Since Nov. 17, the millions of New York City residents have been given the chance to view the United Methodist Church’s Thanksgiving message of hope and reconciliation through the 7,000 square foot central billboard of the Reuters building. The UMC’s television advertisement, entitled, “The Gift” is scheduled to run 10 times daily through Nov. 30.
The Rev. Larry Hollon, top executive with the denomination’s communications agency said he was glad to see the message of hope, faith and reconciliation back on its original schedule, despite initial controversy.
"People are searching for a way to fill the hole in their soul that is not being filled by material goods. This message speaks to that need," said Hollon.
The initial contract signed between the UMC and the Reuters News Service to display the $30,000 commercial, was rejected under the claims that the message violated the Reuters’ policy against religious or political advertisement. However, following the breach, several church groups across the nation including UMC officials, expressed concern about being discriminated against.
The prime argument was made under the fact that companies that serves alcohol or other products were given an unfair advantage to advertise in the public marketplace.
After several days, Reuters’ London-based chief executive Thomas H. Glocer reversed the company’s policy.
"Your proposed advertisement and the evolution of our business has given us cause to reconsider our position," Glocer wrote to Hollon.
The international media giant will now allow faith-based advertising as long as the commercial include a prominently placed disclaimer showing that it is "paid advertising."
Hollon is pleased that "The Gift" will be on the billboard during this season of gift-giving and at a time of high traffic in the Times Square area. But, he also expressed disappointment in Reuters’ disclaimer requirement of "paid commercial advertisement, which is unlike any of the other advertisers on the board, signaling out our ad for distinction."
The disclaimer placed on church advertising shows that faith-related commercials are still treated differently from the other forms of commercial speech that Reuters accepts, he said.
"People who see a beer advertisement and are sophisticated enough to know that it is not endorsed by Reuters would be sophisticated enough to understand that Reuters is not endorsing a religious message as well," Hollon added.
Nonetheless, Hollon called the policy reversal a “victory for the church and the believers.
It shows that "our argument that we ought to at least be allowed to advertise is reasonable,” said Hollon.
Diversity is important, Hollon said, and "as we protect the diversity of opinions in the society, a victory like this is really a victory for democratic free speech in the commercial marketplace."
"Life is not simply about getting and spending," Hollon continued.
"Life can be measured by how we care for each other and how we nurture each other. That is why it is important that this message be in this place at this time."