Portland Radio Stations Pull Progressive Christian Ads

By Rev. Chuck Currie of Portland, Oregon. Chuck is a minister in the United Church of Christ and blogs at ChuckCurrie.com.

A decision by four Portland-area radio stations to pull ads promoting a progressive Christian educational program - Saving Jesus - illustrates for us once again how difficult it is for anyone but the Religious Right to be heard in America today.

Survey after survey have shown that Oregon is one of the least "churched' states. That simply means that we have a low percentage of people who attend church (only 31% of Oregonians attend church compared to Mississippi's 63%...perhaps the only survey in America where Mississippi comes out on top). It isn't always easy being an "out" Christian in liberal Portland. Too many equate Christianity with right-wing politics and not without some justification. When you see Christians on television or hear them on the radio (or on the news) they tend to be of the fundamentalist variety. At the same time, many of America's most progressive movements were led by Christians and churches.

Congregationalists fought slavery in the famous 1839 Amistad case, the labor movement was buoyed by the work of theologian Walter Rauschenbusch whose writings launched the Social Gospel Movement that Glenn Beck is still complaining about today, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lead the civil rights movement, and the National Council of Churches helped organization opposition to wars like Vietnam and Iraq.  Few know that history.  Why would they when voices like Focus on the Family president James Dobson have dominated the media?

Progressive religious voices have enormous difficulty getting heard. In 2004, NBC and CBS refused to air a television commercial from the United Church of Christ, in which I serve as an ordained minister, because the spot showed a gay couple being turned away from a traditional church. The networks termed the ad too controversial and said they wouldn't run religious advertising (ignoring years and years of running Billy Graham crusades) but abruptly reversed course and ran an anti-abortion ad for Focus on the Family during the Super Bowl last year.

Media Matters noted in a 2007 study called "Left Behind" that:

  • Combining newspapers and television, conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed in news stories 2.8 times as often as were progressive religious leaders.
  • On television news -- the three major television networks, the three major cable news channels, and PBS -- conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed almost 3.8 times as often as progressive leaders.
  • In major newspapers, conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed 2.7 times as often as progressive leaders.

Despite the fact most religious Americans are moderate or progressive, in the news media it is overwhelmingly conservative leaders who are presented as the voice of religion. This represents a particularly meaningful distortion since progressive religious leaders tend to focus on different issues and offer an entirely different perspective than their conservative counterparts.

During the Civil Rights Movement some television stations refused to run coverage of the protests.  At the request of Dr. King, the United Church of Christ filed a law suit that in 1959 resulted in a ruling that the air ways are owned by the public. This led to new voices being heard ,including women and people of color. But even today some are silenced. Four Portland radio stations reinforced that reality when they pulled advertising promoting "Saving Jesus."

Living the Questions, the group behind 'Saving Jesus" wrote on their blog this Friday:

What is media giant Entercom Communications afraid of? Curriculum publisher “Living the Questions” recently contracted with three of Entercom’s Portland area stations, KGON-FM (Classic Rock), KWJJ-FM (Country), KYCH-FM (Classic Hits) to run professionally produced ads as part of their online streaming radio services. Without an explanation beyond “due to listener complaint,” the ads were pulled after only one day.

Living the Questions is a respected resource of video curriculum for progressive Christian communities around the world. The Portland radio spots advertised a new series called “Saving Jesus” with the seemingly balanced introduction:

“Ever feel like Jesus has been kidnapped and taken hostage by the Christian Right? Or maybe even worse, simply cast aside as irrelevant by those on the secular left?”

Portland was chosen specifically because of its established reputation as a liberal-leaning market. However, there seems to be very well organized opposition to any message other than that deemed acceptable to the Christian Right. That or it doesn’t take much for Entercom to be threatened into compliance with the expectations and prejudices of a fraction of their listening community.

