Religious Broadcasting

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RELIGIOUS BROADCASTING . The sophistication, diversification, and influence of religious broadcasting are greatly underappreciated dimensions of the global religious scene at the beginning of the twenty-first century. From India to Europe and from Latin America to the United States, religious broadcasting has become a dominant purveyor of religious teaching and entertainment for vast numbers of the world's population. According to a 2002 report by the respected Barna Research Group, more adults141 millionexperience the Christian faith in a given month in the United States through Christian radio, television, or books than attend Christian churches (132 million). Breaking this finding down, the report discovered that 52 percent of American adults had tuned into a Christian radio program in the previous month, that 38 percent of these listeners tuned in to a teaching, preaching, or talk show program; and that 43 percent of this population had listened to a Christian music station. The survey observed that women and African Americans were overrepresented among these listeners to Christian radio. Forty-three percent of all adultssome 90 million peoplewere watching Christian television or programming in a given month, about the same number of people who attend Christian churches in any given week. Somewhat surprisingly, more than fifteen million atheists, agnostics, and adult members of non-Christian faiths had some degree of exposure to the Christian faith through various forms of religious broadcasting.

Though precise figures are not available for other regions of the world, the ubiquity of religious programming on satellite broadcasts reaching every continent in the world attests to the fact that religious broadcasting is a phenomenon to be reckoned with by any student of contemporary religion. This influence has been greatly augmented since the 1990s by the growth of religious internet sites and programming. The dominance of religious broadcasting is a tale of entrepreneurism, audacity, competition, zeal, scandal, and triumph. Although this medium has its critics and detractors, both religious and secular, its explosive growth and influence show no signs of diminishing for the foreseeable future.


The origins of religious broadcasting reach back into the early days of radio in the United States. The first station to receive a radio license from the U.S. Department of Commerce, KDKA Pittsburgh, broadcast the Sunday evening vespers service of the Calvary Episcopal Church choir on January 2, 1921. Although the audience for the program was only in the thousands, the broadcast became a fixture of the station's Sunday evening programming schedule. Soon, the entrepreneurial spirit of America combined with the growing appeal of radio and the missionary zeal of evangelical Christianity to launch dozens of radio ministries.

The evangelist Paul Rader (18791938), pastor of the Chicago Gospel Tabernacle, was among the first to recognize the potential of radio to preach the gospel. In the summer of 1922, Rader brought a brass quartet to the roof of city hall and preached a sermon in a makeshift studio on local station WHT. The success of this cameo appearance encouraged Rader to reach an agreement with radio station WBBM to broadcast fourteen hours of religious programming every Sunday. Rader called his once-a-week station WJBT (Where Jesus Blesses Thousands). WJBT's broadcasts included the Sunday evening worship service at Gospel Tabernacle, choral performances, organ concerts, and popular shows such as the Healing Hour, the Back Home Hour, and the Bible Drama Hour. Rader discovered that many of his radio listeners wanted to hear him preach live and that the radio ministry increased attendance at Gospel Tabernacle. Rader's pioneering efforts in creating a diverse programming format and in partnering radio ministries with local churches would have an immense influence on subsequent generations of broadcast evangelists. Rader was aware of the medium's limitations, however, and he warned that radio did not substitute for a community that gathered to worship, sing, pray, and bear mutual joys and sorrows.

Aimee Semple McPherson (18901944) was another popular Christian evangelist of the 1920s who saw the potential of radio to spread her message. In 1922 she became the first woman to broadcast a sermon over the radio waves. A year later her Santa Monicabased church, the Angelus Temple, inaugurated the five-hundred-watt station KFSG (Kalling Foursquare Gospel). The station was the first in the nation to be owned and operated by a church. During the 1920s, KFSG broadcast the Angelus Temple's worship services to listeners who crowded into tents set up in nearby suburbs of Los Angeles, such as Venice and Pasadena. In the unregulated early days of radio broadcasting, McPherson and others arbitrarily changed their broadcast frequencies. This practice drew the ire of Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover in 1927. In response, the colorful McPherson sent Hoover a telegram stating, "Please order your minions of Satan to leave my station alone. You cannot expect the Almighty to abide by your wavelength nonsense" (Erickson, 1992, p. 127). This salvo was the first in what would become a long-standing battle between federal broadcast communications regulators and the entrepreneurs of religious broadcasting.

Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists were not the only religious ministries to recognize the potential of radio outreach during the 1920s. The Unity School of Christianity, a New Thoughtinfluenced religious organization in Kansas City, Missouri, inaugurated radio broadcasts on station WOQ in 1922 and purchased the station in 1924. In 1927 the Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis (AMORC), a popular purveyor of Western occultism, purchased radio station WJBB in Tampa and began broadcasting a mixture of drama, choral music, metaphysical discourses, and news. AMORC's imperator, Harvey Spencer Lewis (18831939), became a pioneer in short-wave religious broadcasting and aired WJBB's programs throughout North and South America as well as the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe. His station was also the first to sponsor listener call-in programs and morning birthday announcements.

The 1920s and 1930s were a time of acrimony between fundamentalist and modernist Christians in the United States. Both factions sought to control the radio airwaves, and the early winners were the modernists. The U.S. Congress established the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) in 1927, and new regulations issued by the commission for licensed stations effectively closed down over half of the nation's radio ministries, many of them fundamentalist in orientation. Between 1927 and 1934, a movement emerged to reserve certain sections of the radio broadcast spectrum for educational, noncommercial, and religious programming. The Wagner-Hatfield Amendment to the Communications Act of 1934 would have implemented this spectrum allocation. The amendment failed, however, and a compromise plan allowed secular networks such as CBS and NBC to allocate a given amount of free airtime each week to public-interest programming in place of losing entire segments of the radio broadcast spectrum. These allocations were called "sustaining time."

Following passage of the Communications Act of 1934, religious groups across the fundamentalist-modernist spectrum sought a share of the free time allotted by the major networks. When it became apparent that there were more applicants than airtime, the networks and representatives of major national religious bodies such as the Southern Baptist Convention, the Federal Council of Churches, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and the National Council of Catholic Men agreed to sort out the competing claims in an equitable manner. The effect of this agreement was to shut out independent evangelicals and fundamentalists who were not represented by national groups. Mainline denominations defended their monopoly of the networks' sustaining-time slots by claiming a national constituency for their programs, in contrast to the regional constituencythe Bible Beltof fundamentalist programming. Both individual denominations and parachurch groups produced a variety of programming in the sustaining-time slots. This programming ranged from the broadcast of local worship services to instructional documentaries, sermons, and discussions of issues by prominent religious figures.

The sustaining-time monopoly forced independent evangelicals and fundamentalists to purchase commercial time from such networks as the Mutual Broadcasting Network and the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). The most successful of the independent evangelical programs was Charles E. Fuller's (18871968) Old Fashioned Revival Hour. Fuller began his broadcasting career in the 1920s, teaching Bible classes over the Bible Institute of Los Angeles's privately owned radio station. By 1930, Fuller's Calvary Church Sunday worship service was being broadcast locally, along with a popular phone-in show during which Fuller answered listener questions. In 1933 Fuller decided to concentrate his entire efforts on his radio ministry and its flagship program, Radio Revival Hour. Through judicious agreements with regional networks, Fuller's program was soon being heard throughout the western United States. In 1937 the Mutual Broadcasting System purchased the renamed Old Fashioned Revival Hour for national broadcast. By 1939 the show had ten million weekly listeners, who were organized into a loose-knit group of financial supporters. The program featured popular gospel songs performed by a professional choir, Fuller's homespun homilies, and a reading of letters from listeners who had been led to God through the broadcast. The ministry's global listenership peaked at twenty million during the 1940s and aired over powerful AM stations in Europe, South America, and Asia in subsequent years. Fuller set the pattern for future independent broadcast ministries that were wholly listener supported and that were focused on personal conversion.

