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Times-Dispatch Accepts Ad; Publisher Apologizes

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A newspaper employee then called Crisp, telling him the ad would not be published unless the phrases "Jesus-loving"and "Pray about it" were removed. Crisp says he asked to speak to a supervisor, who said the same thing. A few hours later the supervisor called back, Crisp says, and told him that Media General's attorney had affirmed her decision.

"What blows my mind," Crisp wrote in an e-mail he sent to friends, "is this: This paper prints so-called 'personal' ads where people can openly advertise that they are looking for homosexual sex or adulterous relationships. ... but according to them I can't describe our church as 'Jesus-loving.' That just doesn't make much sense to me!"

Crisp sent the e-mail, describing the incident, to about 150 people in his address book Dec. 6, with an invitation to forward the message along. Within 48 hours, he says, he'd received responses from as far away as Hong Kong, India and the Netherlands. Christian radio stations and the Christian Broadcasting Network took notice too.

Six days later, Times-Dispatch publisher Tom Silvestri called Crisp to apologize for the paper's initial decision. Silvestri said the classified staff and the attorney had interpreted company policy too narrowly, Crisp relates. Apparently, T-D lawyers thought the ad violated the Equal Employment Opportunity Act. The newspaper offered to run the ad at no cost. "He has been very gracious," Crisp says of Silvestri.

As of last week, the ad appeared in its entirety in the newspaper's classifieds, with one word added to the beginning: "Vibrant growing happy Jesus-loving congregation in Mechanicsville …."

Kent Willis, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia, thought the incident was an interesting one. In saying "Jesus-loving," he points out, "they're simply describing the church. … The Times-Dispatch definitely overreacted."

A spokeswoman referred to an e-mail Silvestri sent Dec. 14, in which he wrote, "We don't always score 100 percent with the many decisions we make at the RTD. Our folks were well intentioned in making a cautious decision in a litigious society, but upon further review there was nothing wrong with the ad."

The flap over the ad is a testament that "the name of Jesus is a powerful name," Crisp says. There's nothing wrong with free religious expression, he says, "as long as that freedom is extended to those of us who want to worship the Lord." — Melissa Scott Sinclair

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