And now, after moving the ads to “substitute” Portland radio stations, Alpha Broadcasting’s KINK has pulled the ad because, according to KINK’s Amanda Quillen, programming is “getting flooded with calls & emails” “from angry listeners ‘bothered’ by the message.” Are these angry conservative Christians calling? Angry liberals?

Portland progressives should take this seriously. If progressive Christians - who fight today for environmental justice, reproductive choice, marriage equality, immigration reform ,fair labor practices and economic reform - can be taken off the air and silenced where will it stop? Who will be next? Religious freedom, a bedrock principle in the United States, is at stake in this debate.; No question. Another important issue is in play that transcends religion or political ideology: the opportunity to be heard in a world where media monopolies control access to what we see, hear and read.

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    While I'm not thrilled at hearing Jesus endlessly repeated (I counted 10 in the one-minute spot!) Frankly, I'm more offended at the latest pop-rock or pop-country songs on these stations.

    That said, the glaring omission is the 'why'. What are people complaining about?

    I'd also worry a bit about having this come onto public airwaves. As noble as their purpose may be, how long would it be if this was successful, before every station was flooded with 'Jesus-Jesus-Jesus' ads. If, as the numbers indicate, the Christian Right has a hold on the media, then how long would it last before they leveraged their considerable advertising dollars on any station?

    Question: Do they have spots on the 9 Christian stations in the area? (9 according to this: http://pdxradio.com/insp.htm )

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      The stations you link to are conservative - for the most part. KPDQ, for example, is actually a for-profit venture (not a non-profit church related body) owned by Salem Communications Broadcasting, which uses the profits from the station to help fund a PAC that gives 100% of their donations to the GOP. Truth be told, they misuse the title of "Christian" for a political operation that has nothing to do with faith. Their programs are filled with political operatives calling for the defeat of President Obama and even questioning his Christian faith.

      As for you other comment, the name of Jesus is sacred to me and many others. I'm not sure why you don't want to hear his named mentioned. Is it because you equate him with the Religious Right or because you don't want to hear religion talked about in public... Religious people have every right to be heard within our democratic society as much as any other group.

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        Are you legitimately in favor of having the Savior of Man repeated like He was on a Ronco ad?

        To be honest, I'd feel much the same if it were Budda, or Mohammed, or Krishna, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Heck, I'm pretty annoyed by this tactic of the Ronco-style ads.

        To drag this back on topic, why NOT advertise on those stations, despite their politics? (incidentally, I didn't hear one way or the other whether they had even approached them or not) If you have a built-in audience, and are making the case that Jesus has been hijacked, it seems that those stations would be the ideal place to start.

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    Thanks, Chuck, for alerting us to this issue.

    A question: Do they typically accept religiously-themed ads? If they've got a blanket prohibition, well, I could understand that. But if they're weighing on one religious viewpoint versus another, well, that's not acceptable.

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      None of the stations have a policy of not accepting religious ads. All the stations, in fact, agreed to run this spot until they received "complaints." But what those complaints were or who offered them hasn't been explained.

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        It's good to know that all you have to do is complain - and a perfectly legit ad will get taken down.

        I'll have to remember that. :)

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    Thank you for representing Progressive Christian values in the public square. And thank you for defending the right to do so.

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    There's obviously more to this story...

    I'd like to call the Ad Manager or Executive Director of any of these stations and find out. Could you please provide a number and contact name?

    sincerely, MD

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    This was jarring to me:

    the seemingly balanced introduction:

    “Ever feel like Jesus has been kidnapped and taken hostage by the Christian Right?”

    "Seemingly balanced"? Really? That sentence alone is inflammatory to anybody who's ever been told that they are part of the Christian Right.

    Such a listener wouldn't even hear the second, supposedly "balancing" rhetorical question. And most mainstream Christians of my acquaintance have been told repeatedly that they are on the right just because they are Christian -- so this is a much broader brush than you may realize.

    Yes, you can expect to hit people's buttons with that rhetorical question. I'm not saying it's good -- I'm saying it's utterly unsurprising. To call the above "seemingly balanced" strikes me as a profound lack of empathy.

