WASHINGTON - Let me put my bias right up front so nobody can miss it:
I am a member of the United Church of Christ. I joined the UCC - a little-known denomination out of Cleveland - about five years ago. It was the first church I'd ever seen that seemed to take seriously the idea that inclusion is a Christian value. It was also the first that actively sought to resolve divisions of culture, class, race and sexual orientation.
So you can imagine how I feel about Wednesday's news that CBS and NBC have rejected a new UCC commercial celebrating just that characteristic: I am appalled. Frankly, I'd feel that way even if I didn't have a personal connection.
The ad in question is part of a campaign called "God is still speaking," which is meant to highlight the church's vision of a deity who still is as opposed to one who once was. The campaign was commissioned in response to marketing research indicating that most people have never heard of the United Church of Christ, though it reports more than 1.3 million members in 6,000 congregations nationwide.
Barb Powell, a UCC spokeswoman, says the same research found that many people who opt out of church do so because they've had bad experiences that left them "angry or alienated." She says the ad was directed specifically to them.
It shows two bouncers working a rope line in front of a church. They turn away a gay couple and what appears to be a Hispanic man and a black girl. A white family is allowed to pass. The text onscreen says, "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we." A narrator closes the ad, speaking over a montage of old people, white people, black people, Hispanic people, lesbian people, human people.
"The United Church of Christ," he says. "No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here."
According to the UCC, this is the message two broadcast networks deemed too "controversial" to air. I called CBS for comment and was read a prepared statement that said, in its entirety, "The network has a longstanding policy of not accepting advocacy advertising." I'm still waiting to hear back from NBC.
Meantime, if you want to see the ad for yourself, the UCC says it's running on TV Land, BET and several other networks that had no problem airing it. You can also find it online at www.stillspeaking.com.
But you won't find it on the National Broadcasting Co. or the Columbia Broadcasting System.
Am I the only one who's flummoxed by that?
I mean, work with me here. The maggot eaters of Fear Factor are evidently OK to broadcast. Janet Jackson's nipple somehow makes it to the air. Two half-naked vixens can even wrestle in a pool, arguing over whether their beer tastes great or is less filling. But a commercial that says only that God's love includes us all is too controversial to show?!
And yes, I know where this is coming from. Gay bashing under the guise of religious conservatism is on the rise. The thought of gay men and lesbians being able to solemnize their relationships in ceremonies that carry legal weight has some people walking the floors at night. Those folks would not be happy with an ad showing gays being welcomed anywhere, much less in church. But even understanding that, it is shocking to see two major broadcast networks act with such gutless hypocrisy.
For the record, the UCC ad is accurate in its portrayal of church exclusion. Blacks and Hispanics were once widely unwelcome at worship houses outside their own communities. Gay men and lesbians still are.
Thankfully, the ad is also accurate in its portrayal of a love larger than human bigotry.
Or, as Ms. Powell told me, "We as a denomination strive to be like Jesus and welcome all people." I consider that a goal worth seeking.
Apparently the networks do not.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears Mondays in The Sun.