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From the Washington Blade:
Still speaking, but not until Lent
UCC readies another round of ads showing acceptance of gays
By JAMES WHITHERS | Nov 19, 10:41 AM
When Ron Buford talks about the television spots the United Church of Christ ran last year, he sounds like a proud father. For him, they crystallize in 30 seconds why the UCC is the perfect spiritual home for gays and lesbians.
After people saw those ads and came to our churches we always heard people say, ‘I didn’t know there was a church like this,’” Buford says.
The advertisements, which ran in December of 2004 and this past March, show two buff bouncers standing in front of a church. The guards, dressed in black pants and T-shirts, keep people of color and a lesbian couple out. As it ends, a message comes across the screen: “Jesus didn’t turn people away. Neither do we. Then a narrator says, “No matter who or were you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”
Two major television networks, CBS and NBC, refused to air ads from the church’s “Still Speaking” campaign because they were deemed too controversial, especially in an election year where same-sex marriage was the fodder of politicians. While they may have been too hot for primetime, the spots gained some buzz, turned people to UCC institutions and recently were given the Multicultural Excellence award from the Association of National Advertisers.
While Buford is pleased with all of the kudos he sees the TV pitch as part of a larger trend: putting more voices in the debate over values and religion in the country’s marketplace.
Spend any time watching television and it’s easy to come across someone with a holy book in one hand yelling about how gays are bringing down the moral standing of the country. Buford is no yeller, but his religious beliefs are as strong as the folk screaming. The only difference is that Buford, who is gay and was just named one of Out magazine’s “Out 100” for 2005, would like to have a dialogue instead of a monologue. And he thinks God has more to share with his flock.
“God is still speaking and has more to reveal to us. There are more mysteries to be understood,” Buford says.
As the coordinator and team leader of the UCC’s “Still Speaking Initiative,” a program meant to introduce people to the history of UCC, a past that includes everything from the abolitionist movement to women’s suffrage, Buford hopes his work can add a different spin to the religious rhetoric that is usually heard. He thinks the UCC’s new set of ads will be just as provocative as the award winning ones.
UCC had planned for another set of spots to run after this Thanksgiving, but the church has decided to push that back to March of 2006, around the Lenten/Easter season. As the spokesperson, it’s Buford’s job to raise money, but with the Gulf Coast devastated by Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Pakistan, there was a sense that asking churches to donate money for just airtime was out of bounds.
All is not known
While everyone from Pat Robertson to Fred Phelps will speak with certainty on what God thinks about gay people, Buford cautions that if history shows anything, it’s that what was once considered certainty falls by the wayside and is disregarded as a relic of the past.
“What we know is infinitesimally small,” Buford says. “Our track record is pretty bad.”
While Buford strongly believes he is right that gays are no less imperfect, or perfect, than their straight brothers and sisters, he has no desire to keep conservatives out of the debate.
“They are doing what exactly what they should do,” Buford says when discussing conservative churches who preach a different gospel.
But he does think that some rhetoric from the pulpits has serious consequences.
“What is happening to people in churches is another form of alienation and spiritual homelessness,” he says.
Which is why religious people who believe differently must be engaged. Buford even thinks it’s time for liberal religious people to take some plays from the book of President Ronald Reagan. No matter what people think of the late president, most agree that he was able to articulate his message with precision and clarity.
“We need to coalesce under an idea and then our core values will emerge,” Buford says.
The core value that Buford points to is UCC’s work at being a voice for those who have none.
“It [gay outreach] is just not the only focus and it’s not the only thing we do,” Buford says. “We are a regular church advocating for the poor and downtrodden in society. And we do that with the same energy and effort we bring to other issues.”