Freedom not to hate?

"Never place a period where God has placed a comma." - Gracie Allen quote displayed on a large banner outside the Congregational United Church of Christ in Greensboro

We are blessed to live in interesting times.

The lively discussion about Greensboro bloggregators (that's blog aggregators) led me to ponder whether a truly free press such as the blogosphere can survive intact once the mega-media conglomerates get involved. I voiced my views here and began a dialogue with News & Record editor John Robinson. Much of the discussion on other boards involved how potential profits might be shared. The greater issue for me is censorship. More on that later.

Meanwhile there was a more serious and tangible incursion by CBS and NBC, nearly putting a period at the end of my sentence. Both networks refused to air a TV ad from the United Church of Christ, deeming it too controversial. The ad shows bouncers outside a church, refusing entrance to various individuals and apparently gay couples, while admitting several quite Aryan male/female partners. The message from the UCC: "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we." You can see the ad here.

"We do not accept commercials that deal with issues of public controversy," said Alan Wurtzel, NBC's head of broadcast standards.

CBS went a step further, citing the "executive branch"'s proposed Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, as if that had anything to do with a church's decision to include or exclude particular individuals.

In response, the UCC took the networks to task for its shifting sand policies on what is acceptable programming.

"It's ironic that after a political season awash in commercials based on fear and deception by both parties seen on all the major networks, an ad with a message of welcome and inclusion would be deemed too controversial," says the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president. "What's going on here?"

"We find it disturbing that the networks in question seem to have no problem exploiting gay persons through mindless comedies or titillating dramas, but when it comes to a church's loving welcome of committed gay couples, that's where they draw the line," says the Rev. Robert Chase, director of the UCC's communication ministry.

Besides all that, it turns out that the UCC ad has already run on both CBS and NBC. Back in March, the ad aired without controversy or incident in test markets that included six NBC network affiliates and five CBS affiliates. Raleigh/Durham was one of those test markets.

Why should you be paying attention? Why should you never get your news from only source? Here's why. Giant companies control most of what you see and hear. They are motivated by power and money. They lick the boots of those who can ensure that power and money. They could not conceivably care less whether all voices are heard, whether the news is fair and balanced, or whether their policies are consistent. They would censor an ad campaign by Jesus Christ today, because His message of compassion, love, and social equality would threaten the hierarchical power structure that strokes their big, fat, rich white masters.

That's not to say that individuals who work for these companies are the same. Many, perhaps most journalists do their jobs with a sense of personal and professional integrity unmatched in any other profession. But unfortunately for them and for us, the companies they work for are often motivated by not just profit, but greed.

"The consolidation of TV network ownership into the hands of a few executives today puts freedom of speech and freedom of religious expression in jeopardy," says former FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani, currently managing director of the UCC's Office of Communication. "By refusing to air the United Church of Christ's paid commercial, CBS and NBC are stifling religious expression. They are denying the communities they serve a suitable access to differing ideas and expressions."

Larry Hollon, who leads the national advertising effort for The United Methodist Church, called the networks' decisions what they are: censorship.

"The reasons given by the networks for rejecting this message should bring a chill to everyone who supports freedom of religious expression because they are saying that a fundamental tenet of Christian belief is politically unacceptable for the public dialogue,” Hollon told his denomination’s newspaper, the United Methodist Reporter. “The belief that God loves every person without condition is so basic to Christian teaching that if a denomination cannot make this assertion what can it say? Such decisions shut out the Christian community from the national conversation."

I wonder what Hollon has to say about what his church did today. (see below) It's not easy being a Christian -- an American -- a member of a democracy -- in these times. But, when has it ever been thus?

PUGHTOWN, Pa.(AP) The United Methodist Church defrocked a lesbian minister who lives with her partner Thursday for violating the denomination's ban on actively gay clergy - the first such decision by the church in 17 years.

A 13-member jury made up of Methodist clergy convicted the Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud on the second day of her church trial. Methodist law bars "self-avowed, practicing homosexuals" from ministry. Nine votes were necessary for a conviction and the jury voted 12-1 to find Stroud guilty.

It then voted 7-6 to defrock Stroud, the bare majority necessary in the penalty phase of the trial, though her supportive congregation in Philadelphia has said Stroud can continue performing most of her duties.

"I did not go into this trial expecting to win," Stroud said. "I went into it knowing it would be a painful moment in the life of the United Methodist Church."

"[T]hese perverted homosexuals absolutely hate everything that you and I and most decent, God-fearing citizens stand for....these deviants seek no less than total control and influence in society, politics, our schools and in our exercise of free speech and religious freedom. If we do not act now, homosexuals will own America!"
- Jerry Falwell in a 1999 fund-raising letter (reported in Church & State, October 1999, link from theocracywatch.org).

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