Another consequence of the sustaining-time monopoly was the formation of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) in 1942. The association's mission was to protect evangelical radio ministries like that of Fuller and to promote the interests of independent fundamentalists and evangelicals at the national level. The immediate catalyst for NAE's formation was a set of recommendations published by the Institute of Education by Radio, an independent group of academics whose charge was to monitor radio ministries. The large radio networks paid close attention to the Institute's criticism of Charles Fuller's broadcasts and to its recommendation to limit commercial religious programming on their networks. In response to this threat, over 150 conservative radio ministries formed NAE and two years later organized National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) as the official broadcasting arm of NAE. Since then NRB has been instrumental in lobbying Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (which replaced the Federal Radio Commission in 1934) on behalf of its member organizations. Members of NRB adopt a code of ethics that obligates them to maintain the highest technical standards for their programming, to obey governmental regulations, and to adopt high standards of financial accountability. The body's efforts have helped establish numerous independent broadcasting ministries on a solid financial footing and encouraged them to improve their programming quality.

A major change in radio evangelism occurred in the 1970s, when 75 percent of the listening audience shifted to FM stations. This left older, less affluent listeners with AM radio evangelists like those documented by Howard Dorgan in his book, The Airwaves of Zion: Radio and Religion in Appalachia. These ministries are run largely by independent Holiness-Pentecostals who have little formal theological training. Their style of preaching is highly emotional, unstructured, and reliant on the inspiration of the moment. They attack everything from lottery sales to roadhouses and from homosexuality to alcohol sales. Some ministries include in their programs recitations of long lists of people in need of prayer. These AM radio preachers can be heard on Sundays and weekdays throughout the United States, but especially in the Southeast. Although these ministries have difficulties attracting advertisers because of their elderly audience profile, they have survived into the twenty-first century on freewill offerings and constitute one of the most durable formats in the history of religious broadcasting in America.

The Rise of Television

With the coming of television in the 1940s, the competition between fundamentalists and modernists became even more intense. Each faction recognized the tremendous cultural influence the medium would have and the promise it held for religious outreach. The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) superseded the old Federal Council of Churches in 1950 and immediately sought to limit television access to those ministries approved of by its member churches. The NCC also requested that the major broadcast networks refuse to sell commercial airtime to religious ministries and that they accept the guidance of the NCC's Broadcast and Film Commission in creating and allotting any sustaining-time programming. These actions succeeded in limiting religious programming on the major networks during the 1950s to the Sunday morning sustaining-time slots and a few other nationally syndicated broadcast ministries.

The three most significant independent television ministries of the 1950s were those of Rex Humbard (b. 1919), Oral Roberts (b. 1918), and Billy Graham (b. 1918). Humbard was an itinerant Pentecostal minister who settled in Akron, Ohio, after a successful revival there in 1952. He began to televise the Sunday worship service of his Calvary Temple on a local Akron station in 1953 with the intention of providing outreach to the sick and elderly. This concern for those unable to attend regular church services would become a common justification for subsequent television ministries nationwide. Humbard also pioneered the religious spectacle genre of programming. He built a five-thousand-seat church in 1958 that featured state-of-the-art camera, lighting, and sound equipment as well as a huge stage that accommodated an orchestra, a choir, and broadcasting personnel. Humbard's Cathedral of Tomorrow Sunday broadcasts featured his musical family and his own folksy sermons. The broadcast was essentially a praise and preaching program that highlighted God's love and forgiveness and avoided controversial political or doctrinal debates. By 1971 Humbard's ministry aired on 650 television and 700 radio stations in North America. The ministry would expand to Japan, Australia, Africa, and South America over the next decade. Popular televangelist Robert Schuller (b. 1926) followed in Humbard's footsteps in the late twentieth century with his upbeat and carefully choreographed Crystal Cathedral broadcasts.