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      I appreciate what Barack Obama said before he was president in a religious testimonial:

      ...somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together and started being used to drive us apart. It got hijacked. Part of it's because of the so-called leaders of the Christian Right, who've been all too eager to exploit what divides us. At every opportunity, they've told evangelical Christians that Democrats disrespect their values and dislike their Church, while suggesting to the rest of the country that religious Americans care only about issues like abortion and gay marriage; school prayer and intelligent design. There was even a time when the Christian Coalition determined that its number one legislative priority was tax cuts for the rich. I don't know what Bible they're reading, but it doesn't jibe with my version.  

      But I'm hopeful because I think there's an awakening taking place in America. People are coming together around a simple truth – that we are all connected, that I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper. And that it's not enough to just believe this – we have to do our part to make it a reality. My faith teaches me that I can sit in church and pray all I want, but I won't be fulfilling God's will unless I go out and do the Lord's work.

      I do think that some have tried to hijack faith for partisan political agendas.  The statement in the ad is certainly fair. And we ought to be able to get that message out without being kicked off the air.

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        Chuck, maybe it started in the early 19th century when some churches became active in the campaign to outlaw dueling. Or maybe it was later in the 19th century when some churches joined the abolition movement. Or maybe it was in the late 19th and early 20th century when some churches campaigned for prohibition. Or maybe it was in the 20th century when many churches became active in the civil rights, nuclear disarmament and anti-war movements.

        No, I'm sure you and President Obama are right. It wasn't until churches became active in conservative causes that they became partisan and divisive.

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          As a pro-choice minister in the United Church of Christ, I strongly defended the right of the Roman Catholic Church to advocate their view-point on abortion during the health care reform debate even as some of my progressive friends said that such involvement violated church and state. Churches have every right to be involved in social issues and social issues are often debated in the public square. But religion gets hijacked when religious leaders tell people that you can't be Christian and vote for a democrat, for example. Or when people who vote for Barack Obama are denied communion. That is crossing a line into partisan politics. We've seen a lot of that in the Religious Right. As a leader in the Republican Party, I'm sure you condemn such behavior.

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            Not to mention those fine Christians who pray for Obama's death:


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            I have attended too many church services to count and I can tell you that in all of those services I have yet to hear one person ...leader or not...say If you vote democrat your'e not a Christian" where do you guys get this pap? For many people their church life and their faith based life is their whole life. Where would you have the line drawn and who would you have draw it? Some of these people have very un-shakeable absolutes they choose to live by ...isn't that their right? You don't need to have ever gone into a church to know that abortion is wrong. The people (like Nancy Pelosi) who were denied communion were done so because they were living or acting or advocating actions that ran against the teachings of the church...not because they voted for Obama. Let me ask you this Chuck ...do you think that by saying things in your comments that you know aren't true that you are doing God's work? religion hasn't been hijacked by religious leaders ... some of the social issues being debated in government right now (like gay marriage etc) have a direct impact on the most closely held beliefs of others...you don't have to agree with them but you do need to recognize that for a majority of oregonians, the idea of gay marriage requires them by legislative (or more likely by judicial fiat)action to modify some of their most closely held beliefs in a way that doesn't show them and their beliefs the respect they deserve... all just so that gays can attempt to gain the acceptance they so desperately crave by shrouding themselves in the respectability and acceptance they have done nothing to respect or earn. It has nothing to do with civil rights and everything to do with the continued assault on organized religion in this state and country. Perpetuating the hate by the 'progressives' of anything they can't marginalize or besmirch by repeating ignorant and ridiculous tripe like things like "my pastor told me I can't be a christian if I vote for a democrat ...or obama.." may make you the darling of the blueoregon crowd but is also shameful and pathetic. Lastly, all Christians and churchgoers are NOT right wing zealots who let their pastor or God or anyone else cast their votes for them...thats what we call 'crap'

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              South Carolina Roman Catholic Priest Says No Communion For Obama Voters


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              Republican Priest Offers Partisan Prayer


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              I would recommend in the future you study the issue before weighing in. There are plenty of other examples, including Jerry Falwell's 2004 comments that you can't be a Christian and vote for democrats and Liberty University's decision to ban a Democratic Party student club.

