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Questions about UCC ad

by Pastor Mark Chavez (Director, WordAlone Network)

December 8, 2004

The United Church of Christ (UCC), one of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s full communion partners, recently began airing a controversial television ad as a part of its identity campaign that a UCC news release describes thus:

The debut 30-second spot features two muscle-bound “bouncers” standing guard outside a fabled, picturesque church and selecting which persons are permitted to attend Sunday services. Written text interrupts the scene, announcing, “Jesus didn’t turn people away. Neither do we.” A narrator then proclaims the United Church of Christ’s commitment to Jesus’ extravagant welcome: “No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” (The ad can be viewed online)

Because the ad has bouncers preventing an apparently homosexual couple, a minority person and a handicapped person from entering the “picturesque church,” two networks refused to air the ad. CBS said “this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [CBS and UPN] networks,” and NBC said the ad was “too controversial.”

Two opposing statements have been issued in response to decisions by CBS and NBC, and in response to the UCC ad itself. One statement from the National Council of Churches criticizes the networks for refusing to air the ad. The statement was suggested and written by Pastor Eric Shafer, director of the ELCA Department of Communication, and may be viewed here

The Association for Church Renewal (ACR), leaders of renewing and confessing movements in the mainline churches, including the WordAlone Network, issued a statement that defends the rights of churches to make public statements, even if they are controversial, but also calls upon the UCC to pull the ad:

Diane Knippers, President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy and Vice-Chair of the ACR, explained: “We defend the right of the UCC to communicate its message in mainstream media. But we believe that this ad is dishonest and insulting to other Christian churches. It violates the UCC’s stated commitment to respectful ecumenical dialogue. The UCC should voluntarily pull this ad.”

The ACR statement may be viewed here.

Others also have raised questions about the content of the UCC ad, including Pastor Dan Baker, First Lutheran Church, Albert Lea, Minn. In a letter to Shafer and other ELCA leaders, he questioned the ELCA’s defense of the ad, as a matter of ethics:

It is troubling to think that the UCC would chose to insult other Christians for holding different Biblical views as their major method of TV outreach in light of our current cultural climate of debate and discernment. Certainly they could have found a better way to present themselves rather than mocking others in this way.

He disagreed with the ad’s theological content and added his own comment:

‘Jesus didn't turn people away,’ he sought to turn them around from sin and death and toward holiness and righteousness through the power of faith in the living God.