Oral Roberts began his career as a Holiness-Pentecostal minister whose healing revivals took him throughout the South and Southwest. With encouragement from Rex Humbard, Roberts gained the financial backing to televise one of his healing crusades in 1955. Within three years, the crusades were being aired on network affiliates to a steadily growing national audience. Roberts was the creator of the live healing-revival format that later became the vehicle by which faith healers Kathryn Kuhlman (19071976) and Benny Hinn (b. 1953) rose to prominence. Using high-speed film to compensate for the low lighting inside his tent, Roberts's programs captured the drama and excitement of seemingly miraculous healings by the laying on of hands. Here was religious television that was inspiring, entertaining, and emotionally gripping. Roberts went on to become a successful author, university president, and founder of a broadcast dynasty that is now largely in the hands of his son, Richard Roberts (b. 1948). Oral Roberts also pioneered religious broadcasting's foray into the variety show format. His program, Oral Roberts and You, featured upbeat contemporary music, bright-faced young people, the highest technical standards, and a Bible-based sermon. Roberts also broadcast hour-long television specials that featured popular singers such as Minnie Pearl and Mahalia Jackson and was one of the first televangelists to preach the "prosperity gospel," which claimed that God's plan for humanity included both spiritual and material riches.

The popular evangelist Billy Graham came from a more conservative theological background (Presbyterian and Southern Baptist) than either Humbard or Roberts, and his use of television would also be more measured. He gained national fame in 1949 when a planned two-week revival in Los Angeles went on for two months and attracted the attention of the Hearst publishing empire. Beginning in 1950, Graham had his own nationally broadcast radio program, Hour of Decision, with an estimated listening audience of twenty million. Following an influential telecast of his crusade in England in 1955, Graham had the clout to arrange the broadcast of his Madison Square Garden Crusade on ABC in 1957. The spectacle of thousands responding to Graham's call for repentance and conversion made these broadcasts riveting television. For the rest of the twentieth century, Graham's crusades became a staple of religious television. They incorporated footage of crowds pouring into athletic stadiums, music and testimonials by popular artists, Graham's powerful sermons, and finally his call for members of the audience to "come forward to Christ." Although Graham never inaugurated a weekly television broadcast, his Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was influential in the formation of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, whose members pledge to abide by strict standards of financial accountability. His own association is a model of financial transparency and makes its yearly audit available to the public. The association's efforts have helped lift the stain of financial scandal that has plagued religious broadcasting ministries since the late 1970s.

While independent televangelists like Humbard, Roberts, and Graham were creating their media empires, mainstream ministries affiliated with the National Council of Churches created more conventional programming for use on Sunday morning sustaining-time slots. The most popular of these mainstream ministries was that of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen (18951979). Sheen was already an accomplished Roman Catholic author and speaker when he began The Catholic Hour radio program in 1930. This sustaining-time broadcast was aired on NBC radio and attracted millions of listeners. Sheen's first television appearance was on a historic Easter Sunday broadcast in 1940. It was not until the early 1950s, however, that he became a household fixture with his program Life Is Worth Living. The broadcast showcased Sheen's personal charisma, flair for the dramatic, and magisterial presence. Unlike the more conversion-focused broadcasts of Graham and Humbard, Sheen made Catholic moral teachings accessible to people from varied religious and secular backgrounds. His show was a success not only with Catholics but also with Protestants. The themes of his talkssin, guilt, redemption, motherhood, and personal responsibilitywere universal in scope and directed to everyman and everywoman. Sheen rejected the trappings of entertainment television and kept to a simple, dignified format. He began his program with a courtly bow and sat in a chair with only a blackboard, a table, and a Bible as props. For dramatic effect, he would sometimes pace the floor, allowing his clerical clothing to fall gracefully from his arms. He would also speak directly into the camera, giving viewers the sense that he was talking personally to them. Sheen's success as a television preacher demonstrated the significance of sheer personal charisma for building and maintaining a religious broadcasting ministry.

