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Televangelism

TELEVANGELISM

TELEVANGELISM. As television became a staple of American culture in the second half of the twentieth century, a growing number of Protestant preachers embraced the new mass medium to deliver their messages. Catholics, too, took to the airwaves, most famously in the person of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, who utilized the new medium of television to demonstrate the compatibility of American culture and Catholic faith. Televangelism emerged after World War II as an outgrowth of evangelicalism, a type of Protestant religion based on the idea that people needed to open their hearts and redirect their wills toward Christ, not only to secure an eternal place in heaven, but also to better their lives on earth. While evangelicals point to the New Testament story of Jesus commissioning disciples as the origin of their movement, modern evangelicalism emerged in eighteenth-century Britain and North America in the context of a burgeoning market economy. Preachers skilled at awakening religious feelings in their audiences used open-air stages to promote their beliefs and to enact the emotional process of repentance for sin and heartfelt commitment to God.

The foremost evangelical predecessor of televangelists was the Anglican preacher George Whitefield, an actor before his conversion, whose combination of religious fervor, theatrical flair, and marketing genius made him the most celebrated figure in America in the decades preceding the American Revolution. One of the first entrepreneurs to cultivate publicity for his performances through the fast-growing newspaper medium, Whitefield drew large audiences to his sermons, which included tearful reenactments of the lives of biblical characters. These gatherings, where rich and poor, slave and free, men and


women rubbed shoulders, exerted a democratizing force, although Whitefield himself never condemned the institution of slavery and was a latecomer to the cause of American independence.

As evangelicalism developed in America, African Americans contributed elements of African religious tradition, such as spirit possession, call and response, and the five-tone musical scale, to the repertoire of evangelical performance. In nineteenth century America evangelicalism was often associated with social reform, especially antislavery, education, and temperance. In the early twentieth century, however, evangelicalism became increasingly tied to conservative politics, fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible, and hostility to liberal forms of Protestant theology and social reform. When Billy Graham began to make use of television in the 1950s, evangelicalism was almost as closely identified with anticommunism as it was with personal salvation.

The most famous televangelist of the twentieth century, Graham turned from radio to television to broadcast his message. Combining fervent preaching, heart-melting music, and personal testimonies from successful people, Graham's crusades traveled around the country and eventually around the world, carrying the evangelical mix of religious outreach, theatrical entertainment, and creative entrepreneurship to new levels of sophistication. Graham's evident personal integrity and continual prayers for the spiritual guidance of political leaders led to his visibility as a respected public figure and to his role as counselor to several American presidents.

Televangelism boomed in the 1970s and 1980s, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) changed its policy of mandating free time for religious broadcasts to allow stations to accept money for religious programs. This regulatory change inspired more than a few preachers to use television as a means of funding their ministries. Oral Roberts sought funds for the development of the City of Faith Medical and Research Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, by introducing the concept of "seed faith," a means by which viewers might reap miracles from God in their own lives by donating to Roberts's ministry. In The Hour of Power, broadcast from the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California, Robert Schuller preached about the power of positive thinking, offering viewers the chance to purchase membership in his Possibility Thinkers Club along with a mustard seed cross as a sign of their faith. Pat Robertson's success in introducing a talk-show format to showcase interviews with people testifying to the power of faith led to the purchase of his own network, the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), which funded his bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988.

Televangelists' power to generate money contributed to the formation of conservative political constituencies, like Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition led by Robertson and Ralph Reed, which influenced public policy and political rhetoric in the United States. At the same time the money in televangelism stimulated various forms of corruption and scandal, leading to deepening distrust of televangelists on one hand and to more rigorous forms of accounting on the other.

In the 1990s and the early years of the twenty-first century televangelism grew along with communications technology and the increasing pluralism of American religious life. Satellite, cable, and Internet technologies offered new opportunities for evangelical outreach and made increasingly sophisticated forms of presentation readily available. This technological expansion fostered the development of niche programming—shows devoted to biblical prophecy, for example—as well as the extension of televangelism's mix of entertainment, self-promotion, and missionary outreach to other groups—for example, Catholics advocating devotion to Mary through dramatic reenactments of their own piety. As televangelism diversified, the distinctively Protestant character of its message blurred. Televangelism's success compromised Protestant evangelicalism's exclusive claim to salvation.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Alexander, Bobby C. Televangelism Reconsidered: Ritual in the Search for Human Community. Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1994.

Balmer, Randall. Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America. Expanded ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Schmidt, Rosemarie, and Joseph F. Kess. Television Advertising and Televangelism: Discourse Analysis of Persuasive Language. Philadelphia: J. Benjamins Publishing, 1986.

Schultze, Quentin J. Televangelism and American Culture: The Business of Popular Religion. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1991.

Stout, Harry S. The Divine Dramatist: George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1991.

AmandaPorterfield

See alsoEvangelicalism and Revivalism ; Protestantism ; Religion and Religious Affiliation ; Television: Programming and Influence .

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televangelist

tel·e·van·ge·list / ˌteləˈvanjəlist/ • n. an evangelical preacher who appears regularly on television to preach and appeal for funds. DERIVATIVES: tel·e·van·gel·i·cal / ˌteləˌvanˈjelikəl/ adj. tel·e·van·ge·lism / -ˌlizəm/ n.

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televangelist

televangelist chiefly in the US, an evangelical preacher who appears regularly on television to promote beliefs and appeal for funds.

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televangelist

televangelistbacklist, blacklist •handlist • cabbalist • cellist • checklist •playlist • wish-list •cartophilist, necrophilist, oenophilist (US enophilist) •nihilist • pugilist • homilist •bicyclist, tricyclist •stylist • cyclist • unicyclist •motorcyclist • hairstylist • shortlist •Gaullist, holist •spiritualist • fabulist •funambulist, noctambulist, somnambulist •oculist • populist •idealist, realist, surrealist •millennialist •ceremonialist, colonialist, neocolonialist •aerialist •editorialist, memorialist •industrialist •immaterialist, imperialist, materialist, serialist •trialist, violist •loyalist, royalist •dualist, duellist (US duelist) •intellectualist • conceptualist •textualist • mutualist • individualist •sensualist • contextualist •diabolist, kabbalist •cymbalist, symbolist •tribalist •herbalist, verbalist •medallist (US medalist) •feudalist • triumphalist • legalist •evangelist, televangelist •syndicalist • clericalist • physicalist •vocalist • animalist • maximalist •formalist • minimalist •analyst, annalist, cryptanalyst, panellist (US panelist), psychoanalyst •nominalist, phenomenalist •finalist, semi-finalist •communalist • regionalist •internationalist, nationalist, rationalist •sectionalist • conventionalist •Congregationalist, conversationalist, educationalist, representationalist, sensationalist •traditionalist • emotionalist •constitutionalist • functionalist •journalist, paternalist, photojournalist •papalist •monopolist, oligopolist •centralist •amoralist, moralist •oralist • neutralist •muralist, pluralist, ruralist •liberalist • naturalist • structuralist •agriculturalist, horticulturalist, multiculturalist •federalist • generalist •multilateralist, unilateralist •literalist • universalist •substantialist • specialist •consequentialist, essentialist, existentialist •racialist • provincialist • socialist •controversialist •catalyst, philatelist •documentalist, environmentalist, experimentalist, fundamentalist, instrumentalist, mentalist, orientalist, ornamentalist, sentimentalist, transcendentalist •fatalist • capitalist •recitalist, vitalist •Pentecostalist • anecdotalist •brutalist • medievalist •revivalist, survivalist •novelist

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