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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, November 18, 2006

ABC pulls ad campaign for Assemblies of God

By Frank Lockwood
McClatchy Newspapers

LEXINGTON, Ky. Disney-owned ABC has pulled the plug on a church's "God Gives Hope" advertising campaign, saying the message violates its advertising guidelines.

The Assemblies of God had already reserved space on ABC's Super Sign, which towers above Times Square and serves as a backdrop for "Good Morning America."

But hours before the ads were to air, ABC canceled the contract, church officials say.

ABC spokeswoman Julie Hoover said rejecting the ad is consistent with company guidelines.

"This is a policy, not of years, but decades, not to take advertising for religion," she said. "I can only presume an eager salesman was unaware of that."

Hoover declined to say why ABC refuses to air religious messages.

Juleen Turnage, a spokeswoman for the Assemblies of God, says she's not sure why ABC refused to honor its contract.

"The only thing we know for sure is that it was nixed by top-level leadership who said it was too religious," Turnage said.

The 30-second spot was scheduled to run more than 600 times from Nov. 13-26 at a total cost of $12,000. The sign says "Life is never hopeless. God gives hope" and includes a toll-free prayer hotline (Call 1-800-4-PRAYER).

Originally, the Assemblies of God hadn't even planned to advertise with ABC. But the company approached the church after learning that its ads would be appearing on a competitor's jumbo screens, Turnage said.

The Assemblies of God, based in Springfield, Mo., is the nation's 10th-largest religious body, with 2.8 million followers and churches in all 50 states. In 1996, it encouraged its members to boycott Disney and accused the entertainment conglomerate of "abandoning the commitment to strong moral values."

At the time, the church's top leadership accused Disney of promoting homosexuality and of opposing the Christian faith. They called on the "Disney Corp. to return to the values that strengthen and build this nation, such as honesty, respect, integrity, decency and trust."

ABC's decision won't completely prevent the church from airing its message in Times Square. A 15-second ad will appear on the News Astrovision Screen (formerly known as the NBC Jumbotron) about 460 times, Turnage said.

The Assemblies of God isn't the first Christian denomination to be booted from Big Apple marquees. In 2003, Reuters voided a contract with the 8.2-million-member United Methodist Church, citing its own anti-religious-advertising policy. The Methodists' 30-second ad didn't mention God or Jesus and featured the slogan "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors."

Reuters initially refused to display it on its 28-story-high electronic Manhattan billboard. Reuters officials cited its advertising guidelines, which prohibited ads that are "pornographic, political, religious, libelous, misleading or deceptive."

The company backtracked after receiving widespread criticism and heavy media coverage.

Ron Ferrell, pastor of Trinity Assembly of God in Georgetown, Ky., said he wasn't surprised ABC would block his church's ad. "They don't want to mention us or support us or promote us because we're going to mention 'God,' " Ferrell said. "There is a bias in the media (against) God and spiritual things."

University of Kentucky journalism professor Mike Farrell was surprised by ABC's decision. "What is controversial about 'God Gives Hope?' " he asked.