Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A Report From the Belly of the Beast

The May, 2005 issue of Harper's Magazine has a report titled "Feeling the Hate with the National Religious Broadcasters by Chris Hedges. I have attended four NRB conventions and this is the report I filed for Frontiers Magazine in February, 2000.
Report From the Belly of the Beast

By Jerry Sloan

Fundamentalist Christian TV and radio broadcasters, evangelists, writers, publishers, producers, equipment suppliers and a growing cadre of internet and software providers gathered 5300 strong at the new Anaheim Convention Center beginning February 5, 2000, for four days of celebrating, dinners, awards and workshops which made up the 57th annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters. Religious broadcasting is big business. There are 1400 full-time and 283 part-time plus another 48 international and shortwave religious radio stations for a grand total of 1731. 980 are commercially operated stations. There are AM (811) and FM (892) radio stations - a growth of 25% during this decade - and 285 full and part-time TV stations - a decline of 16% during the decade.

The NRB claims 80,000,000 people listens to its programs each week.The NRB now has over 2000 members. It maintains national offices in the Washington D.C., suburb of Manassas VA., from where it lobbies the Federal Communications Commission and Congress on behalf of its members.The convention opened on Saturday evening with an awards ceremony highlighted by the prestigious Chairman’s Award which was something of a paradox as it was “for serving the Christian community in a distinguished and exemplary manner,” but it was given to a nonbeliever, homophobic talk radio host, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who received a standing ovation. She acknowledged the award by saying she was “just a Jewish girl from the Bronx,” and that “we both serve the same God.”

Another award which one would think raises conflict-of-interest issues was given to Federal Communications Commission Chief of Media, Roy Stewart, the senior staff person who handles all broadcast matters. He accepted his award saying, “It is you who should be honored.”

FCC spokesperson David Sisk said the bureau had no policy about FCC employees receiving awards from those whom they regulate that everyone including the FCC commissioners receive awards all the time. Also honored as TV program of the year was Pat Robertson’s 700 Club.

On Sunday February 6, 2000 while the Mormons of California were fasting and praying for the passage of Prop 22, The Limit of Marriage Initiative, their Fundamentalist allies were gathered at the Anaheim Convention Center for the opening of the 155,000 square foot exhibition hall portion of the convention to see 278 exhibitors.

Among many exhibits were books and videos proclaiming Mormons a non-Christian cult.
Tennessee-based TV evangelist John Ankerberg was there at one of four book signing sites located in each corner of the hall to sign his new 735 page book titled “Encyclopedia of Cults and Religions,” in which he states, “Mormonism is not true Christianity and true Mormons cannot be considered Christians.”

The next book signing session featured author Ron Rhodes who targeted the other Prop 22 ally, the Roman Catholic Church, with his new book, Reasoning from the Scriptures with Catholics.

The book signings changed about every 90 minutes while the exhibit hall was open.

A tour of the exhibition floor revealed many large glittery booths trying to entice the visitor to stop and talk about their product, cause or program. Prominent among the exhibits was Thomas Nelson Publishers the largest Bible publishers in the world, pushing their latest version of the King James Bible, the New King James Bible which translated one of the most used thump verses, 1 Cor. 6:9 as saying “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites . . . will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Apparently there is now a difference between a homosexual and a sodomite.

No where in the introduction is it mentioned that King James I was a homosexual.

Early Monday morning a public policy breakfast which was to feature a debate between Pat Robertson and columnist Cal Thomas was somewhat derailed when the Charismatic faith-healer failed to show because he was sick with the flu. Robertson who has claimed to turn hurricanes from his base of operations in Virginia Beach VA., - only to have them strike elsewhere - apparently did not get one of his many “words of knowledge” concerning someone being healed of the flu or if he did he didn’t claim it. Filling in for Robertson was Attorney Jay Sekulow who heads Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice.

The point - counter point debate centered around Thomas’ book, which he co-authored with Rev. Ed Dobson, Not By Might, published last year which said that Christians should abandon trying to take over the political system and get back to preaching the Gospel and changing people’s lives.

Sekulow started the debate saying, “I don’t think it is time for disarmament by the Religious Right . . . We must be politically involved; it is not time to retreat . . . I don’t think there is anything wrong with motivating literally millions of people to call their Congressman, to talk with their legislatures to deal with these issues.”

