Abdicating Responsibility

The disengagement from the media was an
abdication of responsibility by the mainline denominations.

The disengagement of the mainline from the media was an abdication of responsibility. It resulted in the mainline denominations losing their voice in the public media at a time when those media were becoming even more powerful in their ability to shape the culture of the United States. But there were even worse consequences.

While the mainline churches were leaving, freelance religious entrepreneurs were stepping in. Pat Roberston, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker and Paul and Jan Crouch formed the Christian Broadcast Network, the Praise The Lord Club and Trinity Broadcasting.

In addition, some right-wing political groups began to merge religion and politics in this era.

As this happened, traditional evangelicals struggled to overcome their concern that entering into the culture through media would dilute, if not pollute their messages. They knew that casting a wider net would exact a price theologically.

The independent, non-denominational operators were not as bothered by this concern.They entered into the media with an enthusiasm and resources that mainline circles could only hope for.

Not only did they understand they were framing theological and cultural issues for individuals, they also understood they were advocating for an alternative worldview and they wanted to influence the whole society. For a cogent, if exceedingly polemic account, see America?s Right Turn by Richard A. Viguerie and David Franke.

They had an agenda for change and they learned how to capitalize upon media to advance it. They were willing to ante up the money necessary to buy radio and television stations. They entered the marketplace, a concession to corporate business that mainline leaders just couldn’t consider.

Mainline leaders had enjoyed the benevolence of the media enhanced by federal regulations that required broadcasters to provide access to airtime through public service regulations tied to licensing, and they got comfortable, too comfortable with a free, or nearly free, ride. When federal policies changed and competition heated up, the free lunch came to an end.

In short, within the mainline there was an utter lack of understanding among some mainline leaders about the communications challenges facing them. As a result, decisions were made to pull back, decisions that we would live to regret, as Associate General Secretary Jan Love of the Women’s Division of The United Methodist Church has said so accurately.

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