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      The truth is jarring, Mr. Cox. Jesus has, indeed, been hijacked, kidnapped and coerced into service by far right religious extremists. There is no "balance" or "empathy" involved. It's simply a fact. Modern American Christianity has been subverted by the Republican Party and other extremists into serving as a political tool. It's not hard to understand or see.

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      Jesus was hijacked by the bishops and the Roman Empire early in the 4th century. The prince of peace, scolder of the rich and powerful, and champion of the individual's divinity has used ever since to support entrenched power, greed, hierarchy, war, and religious dogma.

      The US Christian right covers no new ground. They combine the puritanism of the witch burners, the economic selfishness of the Calvinists, and the proclivity to warfare of the Crusaders.

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    What I don't like is that faith in the public sphere always seems to be an all or nothing equation. On one side, one's religion should be used to judge (and often condemn) everything and everyone else. On the other end, religion shouldn't be mentioned in public, as if it is four-letter word. Neither of those is acceptable because both entail judging of others. In this case, it also means deciding what others should and should not hear on our public airwaves, based on our own point of view and beliefs. From a progressive point of view, how is that any different from the ultra-conservative outlets and orgs who so heavily edit and censor content to match its ideology?

    One of the major touted differences between those communities and liberal, progressive ones is that we are capable of making up our own minds based on information in front of us, and should be allowed to do so.

    I don't care if I am of a Christian-based faith or not; I don't want my media to determine for me, what information I have in front of me.

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    Well, KINK was smart to listen to their customers. If I'm not mistaken, KINK is a business depending on listeners to support their advertisers which they won't do if they stop listening or don't like the advertisers. Is that right or do they get funding some other way?

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      Yes, KINK does get money in another way. They use the publicly owned airways at no charge - which is a form of massive corporate welfare.

      Regardless, I would hope that profit motive alone is not what motivates any business. The common good of the community should be of concern and I think with KINK it always has been even as I disagree with them on this subject.

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        Yes Chuck you hit the nail right on the head ...it's all corporate welfare ... HELLO?!! Radio stations have licenses for those airwaves and while they do not pay the way you would like them too. What they sell is airtime, and once it's gone it's gone forever. What they do in exchange for those airwaves is they give back a big part of their inventory that could be sold to generate revenues, back to the community in the form of community announcements, spots informing people about local events etc. You can't possibly be this thick

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    I have been hearing these ads, along with UCC and FFRF ads, on KPOJ AM620 (Portland's Progressive Talk Station!) for a while, and I know I heard the Saving Jesus ad yesterday (Sunday) KPOJ is owned by Clear Channel, not Entercom, it would be interesting to hear from their management about this issue, and what their policy is. Kari, perhaps you could discuss this on-air with Carl Wolfson this week?

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    When I hear the word 'Jesus', I immediately feel like I am back in christian middle or high school. It is not the best feeling.

    Then I feel like I have already made up my mind how I feel about Jesus and I wish I didn't have to think about it any more since it feels like any opinion at all is a choice of enemies, which isn't really an uplifting thought.

    Then I hear that Jesus may have been kidnapped and held hostage by the christian right and that what the secular left (me) has done is possibly worse, and I feel like I am in the middle of someone else's argument and that people I like who are conservative christian are being called out and berated in front of me.

    But of course then I have to agree that the christian right is pretty scary, but that kind of makes it worse, since it forces me to pick a side when I really don't care about the details of other people's faith or want to think about it at all.

    And I feel like I am not even very engaged with the issue.

    It makes me glad I don't listen to broadcast radio or watch tv. I can decide for myself when I am up to thinking about stressful subjects.

