As liturgical organ music fills the sanctuary, good-looking white families respectfully fill the pews of a high-ceilinged, beautifully ornamented church. The camera focuses on an African-American woman and a crying infant as some white parishioners look askance. Cut to an aged white hand pressing a bright-red button, and suddenly the mother and child are catapulted high into the air. Seconds later the button is pressed again, and an interracial gay-male couple is similarly ejected. After five more people fly into the church’s rafters, the words “God Doesn’t Reject People and Neither Do We” appear on the screen. A voice-over then tells viewers, “No matter who you are or where you are in life’s journey, you’re welcome here,” and the words united church of christ appear on the screen.
As welcoming as the United Church of Christ (UCC) may be, the three major networks are not reciprocating the gesture. ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox have all rejected the 30-second paid television commercial, which is set to air on April 3, as being too “controversial.” (The ad will appear on, among other stations, AMC, BET, Discovery, Hallmark, History, Nick@Nite, TBS, and TNT.) That’s not surprising, since in 2004 the big three rejected a similar ad that featured musclebound bouncers behind a velvet rope letting only select worshipers into a church. The fact that that promo won the 2005 Association of National Advertisers Award for Multicultural Excellence made no difference this time around.
Produced by UCC’s Stillspeaking Initiative, which is in charge of media outreach for the church’s progressive social projects, the “ejector seat” ad is a witty cross between a Monty Python skit and a postmodern Sunday-school lecture. But as surprising as it may be for a mainstream Protestant denomination to evangelize with edgy humor, the fact that the major networks have refused the paid advertisement — UCC raised $2.5 million to produce the commercial and buy the airtime — is just plain shocking. While NBC simply labeled the earlier ad “too controversial,” CBS was more forthcoming, stating that “because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples ... 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.” ABC was more hypocritical: claiming that it does not accept commercials from religious groups, it has in fact broadcast several spots about child rearing from James Dobson’s right-wing Focus on the Family.
The problem here isn’t that the advertisement is controversial but that in the present culture wars the cowardly networks have skewed rightward their own standards of free speech to such a degree that a faith-based message of tolerance becomes unsuitable for public consumption.