Amanda Helm came to Columbia looking for a church she could agree with. At Columbia United Church of Christ, she found the inclusiveness she was seeking.
The Columbia church is now one of 6,000 United Church of Christ congregations nationwide enmeshed in a battle with NBC and CBS over the church’s ad campaign.
An ad by the United Church of Christ espousing inclusiveness has been barred from the two broadcast networks for being too controversial.
The ad shows two bouncers outside a church turning away racial minorities, a disabled man and what appears to be a homosexual couple. Then text appears: “Jesus didn’t turn people away. Neither do we.”
The ad is part of the church’s national identity campaign, “God is Still Speaking.” The denomination is known for its support of minorities, acceptance of alternative lifestyles and involvement with social justice issues.
“The main intention of the campaign is to capture this feeling that people have been excluded,” said Helm, who is an MU graduate student in marketing.
“Not necessarily that a church has actually told them to get out, but a feeling that they’re not welcome.”
The ad has sparked more than network disapproval.
Scott Williams is associate pastor at Christian Fellowship Church in Columbia.
“If (the church) wanted to communicate that message that they were totally inclusive of folks regardless of belief or lifestyle, they could do that in what would be perceived as a positive way instead of negatively toward other churches,” he said.
In a written explanation to United Church of Christ representatives, CBS objected to the implication that other churches exclude homosexuals. NBC issued a statement saying it too was concerned about offending other churches and called the ad too controversial to air.
The Communication Commission of the National Council of Churches USA issued a statement calling the networks’ actions “arbitrary.” It also said the decision limited freedom of speech and equal access to the media.
The decision was not entirely surprising. Earlier this year, CBS refused to air ads from the political organization MoveOn.org.
“The network has a long-standing policy prohibiting the sale of advertising time for the advocacy of viewpoints on controversial issues of public importance,” CBS said in a statement defending its decision.
In support of its decision to nix the United Church of Christ ad, CBS cited the recent proposal to create a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman as evidence that the issue was public and controversial. In response, the church argued that CBS aired controversial political ads during this year’s presidential election. Federal laws require all broadcast networks to provide reasonable access for federal elections ads.
In the faith community, the issue reaches deeper than regulations.
“We see this as an opportunity to convey the message of God’s all-embracing grace and hospitality,” Columbia United Church of Christ interim Pastor Jerry Keeney said in a news release.
Other pastors don’t see the ad the same way.
“Certainly churches like our own welcome everyone into our Sunday morning services,” Williams said. “Just to become a member of the church, they would need to profess a faith in Christ, which may mean making adjustments in one’s lifestyle.”
Helm, who saw a few homosexuals leave her previous church in Kirksville because of conservative preaching, said she is in a church that stands for what she believes.
“I thought it would be nice if I could sit in a denomination where I could say I agree with every single thing this denomination says,” she said. “I’m so proud to be connected with a denomination that stands for something.”