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      My point isn't that we shouldn't have religious ads or that religious topics shouldn't be discussed in public. Just that I can see why people were upset by this ad. And frankly, I can see why the stations reacted to this sentiment by removing the ad so people would continue to want to listen to their already advertising filled broadcasts.

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    As bad as some right-wing Christian media is, tune into 1330 "The Truth" sometime and catch a dose of what full out theocracy would taste like right here in River City.

    They bill themselves the "God and Country Station" without one hint of irony. Again proving Sinclair Lewis right -- "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross."

    He just had the order wrong.

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    Profit is what motivates us all, isn't it? Whether personal or monetary? What motivates you?

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      What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

      • Micah 6:6 NRSV

      “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

      • Luke 4:18-19 (NRSV)
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    That's what motivates you? Righteous! But is that what should motivate business? Those things motivate me too. But as you can see, it is still for personal gain.

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      No, it isn't. It is for the gain of the community. There is no such thing as an individual Christian. We are all one in Christ Jesus (Paul).

      As for business, I don't expect business (or government) to follow my faith by I do know that business and government fail when the common good isn't taken care of.

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      There are levels and levels of personal gain at play here.

      The gains that many large businesses had during the last century were immense, yet they still managed to provide health benefits and retirement pensions for their workers. The gains in the last few decades by large businesses are even more immense, and yet, rather then returning some of this to the community (Sort of like a farmer returning seed to the field after harvest) they cut benefits and increase profits.

      Do you see the difference? In the former scenario, the business stayed profitable, the community profited, and everyone advanced. In the latter only a increasingly fewer advance.

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    Chuck, thanks for bringing this up. I have not been able to stomach any type of Christianity, even though several members of my family practice various forms of it and I cannot join them because of the association with the religious right. Last time I went to church with my dad, the pastor's wife spent the women's bible study hour preaching "obey your husband" to all the ladies. Eventually, long after I refused to attend again, the women of that church drove out that pastor because he failed to appreciate that women were who ran the church (and did all the fundraising).

    Catholicism is out - especially after the archbishop up in Portland started telling our catholic charities they couldn't accept United Way money b/c United Way also supported sexuality education programs and health care services (but NOT abortion) through Planned Parenthood. Of course, the Pope alienates me left and right. My (Jewish) spouse at the tender age of 6 was told in a neighborhood christian summer bible study that his people "killed Jesus". And for several decades the religious right has worked against every family value I hold dear while promoting policies of exclusion and righteousness.

    So I definitely think progressive Christianity has a place on the air, and would suspect that participation in organized religion would increase if those religions focused more on the fundamentals of love, acceptance and charity, rather than self righteous rejection and judgment of others.

    I remember a passage in reference to obeying civil laws and paying one's taxes -- “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s" (Matthew 22:21, per Wikipedia), meaning that matters of the world are governed by human institutions, while matters of the spirit are the domain of the spiritual world (which I took to mean separation between church and state).

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      Separation of Church and State is actually an Enlightenment idea (Jefferson). In the passage you mentioned Jesus was telling the Roman occupiers of Israel that nothing in reality belonged to Caesar (who claimed Lordship) but that all belonged to God and that we are simply entrusted with what has been given and that the most important task given to us is to do justice on behalf of the oppressed.

      Like you, I feel like the Religious Right has worked against nearly everything I believe in.

      But here's some good news to end on: conservative Christians opposed to abortion are now working with pro-choice leaders to limit the need for abortion by making more programs available to women who want to kept their child (no one should be forced to have an abortion because of finances - then it isn't really a choice). Growing numbers of evangelicals are coming to the conclusion that stewardship of Creation includes fighting global climate change. And the National Association of Evangelicals joined the mainline National Council of Churches to promote the NEW Start Treaty to limit nuclear arms. The Roman Catholic Church has led the fight for the DREAM Act and other immigration reform measures. Maybe the culture wars are starting to finally come to an end (or at least we can start to see light at the end of the tunnel).

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    It may be worthwhile to let musicians who do promos for KINK know about this.

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