The Emergence of Independent Religious Networks

The most significant development in the United States between 1960 and 1990 was the creation of religious broadcasting networks such as Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), Praise the Lord Network (PTL), the Roman Catholic Eternal Word Television Network, LeSea Broadcasting, and Pax TV. These enterprises allowed for the development of diverse programming formats, nonstop religious television and radio coverage, and an expansion around the globe using satellite technology.

The forerunner for these ministries was Pat Robertson's (b. 1930) CBN. The network began with Robertson's purchase in 1959 of a UHF station in Portsmouth, Virginia. During the 1960s, CBN's programming was limited to a daily schedule airing between 7 and 10 p.m. The core program was The 700 Club, a talk show during which Robertson invited a host of evangelical authors and musical performers to discuss contemporary social, political, and religious issues. A live call-in segment invited those in need of healing to ask for prayer, exorcism, and words of encouragement from the show's hosts. Robertson began to operate television and FM radio stations throughout the United States in the late 1960s, and by the late 1970s he was sending CBN's programming via the Westar and RCA Satcom satellites to over sixty stations nationwide. The ministry employed a team of volunteer prayer counselors who worked twenty-four hours a day. These workers created a referral system that funneled new converts into local churches. Robertson retooled The 700 Club during the 1980s to resemble secular talk show and news magazine formats such as The Today Show and Good Morning America.

CBN has been a pioneer in the "media blitz," which saturates a given region over a concentrated time period with television programming, radio shows, videotapes, and literature. CBN's Worldreach partners with Christian ministries around the world to spread the gospel using media, discipleship, small-scale church planting, and humanitarian relief efforts. By the late 1990s, CBN International was broadcasting programming in ninety countries and in more than fifty languages. Robertson pioneered religious broadcasting in the Middle East with the launch, in 1982, of CBN's Channel 12/Middle East Television Network. In 1997 the network began broadcasting throughout the Middle East via satellite. Increasingly, other American broadcast ministries, many with millennial hopes, have targeted this biblical region. These include SAT-7, which transmits programming produced in Middle Eastern studios by Middle Eastern Christians in the Arabic language. This network is careful not to attack Islam directly and features culturally sensitive dramas, talk shows, children's programs, and musical programs.

Robertson's enterprises have set the standard for the religious broadcasting empires that have followed in CBN's wake. Robertson himself has been influential in the rise of the religious right as a political force in the United States. He and other broadcasters such as Jerry Falwell (b. 1933) have become respected spokespersons for the evangelical wing of the Republican Party.

Perhaps the most successful of the new broadcasting empires is the Trinity Broadcasting Network. From its humble beginnings in 1973, TBN has grown into a half-billion-dollar television empire that owns and operates over 22 full-power TV stations and over 500 low-power stations nationwide. By the beginning of the new millennium, the network's 3,500 cable affiliates allowed it to reach an audience estimated at thirty million daily. The ministry used twenty-six satellites to broadcast in twenty-four languages on every major continent. Trinity's programming is broadcast twenty-four hours a day and includes the biggest names in televangelism in its lineup. Founders Paul (b. 1934) and Jan Crouch come from Pentecostal backgrounds, and the Pentecostal worship style and theology pervades the network's programming. The network's signature program is the Praise the Lord show, which features both variety show and talk show formats. The Crouches cast a wide net and include a cross-section of America's most prominent Christian preachers and musicians on their program. The network has also perfected the biannual telethon, which raises funds for the maintenance and expansion of the ministry. TBN's international outreach has been augmented by its inauguration of TBN Enlace in 2002, which targets the growing Hispanic population of the United States.