Thomas, who for five years was a vice-president of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, discounting his experience with the Moral Majority, powerfully countered, “What has changed is my tactics and priorities. I am now convinced that government lacks the power to bring about the changes all of us wish to see.” Citing the prohibition and anti-tobacco movements he said, “Many have tried to reform culture from the top down believing that unrighteous behavior was a matter of poor leadership.”

Countering what is a popular theme among many evangelicals Thomas questioned the notion of America being founded as a Christian nation, “What does history really say about our roots? Were our Founders mostly saved men who were followers of Jesus Christ? A few were but many were deist, free thinkers and quite a few, including George Washington were Masons. Only 10 per cent of the populist attended church” at the time of the Revolution.” Quoting Cliff Bjork of Searching Together Ministries, he continued, “The expectations inherent in the political agendas being advanced today are totally without biblical justification.”

Thomas summed up by saying, “Something is out of balance. Too many of us give lip service to the Gospel while spending most of our energies on politics.”

Willie Aames, who has appeared in 14 TV series and six movies, the best known being Eight Is Enough, moderated a workshop, Raising the Standard of Christian TV and Radio. At age 41 the youthful looking Aames now conducts a children’s ministry and produces religious videos for children. He says he is the “one and only super hero in spandex, Bibleman.”

Another workshop, God, Mammon, and Evangelicals: A report from the American Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals outlined a study funded by a grant from the Lilly Foundation, “to study how evangelical Christians in North America spend money, think about money and raise money.”

The report said that in 1992 American evangelicals spent almost $1.9 billion on overseas work.
In 1998 about $2 billion was spent in Bible book stores; $5 billion on Christian elementary and secondary schools; $2.5 billion on Christian liberal schools; $ 750 million on Bible schools with Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute taking in $ 82 million or more than 10 % of the total; $230 million for seminaries: $450 million for camps and conference centers: and $625 million for urban rescue centers.

Also in 1998 specific organizations received: $2 billion for all the activities of the Salvation Army; $304 million for Worldvision; $241 million for Campus Crusade for Christ; $203 million for the Christian Broadcasting Network; $128 million for Feed the Children; $124 million for the Billy Graham Association; $117 million for the Promise Keepers; $ 109 million for Focus on the Family; $98 million for the Trinity Broadcasting Network; $85 million for Map International; $79 million for Young Life; $68 million for Oral Roberts Ministries.

The total that could be traced which was spent directly on politics by groups like the Christian Coalition, “such as the amount of the budget Focus on the Family says they spent on politics, although they may spend a little more than that,” Family Research Council, National Association of Evangelicals, Evangelicals for Social Action. The total found spent on politics was $160 million.
This figure is many times larger than all gay political contributions combined!

Back on the exhibition floor Lou Sheldon, California’s leading gay basher, could be seen moving about smoozing with exhibitors and visitors.

A stop at the Family Research Council booth the staff revealed that the FRC reads and clips articles from Frontiers. Their tables were loaded with numerous anti-gay books, position papers and pamphlets such as A Capitol Hill Report - In Defense of Marriage: Why Same-sex Unions Miss the Mark; How Domestic Partnerships and “Gay Marriage” Threaten the Family; and Homosexuality Is Not a Civil Right.

Robert Knight, FRC’s virulently anti-gay researcher and Janet Parshall, FRC’s official spokesperson spent time in the booth handing out FRC literature.

An Exodus International affiliate, He Intends Victory, located in Irvine, CA., passed out two books, An Ounce of Prevention: Preventing the Homosexual Condition in Today’s Youth and He Intends Victory. At an upcoming meeting in April the NRB is set to induct Amie Semple McPherson into its Hall of Fame. Sister Amie, as she was called, founded the Church of the Four Square was a very controversial woman preacher following WWW l who started one of the first radio stations in the country.

The NRB has apparently decided not to put stock in Sister Amie’s many marriages or the rumors of her many affairs with men including one where she disappeared for several weeks and reappeared with the claim she had been kidnapped and held in Mexico. Many believed she had run off with the engineer of her radio station who coincidentally did not report to work for the during the same time period. The NRB will meet next year in Dallas, Texas.