Falwell on Media

In an interview on NPR, Jerry
Falwell says a pastor has to be media savvy and states his belief that he must
adopt the latest technology to gain public attention for his
positions.
After writing this post I returned to the NPR website a few days later to recover a quote and learned that without note the article I linked to has been changed. It no longer carries the reference by Jerry Falwell to Archbishop Tutu or Falwell’s statement on staying abreast of new media. Apparently NPR has no policy advising readers that it changes copy in its web articles.

A pastor has to be media-savvy in order to reach everybody, according to Jerry Falwell in an interview on NPR this morning. For Falwell this means, among other things, calling Archbishop Tutu of South Africa a “fake” in order to get Falwell exposed on major media in the United States upon returning from a visit to South Africa.

Apparently Falwell thought Tutu should not ride in a limo and this was his basis for accusing him of fakery. What Falwell makes clear in the interview is that his public statements are calculated to gain the widest media exposure possible and if he must characterize Bishop Tutu negatively to accomplish the goal, he will bend to the situation and do it.

His demurrer is that he tries not to be ugly and harsh, so one must presume he could have done worse than call the Bishop who stood against the apartheid state a fake.

What is instructive in the Falwell interview, however, is his commitment to using media to advance his political agenda. It is clear that he knows how to use media, does so with great effect and has been successful in framing major issues in a way favorable to his particular brand of theological and political conservatism.

In contrast, I was in a meeting recently in which I heard a mainline church official speak dismissively of the communications challenge facing the mainline denominations. This lack of understanding of the relationship of media to theology and the shaping of public acceptance of values is the blind side of too many mainline denominations.

It may not be the only reason, but it is one reason the mainline continues to hemorrhage members and Falwell is dedicating a six thousand seat worship center this Sunday.

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