Religious Broadcasting Globally

One of the most significant developments in religious broadcasting that has occurred since the mid-1980s is the rapid expansion of networks and programming around the world. Many of the longest-running broadcast ministries in Europe and Asia were radio-based. The earliest of these, HCJB, or the Voice of the Andes, began its short-wave broadcasts blanketing South America in 1931. At the start of the twenty-first century, it was operating three powerful short-wave transmitting stations that send out radio and television programming around the world in a variety of vernacular languages. Vatican Radio also transmitted its inaugural broadcast in 1931. Over the years, this Jesuit-run operation has expanded its programming to include a professional news service, sophisticated musical programs, daily mass, live coverage of papal audiences, and live video streaming of the pope reciting his Sunday Angelus prayers. The broadcasts are offered in thirty-four languages and are sent out on short and medium waves, satellites, and FM. The Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC) started its radio broadcasts in 1948 on a humble one-thousand-watt transmitter in the Philippines. By the 1950s, FEBC was broadcasting programs in thirty-six languages and dialects to the People's Republic of China and other Asian countries using megawatt transmitters. FEBC airs its Christian programming over thirty stations to Asia, eastern Europe, Australia, and Latin America. Trans World Radio (TWR) managed to break through the prohibitions against evangelical programming that European governments placed on their stations during the 1950s. The station purchased broadcasting rights in the principality of Morocco and began airing its programming throughout Europe on its new 100,000-watt short-wave transmitter in 1960. As the ministry expanded, the station built AM, long-wave, and short-wave transmitters and hired local religious leaders and musicians to produce programming in forty languages. Like FEBC, this station was successful in circumventing the jamming efforts of authorities in Communist countries. Today its broadcasts are global and reach almost 80 percent of the world's population with evangelical Christian programming.

The fall of Communism in eastern Europe (19891991) opened a new field for religious broadcasting ministries. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, a number of broadcasters were blanketing the former Soviet Union and its satellites. Among these is Agape Europe, an interdenominational Christian mission organization that distributes Christian television programming throughout eastern and western Europe, and United Christian Broadcasters Europe, which uses digital satellite and cable technology to broadcast preaching, Bible study, music, and world-affairs television programming across the United Kingdom, Ireland, and continental Europe. A major development for Europe occurred in 1990, when the British Parliament passed a law that opened the radio airwaves in Great Britain to independent religious broadcasters. In 1994, Premier Radio was one of the first evangelical ministries to receive an AM license. It now reaches a core audience of committed Christians in Great Britain with programming that expresses Christian values without alienating nonbelievers simply looking for a quality radio option.

Religious broadcasting is booming throughout the world at the dawn of the new millennium. Australia is served by more than 40 Christian radio stations, Latin America by more than 150 Christian TV stations and 1,000 radio stations, and Africa by a growing number of active media outlets. Islamic broadcasters, such as America's Nation of Islam, Egypt's Voice of the Holy Qurʾān, and Libya's Voice of Islam are becoming increasingly sophisticated both in their programming formats and technical expertise. In India all religious groups, including the Jains, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, and Hindus, have cable television channels that offer nonstop religious programming to their audiences. The range of shows includes everything from the sermons of Islamic clerics to the devotional songs of Hindu musicians and the healing crusades of Benny Hinn. Christian broadcasting still faces enormous challenges in countries such as Sri Lanka, China, Vietnam, and North Korea, where radio frequencies are jammed and broadcast licenses and air time are severely regulated by governmental agencies.

Critiques of Religious Broadcasting

A series of sexual and financial scandals rocked the religious broadcasting industry during the 1980s, and criticisms of television evangelists and their shows have come from across the conservative and liberal spectrum. These criticisms fall out along six principal axes.

First, commentators such as Quentin Schultze offer indictments of televangelism that are theological in focus. These critics allege that televangelism exploits well-intentioned but biblically illiterate believers by delivering a shallow "health and wealth" gospel in return for financial support. This indictment essentially charges that televangelists such as Kenneth Copeland (b. 1937), Robert Tilton (b. 1946), and Robert Schuller are distorters of the traditional gospel values of obedience to God, self-sacrifice, love for the poor, and a rejection of worldly fame and riches. In their growth to affluence, many televangelists have come to the view that material wealth is acceptable and desirable, and that listeners need only ask God for abundance, make a donation to their ministry, and wait for the money to begin rolling in. Gone, these critics charge, is the Protestant ethic that saw wealth as the fruit of diligent labor. Faith and Values Media, which is owned and operated by a coalition of mainstream Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Jewish, and Protestant churches, has attempted to address these concerns by eschewing the on-air solicitation of funds.

