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U.S. networks reject church gay ad

A still from the advertisement that has been rejected by U.S. television networks.
Paula Zahn

NEW YORK (CNN) -- An advertisement from a U.S. mainline Protestant denomination calling for the inclusion of gay men and lesbians in church life has been rejected by television networks CBS, ABC and NBC.

CBS and NBC said the spot violates their policies against running ads that take positions on matters of public controversy.

A spokesperson at ABC told CNN that "we do not generally accept paid advertising that espouses a particular religious doctrine."

The 30-second spot, sponsored by the 1.3-million member United Church of Christ, features two muscle-bound bouncers standing outside a church, determining who may enter to attend a service and who may not. Among those kept out are two males who appear to be a couple.

Written text then appears saying, in part, "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we."

The Rev. John Thomas, the UCC's president and general manager, said the rejection of the ad "really startled us."

"We thought we were doing an ad that was offering a graceful word of welcome and hospitality to all people, and that hardly seems controversial," Thomas told CNN's "Paula Zahn Now" Wednesday night.

"But they apparently looked at it through a very narrow lens and decided we're advocating for a particular social and cultural agenda."

"We were clearly not advocating any agenda in these ads other than the agenda of welcome and hospitality."

The Cleveland-based UCC, with 6,000 congregations, is one of America's oldest religious groups, with historic roots stretching back to the Puritan pilgrims of New England. It is also one of the few Christian denominations that allows openly gay and lesbian people to serve as clergy.

The church quoted CBS as saying that the ad was rejected "because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples ... and the fact that 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."

A CBS spokesman confirmed that the ad had been rejected but would not comment directly on the UCC's characterization of the reasons for its action, saying only that the ad "was against our policy of accepting advocacy advertising."

CBS did accept a second UCC ad for broadcast.

An NBC spokeswoman said the problem with the ad was not its depiction of same-sex couples at church, but rather its implication that other religions are not open to all people.

"It went against our long-standing policy of not accepting ads that deal with issues of public controversy," the network's spokeswoman said.

But Thomas told Zahn that when the ads were tested in focus groups with people who don't attend church, many participants responded by reciting their own experiences of being made to feel unwelcome. He said the UCC wanted to make the point that its attitude was different.

Thomas also said that he believes it is "dangerous territory" when public broadcasters decide to reject a message from a religious group by using their own definitions of what constitutes advocacy.

The church said the ad has been accepted on a number of other networks, including ABC Family, BET Discovery, Fox, Hallmark, TBS and TNT. It can also be viewed at

TBS and TNT are owned by Time Warner, the parent company of CNN.

-- CNN/Money contributed to this report

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