The United Church of Christ protested two networks' refusal to air an ad welcoming gays to their congregations.
CBS and NBC refused to air the 30-second commercial geared to Americans who feel alienated from the church.
The spot features two muscular bouncers in front of a traditional church building and behind a velvet rope that they remove to allow some worshippers to pass while blocking others. Those turned away include a gay couple.
"Jesus didn't turn people away," the ad says. "Neither do we." A narrator adds, "No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here."
Both networks rejected the ad as too controversial. "Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations, 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," said a statement by CBS.
Officials of the 1.3 million-member denomination based in Cleveland said the commercial represents countless Americans who feel alienated, rejected or excluded from church.
"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," Robert Chase, the UCC's communications director, said in a statement.
The commercial is part of a $1.7 million ad campaign to increase visibility and build membership of nearly 6,000 UCC congregations. The UCC is one of the nation's most liberal religious groups and has a long tradition of social activism dating back to civil disobedience inspiring the "Boston Tea Party" in 1773. They were the first religious tradition to ordain a woman, in 1853, and the first to ordain an openly gay man, in 1972.
The UCC formed in 1957 in a merger of several Christian traditions. Among the UCC's ecumenical partners is the Alliance of Baptists.
"The decision by executives at CBS and NBC to refuse the ad from the United Church of Christ is yet another example of the fact that network television makes too many decisions based on profits rather than public service," said Alliance of Baptists Executive Director Stan Hastey. "The nation's airwaves belong to the public, not to the networks."
"To refuse an ad by a church body as too controversial because its message is one of radical inclusion is ludicrous on its face," Hastey said. "Our friends in the UCC are to be commended, not condemned, for speaking the truth in love. If there is an upside to this sad episode it is that the message is larger than the medium. In this case the message is more than controversial; it is as radical as was Jesus' own message of radical inclusion in his day. It is a message that will prevail, if not in the short run, in the long sweep of history."
The UCC ad was test marketed and well received, officials say, drawing comments from people who said they never knew a church like theirs existed.
Cable networks have accepted the ad.
Gay-rights groups protested the networks' refusal to air the commercial. The Human Rights Campaign called it "censorship of diversity and understanding."
Opponents of gay marriage, meanwhile, lauded the decision. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler called the ad "masterful propaganda but … a diabolical misrepresentation of Christianity."