A second line of criticism concerns the dominance of Pentecostal Christianity in religious programmingand this form of Christianity's dualistic, apocalyptic worldview. This critique indicts religious broadcasting for its tendency to view individual and societal moral conflicts within the context of a cosmic war between Satan and God. In this dualistic conception of ultimate good and ultimate evil at war with each other, the ambiguities and subtleties of human moral behavior are left unexplored and absolute moral principles are definitively proclaimed. The tendency of programs such as Jack Van Impe Presents and Hal Lindsey to read current events through this dualistic lens, critics charge, often results in a jingoistic nationalism that demonizes Russians, Muslims, Palestinians, or Arabs, while blinding viewers to immoral actions by the U.S. government and its allies. The focus of many televangelists on eschatology and prophecy often leads to categorical condemnations of other nations and belief systems and a singular inability to reflect on the collective social injustices that plague American society. The news segments of many televangelistic programs unabashedly blur the distinctions between professional reporting and theologically biased commentary.

A third line of criticism concerns the format and medium of television itself. These criticisms allege that televangelism turns congregations into passive, unreflective audiences and the gospel into another form of popular entertainment. The concern is that the link between the gospel message and people's individual behavior may be lost in the glitz, glamour, and spectacle of many forms of religious programming. This criticism is linked to another line of concern, the possibility that "virtual" communities of believers following televangelist superstars may supersede the vital links of mutual support found in neighborhood church communities. The rise of the internet and of internet religious ministries has added to these fears of individual withdrawal from the close interpersonal interaction that is crucial for emotional health. This criticism acknowledges the demonstrably positive effect of religious broadcasting for shut-ins and handicapped persons unable to participate in local church communities. At the same time, however, it observes that televangelists do not counsel people with marital problems, bury their viewers' dead, visit the sick, or perform baptisms, all staples of a week in the life of a local pastor.

A fourth line of criticism has to do with the increasing influence that radio and television evangelists exercise over America's political process. This criticism voices concerns that the many religious broadcasters who support the Christian right's political and social program are turning the national airwaves into a platform for the Republican Party's political agenda. CBN's Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Focus on the Family 's James Dobson (b. 1936) are just a few examples of religious broadcasters who are using their ministries to create bases of electoral and financial support for conservative political candidates. Constitutional purists see this growing trend as an erosion of the Constitution's separation of church and state and as an unwarranted and illegal intrusion of traditionally nonpartisan (and tax-exempt) religious communities into the nation's political life.

A fifth line of criticism takes aim at the avowed goal of most broadcast ministriesbringing the gospel message to the unconverted. A preponderance of evidence indicates that most regular viewers and listeners already hold evangelical, fundamentalist, or very conservative religious beliefs. What this means is that while religious broadcasting likely reinforces the existing beliefs and behaviors of its viewers, it is not very successful at reaching the unconverted. In the end, religious broadcasting may be mostly an alternative media source for people of religious faith who cannot find other programs that conform to their values and tastes. Put another way, religious broadcasting may answer to a pressing need in society for programming that reflects the conservative, fundamentalist, and evangelical worldviews of a sizeable segment of the American population.

A sixth and final line of criticism pinpoints the anti-intellectualist biases of many religious programs. Broadcast preachers regularly ridicule liberal ministers who tolerate moral ambiguity or who fail to speak plainly and directly. They rarely address the traditional historical concerns of mainstream theologians and instead focus narrowly on personal salvation and the spiritual condition of the world. Religious broadcasters tend to be biblical inerrantists who condemn historical-critical methods of scriptural exegesis and read scripture literally. Critics claim that this anti-intellectual bias dissipates the strength of respected traditions of scholarship as well as the historical experience of Christian communities. It also leaves the religious broadcasting audience bereft of the critical faculties that are necessary to identify the various forms of political, social, and religious propaganda and hucksterism that saturate religious programming.

