December 02, 2004
Dirty laundry

After going to my second Beta class last night, where at least 25% of my discussion table was homosexual, I see this post reminding me that I live in a bubble. Josh Marshall has looked into CBS' policy in more detail here, here and here. Kynn also came out of hibernation to comment on it here.

It sounds like there is an official policy that the company is following fairly consistently. After all, it's not like they're airing Exodus ads either. That said, the official response does sound an awful lot like, "This spot implicitly criticizes conservative churches, and we don't feel like subjecting ourselves to the boycotts and letter campaigns that conservative churches are so damned good at." I don't know if CBS would have accepted the ad if it featured inclusiveness alone and didn't portray other churches negatively, but that couldn't have helped.

Josh Marshall raises another question: is the network's policy a good idea? He doesn't think so; like most pundits, he sees vigorous public debate as good for the republic. And it may be good for the public, but I'm not so sure how good it would be for the church. The UCC's ad is probably good for rounding up the lost sheep from other churches, but I find the idea of the airwaves filling up with ads about how our church is better than other churches to be unbearably depressing. (And Exodus probably would put on its own ads.) For me as a seeker, those kinds of pitches don't work. And I'm not alone either: I am told that the modern ecumenical movement started in the mission fields, because the potential converts were also unimpressed by the factionalism.

This doesn't mean I think interchurch debates should be swept under the rug. They're real and they're important. But I don't like seeing Christians getting sucked into our culture's dysfunctional modes of public discourse. After all, 30-second TV ads were invented to serve the gods of consumerism. We complain enough about what they've done to political debate. Comparing your product to the Leading Brand may be OK for paper towels, but churches?

Yeah, I guess I'm pretty naive in the era of televangelism and stupid talk shows. Whatever.

UPDATE: Get Religion has a characteristically thorough review of the story's news coverage here.

Posted by Camassia at December 02, 2004 03:58 PM | TrackBack

Amazing, ain't it?


Posted by: Rob on December 2, 2004 07:34 PM

I think the reason the UCC ad is important is because it shows gays and lesbians who may have been alienated from the Church (by the Church I mean the Church that subsists in all the denominations) because of anti-gay bigotry like derogatory signs at Matthew Shepard's funeral that not all Christians are like that. I therefore don't know why anyone would have a problem with it. It makes a very general statement: "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we." Is there really anyone who could disagree with that? And if there is, are they really to be viewed as credible anyway?

Posted by: Nathan on December 2, 2004 11:23 PM

Not exactly on topic, but since Josh Marshall mentioned it in his blog and since it's about Christians (some truly remarkable and some truly sleazy) I thought you may want to check out an excellent article in this week's New Yorker. Unfortunately it's not online, but it's definitely worth a read:

"God Doesn’t Need Ole Anthony -- The man who scares televangelists" by Burkhard Bilger


Posted by: Kolya on December 3, 2004 06:36 AM

Nathan: There seems to me to be an inherent contradiction in saying that churches have enough anti-gay bigotry to alienate people and yet no one could possibly have a problem with the ad. If no one disagreed with the sentiment then the ad wouldn't have a reason to exist, because the whole point is 'we're not like those other churches.'

As to whether those 'other churches' are credible, that's not really the network's call. They're just trying to keep as many people watching their shows as possible, so they want to annoy the fewest people. In this case the strategy kind of backfired since they annoyed people anyway, but that's their motivation.

Kolya: I do have that New Yorker (I subscribe to it) but haven't gotten to the article yet. It does look interesting though.

Posted by: Camassia on December 3, 2004 07:49 AM

My question in all of this is whether CBS/UPN and NBC refuse ads from the Mormons. I don't watch a lot of TV now, but I clearly have in my relatively short-term memory recollections of the Mormons public-service-looking pro-family-life ads suggesting that the Mormons will take care of your family because the family that prays together stays together. Now that's proseletyzing in a big way, not?

I'm mostly in favor of open debate on almost any issue. Church advertizing strikes me as less than classy. But I also know where the money is and I can understand CBS' desire not to let big money dictate the terms of the debate. Still, in the absence of ads, doesn't big money win anyway?

And does CBS mean to suggest that since the Bush Administration wants to pass a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, that the issue is off the table -- make that: airwaves -- for public consideration? If discourse is then left to CNN and the nightly news, guess who controls.

This things stinks of collusion, quid? (Remember: It was Dan Rather who said of the Iraq war (pretty accurate paraphrase): Pres. Bush is my president. If he tells me to line up over here, my toes will be on the line.)

It's better to read than to watch TV.

Posted by: Dwight on December 3, 2004 07:52 AM

I dimly remember those ads too, but I don't remember who aired them. One point Josh makes is that networks, affiliates and independent stations have different policies about ads.

And yeah, acting like this keeps the debate 'pure' is pretty silly. Like I said, I suspect it's just that they don't want you to turn the TV off in anger or something. Let's not let a surprise offense from an ad interrupt the offensiveness you're actually seeking when you tune into Desperate Housewives ...

I read a lot more than I watch TV these days. Actually I turn on the TV maybe once a week, which I suppose is why the whole concept of church ads was new to me.

Posted by: Camassia on December 3, 2004 08:05 AM

Part of the reason that the UCC is buying ads is because there are few other ways to get out the message. The corporate media doesn't talk about about pro-gay Christianity.


Posted by: Kynn on December 3, 2004 10:31 AM

PS: And if CBS hadn't tried to link this to the gay marriage debate, and had just said "we don't accept religious ads which criticize other religions," then this wouldn't have been nearly as big an issue.

Posted by: Kynn on December 3, 2004 10:32 AM

Jimmy Akin's blog makes a good case on why the commercial went too far.

Posted by: TSO on December 3, 2004 12:22 PM

I'm not sure what to make of the FMA comment. I had just taken it to mean that because of the FMA's existence, homosexuality is a live political issue, so the ad is automatically controversial. It's a stretch because the ad never mentions gay marriage as such, but they were probably thinking that the morality of homosexuality in general is a political issue.

I've been going by my own experience as a media person here, and the fact that my paper shies away from dealing with religion precisely because it seems like no matter how you do it you're going to piss a lot of people off. That's why I see it more as a fear of the grassroots than of the White House. However, it's also true that broadcast TV has never really been a 'free press' with full First Amendment protection. The courts have treated the airwaves as a kind of public utility, which is why the FCC is allowed to exist and interfere with things. So broadcasters do have an extra motivation to not cross the feds.

The good news is that this is becoming less and less relevant as other media outlets become popular. After all, even though the networks aren't airing the ad, anyone with Internet access can go watch it on RealPlayer. I expect that this whole flap is giving the UCC at least as much public attention as it would have gotten if the ad had just quietly aired.

Posted by: Camassia on December 4, 2004 11:20 AM

TV is bad. People watch too much TV. I can't offer an opinion on whether or not the ad ought to be shown because all the people who are either offended by the ad or drawn into the UCC b/c of the denomination's tolerance ought to be doing something other than watching TV.

How about a "We're the UCC; We don't watch TV" ad? Not that they would air that one either.

Posted by: Marvin on December 5, 2004 04:44 AM

Moments ago, I saw a UCC ad on cable (ABC Family). I don't know if this is the one in question, but I thought their ad was very tasteful, not anti-those-other-churches, and positive and upbeat. It wasn't specifically about homosexuals, but you would have to be pretty daft to miss the inclusive message.

Posted by: Troy on December 5, 2004 01:35 PM
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