Thursday, December 09, 2004

While we were yet sinners . . .

A couple days ago, Matt wrote about that promo for the United Church of Christ that NBC and CBS refused to air. ABC aired it only on their cable channel, ABC Family.

CBS's reason for refusal is puzzling. According to this Boston Globe article on the controversy,
In a letter to the denomination, a CBS official said, ''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 [the Bush Administration] has recently proposed a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast."

Can someone please explain what the Bush Administration has to do with CBS's refusal to air the ad? Or are they just looking for a convenient scapegoat. "Hey, we'd love to air it, but we can't. Blame Bush." This excuse is not that dissimilar from some ABC affiliates refusing to air an unedited R-rated version of "Saving Private Ryan" last month because, you know, those conservatives are in power now. Blame them. (I understand those affiliates aired "Return to Mayberry" instead, which strikes me as being a rather explicit message about those redneck conservatives in Jesusland forcing their Mayberry worldview on the rest of the country.) The media is so certain that the Bush administration is going to repress them that they've started repressing themselves, as if hoping to prove to their viewers that the President is a dangerous censor.

A CBS spokesperson also said: 'We have a longstanding policy of not accepting advocacy advertising."

Did anyone see any ads from 527 groups on CBS this year? What are those if not advocacy advertising?

NBC took this approach.
[T]he president of research for NBC, Alan Wurtzel, said the spot ''violated a longstanding policy of NBC, which is that we don't permit commercials to deal with issues of public controversy." Wurtzel, who is in charge of broadcast standards at the network, said such issues should be handled by the news department and not in advertising.

''The problem is not that it depicted gays, but that it suggested clearly that there are churches that don't permit a variety of individuals to participate," Wurtzel said. ''If they would make it just a positive message -- 'we're all-inclusive' -- we'd have no problem with that spot."

I'm to believe that NBC wouldn't air the ad because some churches might be offended? When has NBC ever worried about offending churches in the past? No, sorry, I won't buy that or the swampland in Florida you're selling.

You can see the ad here.

In the ad, two bouncers stand outside a church forbidding entrance to various people, including a gay couple and some minorities while letting white folks in. (Odd, considering that one of the bouncers is definitely not white.) The ad concludes by stating that Jesus didn't turn people away, and neither does the UCC. (An image of a smiling lesbian couple is there to hammer the point home: the UCC accepts homosexuals.)

Some have criticized the ad as being a not-so-subtle slam on conservative evangelical churches. Matt writes:

The ad exploits every overwrought stereotype that exists concerning conservative evangelicals. The leaders of the denomination know no shame. Of course, conservatives should look to themselves and always be sure that there are no grounds for such criticisms, but this advertisement is far and beyond the pale. It is vile and misleading.

Matt also links to this from Al Mohler, who writes:
Using familiar propaganda devices, the commercial insinuates that the United Church of Christ is accepting of all persons, while others--presumably conservative churches--are so restrictive that they do not allow homosexuals and other sinners to enter the church building. The use of black-shirted bouncers to turn these people away is a very powerful visual device. When the announcer soothingly declares, "Jesus didn't turn away people and neither do we," it completes the message with a powerful effect.

When I saw the ad, I didn't make the presumption that Mohler did. I didn't see it as a slam on conservative evangelical churches, although I guess I can understand why they might feel that way. A non-churchgoer viewing viewing this ad might ask himself "Are there churches that are really like this; that is, who turn people away? And if so, which churches are they?" But I saw it more as a depiction of some people's absurd notions of what churches are like. We all know people who won't go to church because they think they'll be judged unworthy and looked down upon, and this ad takes that false notion and exaggerates it to effect.

And as far as the message of the ad goes (as I wrote in a comment on Matt's post), I guess my initial thought was that, yes, Jesus would welcome anyone and everyone to come to him, even if he didn't condone their lifestyles. He doesn't require that we justify ourselves before he justifies us. ("While we were yet sinners . . ." and all that.)

Because this ad is from the UCC, which doesn't consider homosexual acts to be sinful, the clear message is, "Hey, we're fine with whatever kind of arrangement you've got going."

But if you remove the UCC tag from the ad's closing, I could see an ad like this coming from any number of evangelical churches where the door is open to everyone, including homosexual couples. The difference being that those churches would still preach that homosexual acts are sinful, but they, like Jesus, would never turn anyone away.


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