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Churches spar with media over advertising

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It doesn't mention God, or Jesus. But it does speak of finding "real truth" in a world of media noise and political spin. That was enough to keep the advertisement for a Bible out of Rolling Stone magazine.

As religion moves more overtly into public life, its reception in the major media has not always been warm.

Churches and religious publishers reaching out to the "unchurched" - those who may be spiritually inclined but institutionally alienated - are finding that some media are rejecting their advertising dollars. The United Church of Christ (UCC) and the United Methodist Church (UMC) have been told "no," as has Zondervan, the leading Bible publisher.

Media outlets have the right to decide what they publish or broadcast, but religious groups say the media are practicing a form of censorship that is keeping them out of the marketplace of ideas. This is not fair, they say, nor does it fulfill the media's responsibility to the public.

"Persons are battered with thousands of images a day. It's important for the church to be able to provide images of hope, comfort, and a positive sense of meaning," says Steven Drachler, UMC communications director.

Zondervan saw Rolling Stone as "the perfect vehicle" to reach its target audience of young adults, aged 18 to 34, for the largest Bible launch in its history. In February, the firm introduces a new Bible translation, Today's New International Version (TNIV), in contemporary language.

"We learned in research that it was that age group that most resonated with the TNIV," says Doug Lockhart, Zondervan's vice president for marketing. "We are confused about the rejection, because we placed the ad with Rolling Stone last June, and it was clear it was a Bible ad."

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