An ecumenical Christian body launched a TV ad campaign over the weekend opposing war against Iraq.
“The National Council of Churches, during this time of war-mongering, has decided to do some peace-mongering,” said Pat Pattillo, associate general secretary and director of communication of the National Council of Churches USA, in a phone interview from New York City with EthicsDaily.com.
“We’ve created leverage here by being smart,” he said, referring to the NCC’s new 30-second ad that first appeared on television last Friday.
The ad features actress Janeane Garofalo and Bishop Melvin Talbert of the United Methodist Church, the denomination to which President Bush belongs.
“If we invade Iraq, there’s a United Nations estimate that says there will be up to half a million people killed or wounded,” says Garofalo in the ad. “Do we have the right to do that to a county that’s done nothing to us?”
“No nation under God has that right,” answers Talbert. “It violates international law. It violates God’s law. War only creates more terrorists and makes a dangerous world for our children.”
A title then appears on-screen: “Why Rush to War? Let the Inspections Work.”
“The NCC likes to think it is acting in the biblical tradition and the Old Testament prophets, who had a habit of saying the strong things to the rulers when they felt the train was off the track,” said Pattillo. “They frequently shouted.”
The ad is “a jeremiad, if you will,” said Pattillo. And it’s in the modern equivalent of the town square: television.
The ad will continue to run this week on CNN and Fox cable networks in New York and Washington. The media buy isn’t national because of cost, Pattillo said.
Pattillo said MSNBC will carry the ad in a news segment, and that’s exactly what the NCC had hoped for: free exposure.
Pattillo also said some local communities have asked for permission to run the ad if they can raise the money to buy the advertising time.
The ad “really comes across very warm but very firm,” said Pattillo. Talbert “has a gentle spirit, so when he speaks firmly, you pay attention.”
“We chose a man whose integrity is above reproach and who represents the largest constituency of the National Council of Churches,” Pattillo said. He was referring to members of the United Methodist Church. The UMC, Presbyterian Church USA and Evangelical Lutheran Church of America form the “big three” of the NCC.
The NCC represents 33 other communions, accounting for 50 million people in 140,000 local congregations across America.
“The hardening of the categories between and among denominations has prevented a lot of things from happening,” said Pattillo. “Ad hoc organizations can step into the gap and do a lot of things.”
“Procedurally, we’re doing what the ecumenical organization was designed to do—something for Jesus’ sake,” Pattillo told EthicsDaily.com.
Pattillo said Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and American Baptists often can’t take unpopular positions alone, “but when they work together they can have a lot more impact and command the attention of public leaders.”
The Southern Baptist Convention is not a member denomination of the NCC.
“This is a world unknown to most Southern Baptists,” said Pattillo. “What they think they know about it is often inaccurate.”
Pattillo himself is a Baptist from the South. His first church experience came under Baptist Faith and Message author Herschel Hobbs, his pastor at Dauphin Way Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala.
After graduate work in journalism, Pattillo spent 29 years in news and public relations work at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Samford University.
He’s been with NCC since 2000, where the work has been “fascinating” and “wonderful.”
Nevertheless, “It’s a very hectic time,” he said, referring to the recent blitz of attention and scrutiny that has filled his e-mail inbox with 6,100 messages. “We’re working two shifts here. We’re a small communications team, but we can roar like a lion.”
That roar is being heard along the eastern seaboard in strong and important TV markets.
“Advocacy through advertising is new to the church,” Pattillo said. He added, however, that it is an effective way to get a public hearing in a crowded world.
Pattillo said the NCC has engaged a larger campaign to “slow the rush to war or at least open the conversation.” That campaign has included a humanitarian mission to Iraq, prayer vigils, marches, official statements. NCC General Secretary Bob Edgar appeared on various national TV and radio programs as a result.
“You get in the game,” Pattillo said. “The idea is, if we can get in the game, we think our point of view is rather sound. We think it will stand the test of scrutiny.”
Cliff Vaughn is BCE’s associate director for EthicsDaily.com.
Click here to view the TV ad.