Los Angeles Times)
  • Teenagers fail to see the consequences | Juveniles may find it harder than adults to foresee the consequences of their actions (New Scientist)

Related Elsewhere:

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Launched in 1999, Christianity Today’s Weblog was not just one of the first religion-oriented weblogs, but one of the first published by a media organization. (Hence its rather bland title.) Mostly compiled by then-online editor Ted Olsen, Weblog rounded up religion news and opinion pieces from publications around the world. As Christianity Today’s website grew, it launched other blogs. Olsen took on management responsibilities, and the Weblog feature as such was mothballed. But CT’s efforts to round up important news and opinion from around the web continues, especially on our Gleanings feature.
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Ted Olsen is Christianity Today's executive editor. He wrote the magazine's Weblog—a collection of news and opinion articles from mainstream news sources around the world—from 1999 to 2006. In 2004, the magazine launched Weblog in Print, which looks for unexpected connections and trends in articles appearing in the mainstream press. The column was later renamed "Tidings" and ran until 2007.
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