Religious broadcasting shows no signs of slowing down in the twenty-first century. Radio and television ministries continue to proliferate around the world, and cable television has greatly expanded their outreach to developed and developing countries alike. Religious broadcasting via the World Wide Web also continues to expand, allowing space for even more religious entrepreneurs to attract audiences and build their ministries. As geopolitical developments increasingly take on religious overtones, radio and television channels will become hotly contested sites. The future will likely see partisans of various religious ideologies vying for airtime and political sponsorship. Thus it will be interesting to watch the role of federal and national regulators of the airwaves in the religious battles of the future.


Bruce, Steve. Pray TV: Televangelism in America. New York, 1990. This useful volume employs surveys and other data to explode the myth that religious television is converting millions of people to evangelical Christianity.

Dorgan, Howard. The Airwaves of Zion: Radio and Religion in Appalachia. Knoxville, Tenn., 1993. This book is a well documented description and analysis of AM radio evangelism in Appalachia by a professor of communications at Appalachian State University.

Erickson, Hal. Religious Radio and Television in the United States, 19211991: The Programs and Personalities. Jefferson, N.C., 1992. Erickson's volume is a somewhat uneven encyclopedic treatment of various religious broadcasting personalities and ministries; valuable mainly for its information on less well known ministries.

Fishwick, Marshall, and Ray B. Brown, eds. The God Pumpers: Religion in the Electronic Age. Bowling Green, Ohio, 1987. Two critical observers of American popular culture examine the broadcast ministries of Billy Graham, Jimmy Swaggart, Jerry Falwell, Jim and Tammy Bakker, Terry Cole-Whittaker, Marilyn Hickey, Danuto Soderman, and Beverly LaHaye.

Hadden, Jeffrey, and Anson Shupe. Televangelism: Power and Politics on God's Frontier. New York, 1988. Two prominent sociologists use social movement theory to examine televangelists and their followers and the cultural revolution in America that they are creating.

Hadden, Jeffrey, and Charles E. Swann. Prime Time Preachers: The Rising Power of Televangelism. Reading, Mass., 1981. This book was one of the first in-depth sociological studies of the influence and future of televangelists such as Pat Robertson, Robert Schuller, and Oral Roberts.

Hangen, Tona J. Redeeming the Dial: Radio, Religion, and Popular Culture in America. Chapel Hill, N.C., 2002. This excellent historical volume traces how American evangelicals used radio during the mid-twentieth century to build a powerful national coalition and define the parameters of their theology.

Hoover, Stewart M. Mass Media Religion: The Social Sources of the Electronic Church. Newbury Park, Calif., 1988. This important sociological and historical study explores how the electronic church affects the way American culture addresses pressing issues such as drug addiction, racism, and mili-tarism.

Matelski, Marilyn J. Vatican Radio: Propagation by the Airwaves. Westport, Conn., 1995. The best historical study of HVJ, Vatican Radio, and its role in propagating the religious, social, and political agendas of the Roman Catholic Church.

Melton, J. Gordon, Phillip Charles Lucas, and Jon R. Stone, eds. Prime-Time Religion: An Encyclopedia of Religious Broadcasting. Phoenix, Ariz., 1997. The most comprehensive volume available for understanding the personalities and ministries of religious broadcasting both in the United States and throughout the world.

Peck, Janice. The Gods of Televangelism: The Crisis of Meaning and the Appeal of Religious Television. Cresskill, N.J., 1993. An insightful examination of Christian Right leadership, separatism, and televangelism in America.

Schultze, Quentin J. Televangelism and American Culture: The Business of Popular Religion. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1991. A critical sociological and theological examination of televangelism from the perspective of an insightful Calvinist scholar.

Ward, Mark. Air of Salvation: The Story of Christian Broadcasting. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1994. This useful volume by the director of media ministries at Bob Jones University is a triumphalist history of the personalities and ministries that helped establish fundamentalist and evangelical dominance of the American airwaves during the twentieth century.

Gregor T. Goethals (1987)

Phillip Charles Lucas (2005)